Urban Outfitters has recently come under fire for its new Navajo-inspired fashion line.
Sasha Houston Brown, an academic advisor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College where she works with the American Indian Success Program and is a member of the Santee Sioux Nation, is leading the charge against the clothing retailer.
She sent a complaint to the company’s CEO, saying she took offense at “plastic dreamcatchers wrapped in pleather hung next to an indistinguishable mass of artificial feather jewelry and hyper sexualized clothing featuring an abundance of suede, fringe and inauthentic tribal patterns,” reports ABC News.
Brown told Urban Outfitters CEO Glen T. Senk that the collection was “cheap, vulgar and culturally offensive” and cited specific products including the Navajo Hipster Panty, Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask, Peace Treaty Feather Necklace and Staring at Stars Skull Native Headdress T-shirt.
Panties and flasks?
“It was the experience of being there and immersed in that setting, surrounded by all of these items, that took this cultural offense and cultural appropriation to another level,” Brown told ABCNews.com.
“It was just beyond demeaning and inappropriate on a personal and collective level.”
After visiting the Urban Outfitters website, something this author is not proud of, it seems that Brown is accurate at least in regards to her claim that the fashion line is tacky and kitschy.
“As native peoples, we’ve been robbed of so much — our land, life ways, culture,” Brown said. “My issue isn’t with just specifically Urban Outfitters, but symptomatic of larger and more pervasive issues in our society, how we recognize and interact and treat First Nation people here.”
She definitely sounds like she works in academia.
“These and the dozens of other tacky products you are currently selling referencing Native America make a mockery of our identity and unique cultures,” Brown wrote to the company.
In a statement to ABCNews.com, Urban Outfitters public relations director Ed Looram wrote: “The Native American-inspired trend and specifically the term ‘Navajo’ have been cycling thru fashion, fine art and design for the last few years. We currently have no plans to modify or discontinue any of these products.”
Brown went on to say that not only were the company’s items offensive, but they may also be illegal.
She claimed they violated the Federal Trade Commission Act and Federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, which “prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts produced within the United States” and says:
“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, resident within the United States.”
At this moment, and according to ABC news, no one from Urban Outfitters has responded to Brown.
“I think the company does have an opportunity right now to do what is ethnically and morally right by acknowledging their wrongs and pulling the line, but also apologizing and owing up to the fact that [they] did clearly engage in this level of corporate appropriation,” Brown said.
“I hope people start critically thinking and integrating into their social consciousness that we are here, we do still exist,” she said.
It might also be important to note that Brown sent Senk the letter on Columbus Day, which she called an “ironic holiday.”
Well, at least she’s maintaining the spirit of the “Hipster panty” and keeping it ironic.