Urban Outfitters and Navajo Nation Finally Settle Infringement Battle

The retailer has more work to do to confront its longstanding social and cultural insensitivity.

An old screenshot showing one of the Urban Outfitters "Navajo" items in question. The site no longer sells anything bearing the name "Navajo."

An old screenshot showing one of the Urban Outfitters “Navajo” items in question. The site no longer sells anything bearing the name “Navajo.”

Shoppers may be able to buy Navajo Nation-inspired merchandise at Urban Outfitters in the future, but this time around, the items will be the real deal.

Last week, the Navajo Nation and Urban Outfitters reached a settlement in the tribe’s four-year-old trademark infringement lawsuit against the South Philadelphia-based retailer.

While the terms of the settlement are undisclosed, a release stated that the parties entered into a supply and license agreement and plan to collaborate on authentic American Indian jewelry in the future, according to the Farmington Daily Times of New Mexico, where the case was decided.

Key word there is “authentic.” The tribe filed the lawsuit in 2012 after Urban Outfitters debuted a line of 21 items that were labeled “Navajo” or had Navajo-inspired designs. The infamous Navajo hipster panty, a Navajo print fabric-wrapped flask, and a peace treaty feather necklace (cringe, cringe, cringe), were all items that the Nation said damaged their government and commercial entities because they falsely suggested that the items were the product of the sovereign Navajo Nation.

When the Nation first filed the lawsuit, an Urban Outfitters spokesperson said the company had no plans to modify or discontinue the “Navajo” line of products. The American Indian-inspired trend was ubiquitous, a part of the fashion and fine art sphere for some time, the company argued. (The items under scrutiny at the time later appeared on the website labeled as “printed” instead of “Navajo.”) During the lawsuit, Urban Outfitters even tried to argue that the Nation waited too long to file because its Navajo-inspired items occupied its shelves as early as 2001.

The Navajo Nation owns the trademark for the term “Navajo,” a designation that the Nation says protects its cultural history, traditions and livelihood.

“We are pleased we’ve reached an agreement with the Navajo Nation,” said Azeez Hayne, general counsel for Urban Outfitters, in a release. “We take the rights of artists and designers seriously, both in protecting our own and in respecting the rights of others. As a company, URBN has long been inspired by the style of Navajo and other American Indian artists and looks forward to the opportunity to work with them on future collaborations,” he said

But with this lackluster statement, it looks like Urban Outfitters, with its long history of gross insensitivity, which Jason Fagone details in “Urban Outfitters Bares All,” still has loads of work to do in the way of social consciousness. Would the company have taken the Navajo Nation’s claims seriously if intellectual property wasn’t at issue?

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