The SoJones Controversy: Is Urban Outfitters’ “Navajo” Collection Racist?

Urban Outfitters is under fire as a Native American woman from Minnesota named Sasha Houston Brown wrote an open letter claiming the brand’s “Navajo” line is culturally offensive.

The story began when Brown took action after seeing Navajo-labeled products that disturbed her. She claimed to be offended by “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.”

Brown sent her complaint to Urban Outfitter’s CEO via both email and conventional mail, saying that the collection was “cheap, vulgar and culturally offensive.” To read her open letter, go to the Racialicious blog.

Brown told

“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. It was just beyond demeaning and inappropriate on a personal and collective level.”

Brown also claimed that during the design process of the products there were no native people involved and that the Navajo line may be illegal.  She claims that they violated the Federal Trade Commission Act and Federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 which states the following:

“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.”

In her letter, Brown demanded Urban Outfitters to pull the clothing line off from its stores and apologize to the Native Americans. She stated:

“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. I hope people start critically thinking and integrating into their social consciousness that we are here, we do still exist.”

Urban Outfitters’ public relations director, Ed Looram, gave his statement to

“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 is an academic advisor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. While her mother is Russian and Jewish, her father is of the Dakota people. Brown also identifies herself as part of the Santee Sioux Nation.

So, back to our question: do you think the collection is racist?  Share your thoughts right here.

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