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Urban Outfitters Settles 'Navajo' Underwear Lawsuit

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Urban Outfitters, the popular clothing store, has finally settled the lawsuit brought against it by the Navajo Nation over the Navajo product line the retailer introduced over five years ago. While the details of the settlement are confidential, the Navajo Nation announced that there will be a future partnership with the retailer to sell real Navajo jewelry.

The lawsuit all started back in 2012 over Navajo panties, and other Navajo branded items, that Urban Outfitters started offering for sale in their stores. When Native American customers started seeing the products, they became offended. One Native American woman demanded the retailer pull the items from their shelves as she believed the items were offensive to Native Americans and disrespectful to the culture, history, and heritage. When the retailer did not pull the items, the Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit.

Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990

While many people might think there is nothing wrong with what Urban Outfitters did, the federal government actually passed a law back in 1990 that protects against this exact situation. The Indian Arts and Crafts Act prohibits retailers from misrepresenting a product as being made by Native Americans, or used by, or as being part of the culture of Native Americans or a particular tribe.

Although the retailer might have been able to get by on the claims relating to some silly underwear, the fact that they were selling items like dream-catchers and flasks, with "Navajo" patterns would likely have caused more trouble for the retailer. The act provides for damages to be paid by the offender for violations.

Trademark Infringement

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act was not the only legal theory the Navajo Nation rested its case on. The fact that the retailer was using the term "Navajo" to market the products infringed upon the Navajo Nation's trademark to their tribe's name. The tribe asserted that the use of the tribe's name not only created direct competition for the tribe, but also could confuse consumers in the market for Navajo goods.

Although we may never know the full terms of the settlement, it seems that the tribe and retailer have come together to fashion a solution to move forward.

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