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Native Americans vs Urban Outfitters

The role of Native American social media in getting attention abt Urban Outfitters

Thelma Young

on 14 May 2012

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Transcript of Native Americans vs Urban Outfitters

Native American prints
and patterns have long
been used by the non-Native
fashion industry
But Native Americans are using new media to fight back
This satire hits at some of the problems of this...
Though many companies
are using Native prints,
one corporation
has received
a lot of public criticism
March 2009 Urban Outfitters
started selling items labeled "Navajo"
But the only one who seemed to care were a
few Native American bloggers like Adrienne Keene
2002 March
(cc) image by jantik on Flickr
Mostly what was seen in mainstream
media at this time was how Navajo prints were
becoming the "it" fashion item
August 2011 Vogue: Sarah Jessica Parker
is in a Proenza Schouler Navajo-print dress
August 2010: Seventeen Magazine
Again it was Adrienne's
blog 'Native Appropriations'
that covered the problems of this trend
Oprah's website had it as a Fall trend to be
careful of because "You don't want to look like Pocahontas"
June 2011 the Navajo Nation's Department of Justice sent Urban Outfitters a "cease-and-desist" letter demanding the corporation stop using Navajo names on its products. No press coverage 
September 15, 2011 Arizona Republic writes a story about the trend. Talks with the Heard Museum, which educates people about arts, heritage, and culture of native people of the Americas
"I wonder whether they understand that Navajo is even . . . a living culture," Roessel says, "and that there are women today who wear outfits with these designs on them because they mean something."

In their lust to sell "Navajo" as the perfect blend of bohemian-exotic cool, the fashion elite may not have realized that those stacked triangles and jagged edges are symbols, and that they stand for something else."
Native American fashion blogger
Dr Jessica R Metcalfe at "Beyond Buckskin" picks up
this article to:
She has a whole section on her popular
blog about fashion's appropriation of Native culture
September 23, 2011 Native Appropriations
blogs "Urban Outfitters is Obsessed with Navajos"
On October 10, 2011
(Columbus Day) that article gets reposted
on the blog 'Racialicious'.
Same day: This open letter also gets posted on 'Racialicious'
"In all seriousness, as a Native American woman,
I am deeply distressed by your company’s mass marketed collection of distasteful and racially demeaning apparel and décor.
I take personal offense to the blatant racism and perverted cultural appropriation your store features this season as “fashion.”"
Written by Sasha Houston Brown
who identifies as Santee Sioux Nation
She wrote to the CEO of Urban Outfitters and explained her problems with their "Navajo" products. She also explains how it violates specific laws.
One of the 118 Comments
From here on this article on 'Racialicious' gets picked up by hundreds of websites
On the same day, she also posted the letter
on Indian Country Today Media Network

It was shared by users of the site (mostly Native Americans), but this specific posting was never mentioned by media. Mainstream media only quotes the 'Racialicious' posting.
ABC News
Urban Outfitters tells ABC:
Pop culture blog Jezebel picks it up
Native Appropriations' article
is linked to at the bottom

Jezebel gets picked up by many
fashion/style sites

Including New York Magazine

Washington Post
This article inspires a woman in Texas
to start a petition on Change.org

Gets 16,604 signatures
By October 19, Urban Outfitters has pulled
from its website the word "Navajo" from
its products
Many websites/organizations are now
following the story, and still cite the 'Racialicious' post
Lots of Native American websites comment
on this issue.
What helps keep momentum going by
providing interviews and creating content
are the Native American bloggers:
Beyond Buckskin
Native Appropriations
The Heard Museum also gets involved

Sasha Houston Brown, the writer of the original 'Racialicious' post, does not write anything more.
Products are now labeled as "Printed" instead of "Navajo"
From UTNE Dec 13, 2011
Adrienne K's post on Indian
Country Today Media Network
"What's Next for the Urban Outfitters
Navajo Case" gets picked up by other
websites, even law websites
originally on Collector's Weekly: http://bit.ly/IEaz0C
By the time the Navajo Nation filed its lawsuit
against Urban Outfitters on Feb 29, 2012 there was
so much public interest, lots of mainstream media covered the story.
Urban Outfitter's "Navajo" products are now
reaching another status in pop culture, as
the "it" representation of "hipster racism"

This case shows the power/potential of social media, especially a well-placed, well-written blog post. Native Americans can use non-Native media sites to get their perspectives heard in a wide way. Moreover, the way Native American bloggers, and
media networks continue to expand the story through on going coverage is valuable. This provides important material and discussion. There are many Native American bloggers who posted about this issue. Sorry I couldn't cover them all.

It is also interesting how this issue has been furthered not just by Navajos, but by many other tribes.
Associated Press
On Jan 28, 2012 Indian Country
Today Media Network reported how
Urban Outfitter's stock has been hurt by
the controversy
"The controversy has weighed heavily on the clothing retailer’s performance. Urban’s net income has decreased four quarters in a row. On January 9 Glen Senk, CEO since 2007, abruptly resigned. The company’s announcement of Senk’s departure late in the following day caused Urban’s stock in after-hours trading to tumble by 14 percent from the day’s close, reported Forbes. Billionaire Richard Hayne, the 64-year-old co-founder of Urban, has assumed Senk’s former position. But the corporate shake-up still caused Urban’s shares to drop 18.6 percent."
Ralph Lauren 1981
Has now become a very popular issue
Native American blogs like this one also share the story:
Los Angeles Times
"The symmetrical pattern on a cashmere cardigan at Neiman Marcus comes from the careful symmetry of Navajo rugs, which Roessel says pay homage to the Navajo convention of leading a balanced life. (This may not recommend spending $517 on a sweater.)

And consider the Navajo Hipster Panty: Those zigzags often stand for lightning, explains Roessel. Her people wear the symbol as an emblem of protection. The star design nods to the four sacred mountains on each corner of the sacred Navajo homeland."
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