British Columbia

Nordstrom removes Cowichan name from sweaters

A call from the CBC prompted Nordstrom, a large department store based in the U.S., to remove the name Cowichan from sweaters they were selling on their website.

A call from the CBC prompted the company to remove the name Cowichan and issue an apology

U.S. department store Nordstrom has agreed to remove the name Cowichan from its products (Screengrab)

A call from the CBC prompted Nordstrom, a large department store based in the U.S., to remove the name Cowichan from a clothing line they were selling on their website.

The retailer, which is scheduled to open a store in Vancouver in September, listed the product as a Cowichan sweater even though it was not made by weavers from the Cowichan First Nation on Vancouver Island.

"We always will do our best to be culturally sensitive and understand that we have opportunities to learn, especially in Canada where we're new," said Nordstrom spokesperson Tara Darrow.

Darrow said Nordstrom is in consultation with its vendor over next steps.

"The sweater vendor has agreed to remove the name from the title of the product and we are looking at other products on our site to ensure they'll do the same," said Darrow.

Adrienne Keene, a post-doctoral fellow at Brown University and blogger at Native Appropriations, said it's a common issue in fashion, especially with "tribal" designs being in style.

"These images and these tribal names are very important to our self-identity and to protecting that cultural heritage and our community," said Keene.

A line of products from Urban Outfitters using the Navajo name

Keene was impressed by the Nordstrom's quick response.

"Most often I'm met with defensiveness and anger and dismissiveness," she said.

Ralph Lauren and Saks Fifth Avenue also have sweaters that bear the Cowichan name and design. And the Navajo Nation is in the midst of a lawsuit with Urban Outfitters over their line of Navajo-inspired products.

"This is a really big issue of power because these tribes are in marginalized positions and they can't take on these huge multinational companies on their own," said Keene.

Keene said people shouldn't be kept from wearing products from outside their own culture, but that the people whose designs and names are being used should be supported and acknowledged. 

"Especially in the age of the Internet, it's easy to buy sweaters directly from Cowichan weavers," said Keene

Ralph Lauren also sells sweaters using the Cowichan name

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