For Outfitters is making a profit off of something

For our media critique assignment, we chose to look at an article that talks about the conflict and resolution between the clothing chain Urban Outfitters and the Navajo tribe. Urban Outfitters began making a line of Native American inspired goods and tried to trademark the line “Navajo.” The Navajo sued the chain in 2012 for their use of the term and trying to market the appropriated goods.  The article assumes Urban Outfitters’ feelings towards the issue as “not such a bad publicity stunt,” which seems to be the focus for this particular article; publicity. The author does not state a side but instead informs the reader, not only about this incident, but a couple other closely related incidents by the same company. Seeing as this is not the first time Urban Outfitters is caught in a controversy, the article is upsetting and explains that the chain is known for ripping off small, independent designers which is the category this incident falls into.  There is a line between appreciation and cultural appropriation and not only trying to trademark “Navajo” but selling goods that are intended to look like true Native American goods for their own profit is wrong. People, who would not know better, will buy these products and possibly think it is from the Navajo tribe. Urban Outfitters is making a profit off of something that is not at all theirs and arguing they did no wrong. It would be different if the company wanted to collaborate with the tribe and split profits but that was not the case.   The Navajo Nation hold many trademarks on the use of its’ name, including trademarks governing clothing and accessories, but under The Indian Arts and Crafts Act it is illegal “to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization.” Using the name of a tribe to claim, or even imply, that a product has anything to do with that tribe is punishable by fines of up to $1 million. In the case of the “Navajo Line” from Urban Outfitters” there is a loophole in this law that unfortunately doesn’t protect the Navajo Nation. Under the Act the pieces of culture that are being protected are “Arts and Crafts” even though these prints originated from the Navajo people, in the eyes of the law they are a form of clothing therefore aren’t subject to scrutiny from the law.  The Navajo Nation also stated that they view Urban Outfitters’ products as offensive in nature, and as a threat to the established Navajo brand, which the Nation says stands for quality, Navajo-made jewelry, clothing, and accessories — not imported Urban Outfitters products that claim to be authentic and “Native”.  Trying to brand these products as “Navajo” results in cultural appropriation which can be defined as “when someone adopts something from a culture that is not his or her own”. In this case we are discussing the appropriation of the Native American culture, Urban Outiftters trying to sell these prints as “traditional.” Unlike cultural exchange, in which there is a mutual interchange, appropriation refers to a “particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.” Too often Native American Appropriation is overlooked or not taken seriously, however all cases of appropriation weaken that culture in which these people feel directly. Urban Outfitters isn’t the only company that has done harm like this before, other major companies such as Victorias Secret have incorporated things such as traditional Native American headdresses into their “sexy” fashion shows. Cultural appropriation also often adds to stereotypes faced by non-dominant cultures. The Native American chief or the “sexy” Native American girl can be examples of stereotypes that pop up during Halloween. When people from dominant cultures ‘dress up’ like this, it reduces something of cultural significance to a costume just so that the dominant group can have ‘a bit of fun’. It also keeps these kinds of stereotypes going. And when cultures have been oppressed, stereotypes often add to their negative experiences. Ultimately, there are too many cases of cultural appropriation around the world and for a chain as big as Urban Outfitters to try and get away with something like this is disappointing.  At the end of the day, they came to an agreement and dismissed the case stating the tribe and company plan to collaborate down the road, but it is the principle of the fact.

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