Nov 3, 2011

TREND | Native American Prints

Tear from GRAZIA magazine fashion section

If anyone is a follower of current fashion trends, they are familiar with the explosion of native American tribal designs reaching retail stores and runways worldwide. It is hard not to find a retailer now that is not a source of moccasins, feather earrings, and other “native American” prints on shirts, sweaters, towels, and even undergarments. Until recently, Urban Outfitters, one of the largest well known retail stores for hip and trendy customers, used the name “Navajo” for part of their clothing line. The Navajo Nation’s government, very upset and offended, sent a letter to Urban Outfitters for trademark infringement. While the retailer responded immediately by using a different name for that particular line, other companies are still taking advantage of this sensitive subject. Urban Outfitters is not the only one guilty of using the term "Navajo". Barney's as well as magazines such as Cosmo, Grazia and Lucky have thrown the word around as well. Most retailers will argue that that the cultural appropriation of these prints is not meant to offend Native Americans, it is simply what is 'trendy' right now. 

'Navajo' Shirt now 'Printed' Shirt from UrbanOutfitters

'Navajo' Flask now 'Printed' Flask from Urban Outfitters

'Navajo' Boy shorts now 'Printed' Boy Shorts from Urban Outfitters

Clothing stores is not the only place you can see this explosion of Native American prints and style. High Fashion photographers have incorporated these styles into conceptual photoshoots. 

Old Surehand | Milana Krus by Alexey Kolpakov for L' Officiel Russia April 2011

Graphic Artists have also incorporated Native American prints into their work such as this artist who runs an art blog

As well as printmakers such as this local Austin artist that sells locally around town:

The trend is also seen in interior design. Home magazines showcase touches of Native American items around the home as modern and trendy. 

The explosion of this trend has gone extremely far into many realms of art. It has overtaken the fashion world, and inspired not only home interiors but graphic design and photography. I as an admirer of the Native American culture initially embraced the flooding of these prints into modern society because of my appreciation for the culture. It however, I feel has gone a bit too far. There is such a saturation of usage of these prints and cultural idiosyncrasies that it is somewhat offensive. Most of these retailers, designers and artists are taking something that is very sacred to Native American culture and commercializing it. Not to say that everyone who appropriates these cultural things is doing it maliciously, but rather, ignorantly. It is a sensitive issue that people seem to be making a lot of money on without any consideration for the source. 

-Dagny Piasecki


  1. I saw this an Immediately liked it due to the fact I had read a small article about this. I think its funny but righteous for the fact they get a little money. Urban make millions they could at least throw them a few for making such cute patterns. I do love the Navajo pattern myself I can't lie.
    -Mary Gardner

  2. I agree with Mary it is nice to see them give back. Its also really nice to see such a huge part of our American heritage getting exposed to the masses. Navajo patterns do seem to be very popular across the board.
    -Taylor Williams

  3. I agree that these retailers and consumers are ignorant. The images and patterns above are laced with honor and tradition, but are just being shown as fashion. It seems like being a "native" is very popular these days, but most if not all people claiming to be Native American know nothing of the culture or history. I do beleive you touched on a very important discussion, but I also think more text and information would have helped.

    -Luke Cisneros

  4. I truly admire Native American art. I also bear a profound respect for the people. I feel very strongly about the plight of the first peoples of America. So I was very interested in an article on the new fashion fad of "native" apparel and accessories. It led me to read on and in doing so I discovered the Federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. According to the Department of the Interior website the sale of such products not made by Indian tribes is illegal. Specifically, the site explains that:

    "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. For a first time violation of the Act, an individual can face civil or criminal penalties up to a $250,000 fine or a 5-year prison term, or both. If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000."

    I have to say that after all the Natives Americas have been through in the past, the last thing we should do is profit from "knocking off" their traditional textiles. It's extremely insensitive, given the high rates of alcoholism on the reservations and tribal lands to wrap counterfeit Native American prints and patterns around a flask.

    -Victoria Eastman