Description

Navajo blankets are carefully constructed textiles that embody a cultural appreciation for craftsmanship, innovation and individuality. Weaving is an important aspect of Navajo or Diné society and spirituality. Communities banded together to raise sheep and women took to the forefront as weavers. In Navajo legend, Spider-Man taught the Navajo how to create the loom out of their surroundings, and Spider-Woman (the first to weave the web of the universe) taught them the beauty of weaving. Under this guidance, Navajo weavings are remarkably created without preliminary sketches or outlines, each design is extremely personal to the creator.   

The main distinctions of Navajo blankets are Serapes (shoulder blankets), Saddle blankets and Chief’s blankets. Chief’s blankets are the finest and most expensive Navajo textiles. Although the Navajo do not have chief distinctions in their culture, these blankets were named because only someone wealthy such as a chief could afford one. Chief’s blankets were highly prized and often traded with settlers or other tribes where they were to be used in ceremonies. When worn in the traditional manner – draped over the back- Serape and Chief’s blankets emphasize the strength of the wearer, presenting them as an idealized being. Styles and patterns in Navajo weaving evolved over time as they were always dependent on the resources available. Early Navajo blankets were limited to the natural colour palette of the wool and used more simplistic banded patterns. As synthetic dyes were invented and trade with settlers became more common, Navajo blankets began demonstrating their more iconic colours and bold graphic patterns. Today Navajo blankets are widely recognized for beauty, quality and resilience.

Details

Appropriation and Influence

screenshot from the ASOS website showing several garments and accessories that have Navajo and Aztec inspired prints on them

ASOS Aztec & Navajo Line, 2012

Online retailer ASOS released a clothing line inspired by Navajo and Aztec prints without consulting or collaborating with the indigenous groups in question. Additionally, by lumping the Aztec and Navajo groups into one inspiration it contributes to the erasure of distinct Native American cultures and perpetuates generic ‘Indian’ stereotypes.
Image: Screenshot from the ASOS website. 2012. View Larger
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Urban Outfitters Navajo Line, 2011

In 2011 Urban Outfitters released a line of “Navajo” products without Navajo collaboration or consent. Some products such as their “Hipster Panty” or “Navajo Flask” perpetuate negative Native American stereotypes or minimize the Navajo to a fashionable aesthetic. Additionally, the Navajo nation has trademarked a variety of products which Urban Outfitters ignored.
Image: Screenshot from the Urban Outfitters website. 2011. View Larger
a look from Siki Im's 2011 Fall/Winter collection. The model is dressed in a loose fitting black suit with a red, white and blue Navajo Blanket draped over his shoulders. He wears an oversized dark brown cowboy hat and dark brown shiny dress shoes.

Siki Im Fall/Winter, 2011

Siki Im’s fall/winter 2011 collection was inspired by Native American potter Maria Martinez. He identified a specific attribute of her work that he appreciated rather than incorporating generic “Indian” stereotypes into his designs. He also collaborated with Navajo weaver Tahnibaa Naataanii to create the shoulder blankets worn on the models and credited her for her work.
Image: A look from Siki Im’s Fall/Winter 2011 collection. View Larger
References
Christa Mayer-Thurman. “Navajo Blankets.” Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago (1973-1982) 68, no. 3 (1974): 4-20. 

Kahlenberg, Mary. “The Navajo Blanket.” Craft Horizons (Archive: 1941-1978), 32, no. 3 (1972): 30-39. 

Parezo, Nancy J. “The Southwest.” In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: The United States and Canada, edited by Phyllis G. Tortora, 424–436. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010.

Whitaker, Kathleen. “Art from the Navajo Loom: The William Randolph Hearst Collection.” African Arts 22, no. 2 (1989): 98-99.