The sudden hysteria behind Navajo, minorities inspired clothing and accessories.

The sudden hysteria behind Navajo, minorities inspired clothing and accessories.

Images source; Jezebel.

I should get off the bat right now that I have never in my life owned or sought to own what some fashion insiders are terming navajo based clothing and accessories. Apparently the whole issue of outlets creating clothes and trinkets that emulate Navajo (synonymous with American Indian motif) aesthetics has of late caused a ruckus. But then again that’s par for the course when lots of money is at stake.

Despite a recent court order that forced ‘Urban Outfitters,’ (who are infamous when it comes to appropriating designs and styles from other vendors as well as other peek a boos) , from using the term ‘navajo’ in the marketing of their clothes, courtesy of the Navajo tribe who felt they were being ripped off and deprived profits, as well as negatively stereotyped that still hasn’t stopped other vendors from trying to pull off the navajo theme (Proenza Schouler anyone?).

Which raises the question- why shouldn’t they? After all pay close attention to most designers, that’s all they do, they watch what’s trending and then appropriate accordingly. So why is it lately we’re getting down on the navajo look or themes? What is it about certain expression of aesthetics that potentially offends us? And what’s being offended got anything to do with whether fashion or any form of expression shouldn’t still be able to exist for those who choose to consume it?

The sudden hysteria behind Navajo, minorities inspired clothing and accessories.

thegloss: Urban Outfitters is in hot water over their sale of “Navajo” branded items like the “Navajo hipster panty” and the “Navajo print fabric wrapped flask.”

This of course then raises another bigger question, if we’re offended (and I’m not quite sure who’s offended, is it the Navajo tribe themselves? those consumers who don’t buy Navajo themed clothing, fashion editors, libertarians?) by Navajo inspired fashion, why is it that we’re not equally offended by say urban homeless inspired fashion, or Muslim based fashion (could you imagine the commotion if designers started appropriating the headdress in their collections, would someone issue a fatwa?).

In fact this is what happened in Paris in 2004:  Jean-Pierre Brard, the mayor of the Paris suburb of Montreuil-sous-Bois, has banned two fashion shows because they featured hijabs (Oct 4 2004). “Ready to wear for Muslim Women”, a women-only event was organized by the “Jasmeen” label.

Then there have been designers like Jean Paul Gaultier who some would say really pushed the limits of proprietary with his parody interpretation of the strict Hasidic Jewish dress sense. To his credit he was still able to go on with the show despite much protestation. Although it would be a fair guess to say that that collection didn’t sell too well in department stores (if they dared carried it), but then again haute couture designers like Mr Gaultier are willing to risk sales on high end items to extend cache and branding to the less pricier ready to wear lines. Which probably explains why Mr Gaultier is able to get you to part with $300 for one of his t-shirts (really would you pay that if Walmarts suddenly tried to sell you a sexed up image of their version of a $300 t-shirt?).

Despite what some designers or aesthetes create for public consumption and whether it merits gratitude or not, the over riding question remains, why is it that we still feel the right to deplore certain creations and publicly condemn them? Which is to say do we really have the right simply because our tastes are offended to force an art collection, a building, or a fashion line to stop production? Which is exactly what happened to one  Australian swimwear 

  • http://[email protected] Lorraine S Posey

    Why is it that “White People” always want to use Native designs to get richer…don’t these “white people” come up with their own ideas/designs? Guess! nothing will ever change
    these “white people” always want, want and never seem to give a damn! as how they hurt the Native People in the U.S.A (remember our ancestor’s were here first! you came an invade our home land, all “white people” are good for is demolish what everything they come across, first our land; 2- our language, 3-our way of life 4-mess with our beliefs 5- now our designs)
    Please! have the guts to leave come up with your own ideas; better yet from your tradition, your beliefs, etc… I wonder if you have any tradtions, culture..

  • Ranger Dan

    Lorraine, I love it when someone is fed up with discrimination, racism, generalizations and bigotry, and then gets on here and spouts discrimination, racism, generalizations and bigotry to communicate their anger. You know what Lorraine, bigots are bigots, I don’t care which ethnicity of the month you hate and your hate is way over the line when it is ignited by something so stupid as white people wearing clothes that look like they came out of a souvenir shop. Do ya get it? You’re a bigot.

  • Fed up bela’gaana

    @ Lorraine. Have you ever been to the navajo rez? its their land and THEY trash it, not us “Whites” as you put it. They dump crap all over the land, miles upon miles of roads littered with beer cans and bottles, empty beer boxes and thats JUST on the main roads. Go off road and there is mounds of garbage; more beer bottles, cans, old TVs, stoves, refridgerators, diapers etc.

    I work ambulance on the rez and have for the last 15 years of my life; I see how they treat their elders, children, wives, pets and livestock. I go clean up the messes they create with their violence, I patch up and comfort the severely beaten wives and the brutally raped children and mothers, I go patch up the stab victims, the broken bones from the drunken brawls and the drunken car wrecks.

  • http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/stop-urban-outfitters-from-selling-navajo-products/ Andy Rose
  • jxn

    But the Jeep Grand Cherokee is OK?

  • http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2011/10/whats-next-for-the-urban-outfitters-navajo-case/ B

    “This goes far beyond an issue of trademarks or truth in advertising. This is also an issue of representation, and an issue of power. I, personally, don’t care about a pair of socks called “Navajo,” but I do care about what they represent. They represent the appropriation of Native American cultures and lifeways, and the continued stereotyping of Indigenous Peoples. Most consumers look at that sock and can’t imagine that it holds any meaning beyond its $4.99 price tag. But I, and other Native people, look at that sock and see that the painful history that has allowed the vast majority of Americans to ignore our continued existence.”

    http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2011/10/whats-next-for-the-urban-outfitters-navajo-case/

  • Rezteach

    Navajo people and the Navajo (Dine) tribe are upset for many reasons.  First of all are the religious implications that somehow the tribe approves of feathers in the hair for fashion (they are only worn for ceremonies and when a medicine man places it their), The religion is very intertwined with culture and many acts are consided to be disharmonius and will affect the natural order of the   universe.This includes outsiders If cruciifix inspired underwear became popular and it was labeled Roman Catholic, there would also be an uproar.  Or what if I took your name and designed some fashion item the became synonmous with your name and you happened to hate it and had no say in the matter, how would you feel?
    Secondly is the perpetuation of misinformation about Navajo culture and design.  You can put anything out there and label as Navajo and all you are doing is lying to the public. Thirdly, Navajo goods have a reputation of being high quality hand made items. The Navajo wedding basket design is now made of cheap materials in the middle east and sold as Navajo goods.  Mexican rugmakers have been imitating Navajo rugs for years with poor quality rough weavings with bright analine dyes.  People who don’t know Navajo quality don’t know the difference.  Without the name protection the Navajo quality will lose it’s meaning.  They use sterling in jewelry, real turquoise, their own wool, natural plant dyes in rugs and baskets, cottonwood root in their carvings and natural local clay in their pottery.  When you buy Navajo items they are hand made in America, not machine made in China.
    You might find it interesting to know that I only found this blog because I googled Navajo clothing.  We no longer live on the Rez and I was looking to buy my granddaughter a traditional Navajo dress – handmade in a hogan.  But so far, I have not found one.  Everything was either historical or copycat ugly stuff or even worse, Halloween costumes.
    To answer your question about rights of artists to do whatever, I can tell you that this world would exist in Hozho (a state of ultra harmoney among all people and all facets of nature) if people stopped focusing on their rights and instead focused of their responsibilities to fellow humans.  Profit is not the God we all worship.

  • Liz

    I hate that and and all Native American prints are referred to as “Navajo”. There are countless tribes, and I’d imagine each has their own style of embroidery and weaving (which is what their prints generally consist of, as opposed to chemically enhanced stamped textiles). It seems not many producers of said prints bother to do any research at all-which is sad, really, as these cultures can offer a plethora of inspiration.