Urban Outfitters Settles Lawsuit, Will Collaborate With Navajo Nation

Urban Outfitters, hawker of cooler than cool clothing and accessories for the youth market, has this week settled a trademark lawsuit with Navajo Nation – the largest Native American tribe in the United States.

The lawsuit, which was first filed in 2012, claims Urban Outfitters breached the tribe’s trademark rights by using the words “Navajo” and “Navaho” in the branding of clothing and accessories.

The retailer sold the merchandise, bearing the name and distinctive style of the tribe for a number of months before the suit was filed.

Following years of litigation, it is understood a U.S. federal judge officially dismissed the case on Monday. While the exact terms of the settlement are unclear, both parties have released statements on the matter.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye addressed media in a statement on Thursday after the outcome of the suit came to light.

“We believe in protecting our Nation, our artisans, designs, prayers and way of life. We expect that any company considering the use of the Navajo name, or our designs or motifs, will ask us for our permission.”

Urban Outfitters Navajo Nation
Urban Outfitters sold clothing in the style of the Navajo Nation Tribe [Photo by Matt York/ AP Images]

As part of the settlement, Urban Outfitters and Navajo Nation announced the formation of a “supply and licensing” agreement that will see the two groups collaborate on a line of jewelry and accessories in the future. This step is in line with a growing trend amongst retailers attempting to cater towards a younger consumer seeking more authenticity in products and experiences.

Legal council for Urban Outfitters Azeez Hayne also addressed media on Thursday.

“(Urban Outfitters) 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.”

The retailer is hardly new to controversy with numerous products drawing the ire of consumers and activist groups over the years. In 2011, then 16-year-old California model Hailey Clauson filed a lawsuit against the brand for using a “blatantly salacious” photo of her on a t-shirt without her permission. Clauson claims the photo, which shows her perched atop a motorcycle in a pair of revealing shorts, was obtained and used illegally by the brand after photographer Jason Lee Parry agreed not to release the photo.

The company also faced a backlash from the public in 2008 when pro-gay marriage t-shirts were removed from stores with little explanation. It is thought the decision to remove the style came from notoriously right wing conservative CEO Richard Hayne.

Urban Outfitters CEO George Widman
Urban Outfitters CEO Richard Hayne [Image by George Widman/ AP Images]

In 2011, the brand pulled a collection of jewelry from stores after it was discovered to be almost identical to a line released by independent Chicago designer Stevie Koerner. Koerner was only alerted to the line when she was sent a link to the Urban Outfitters website. Speaking in a blog post about the issue, Koerner explained.

“I understand that they are a business, but it’s not cool to completely rip off an independent designer’s work.”

Following a popular Twitter campaign, the retailer promised to investigate the issue and removed the product from their stores.

Despite the controversies of the past, it seems the brand is making a concerted effort to stand for originality in their product offering. In addition to increasing production of their in house brands, Urban Outfitters has introduced a number of collaborations with brands such as Alpha Industries, Fila, and Calvin Klein.

For now, both Urban Outfitters and Navajo Nation remain tight-lipped about the future product line. A glance at the retailer’s website shows no sign of the Navajo name or aesthetic.

[Featured Image by Mark Lennihan/AP Images]