Navajo Nation vs. Urban Outfitters

By Mary Khym [March 20th, 2013] 

Navajo Pattern

The Navajo Nation has been battling Urban Outfitters since 2011 alleging that the apparel and furnishings merchant violated their trademark rights to the name “Navajo”. The controversy started when Urban Outfitters mass-produced more than 20 faux-native items called “Navajo” or “Navaho.” The Natives protested products like the “Hipster Navajo Panty” and the “Navajo Print Flask”.

In June 2011, the Navajo Department of Justice sent the company a cease and desist letter. However, Urban Outfitters did not pull the “Navajo” name from their products. It was only after a woman, Sasha Houston Brown, heavily criticized the company for their offensively named products in a blog post on Columbus Day that Urban Outfitters acted. “Navajo” was removed and some product names were replaced with the word “Indian.”

A lawsuit was filed in February 2012 in the U.S. District Court in New Mexico. The suit alleged trademark violations, violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act, and violations of the Federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. The Act “prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts produced within the United States,” which makes it illegal to sell arts or crafts in a way to falsely suggest some connection to the Navajo tribe or its members when there is none. The tribe is seeking monetary compensation and an order permanently enjoining Urban Outfitters and their subsidiaries from using the name “Navajo” or any other variations of it.

The tribe has roughly 10 trademarks on the Navajo name covering clothing, footwear, online retail sales, household products and textiles. Not only does the tribe view Urban Outfitters’ products offensive, but also as a threat to the established Navajo brand, which the Nation prides in standing for quality, Navajo-made jewelry, clothing, and accessories.

Recently, the Navajo nation has won their first initial battle. Urban Outfitters, a Philadelphia based company, sought to change the venue of the case to the eastern district of Pennsylvania stating reasons of convenience and the experience of the Pennsylvania court with trademark issues. Although the District Court in New Mexico did agree that the case would move faster in Pennsylvania, taking all things into consideration, it denied the request stating that it would inconvenience the Navajo Nation.


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