Hipster chic, or stealing? The appropriation of different cultures in American fashion is nothing new, from African prints to Mandarin Chinese collared dresses. Native American styles such as moccasins, beaded shirts, turquoise jewelry and fringe have also been appropriated since the 1960s and ‘70s, with Navajo tribal culture inspiring recent collections for mass market chains such as Urban Outfitters and high-end design houses such as Proenza Schouler.
In February, the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American tribe in the United States, with more than 300,000 members across Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, fought back. In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New Mexico, the Navajo Nation claimed violations of trademark law and the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which makes it illegal to suggest goods are Native American-made when they’re not. The Navajo Nation pinpointed Urban Outfitters’ selling underwear with a Navajo print on them as “derogatory and scandalous.”
Do mass retail companies violate the rights of Navajo and other Native American tribes to produce their own, authentic merchandise? Is cultural appropriation just a part of fashion?
Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American tribe in the United States with more than 300,000 members across 27,000 square miles of land in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico
Guillermo Jimenez, professor of International Trade and Marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, where teaches a course on Fashion Law; he is also co-author of “Fashion Law: A Guide for Designers, Fashion Executives, and Attorneys”
Susan Scafidi, professor and Academic Director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University’s School of Law
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