Pendleton, Urban Outfitters, and the Native American “inspiration” that makes them millions

Mattie Bowen
6 min readMay 6, 2020

Pendleton blankets have been highly treasured gifts in Native American communities for over a hundred years. Giving away gifts as a thank-you is a huge part of most Native cultures, and blankets bestow honor upon the recipient. I’ve seen them wrapped around the shoulders of invited speakers at conferences and of my friends at graduation ceremonies.

Pendleton blankets and products are genuinely beautiful. Even as I was researching the company for this piece, I spent half an hour just blatantly shopping. (I didn’t find anything in my price range, which is enough to pay for maybe 10 threads on any product they sell.)

However, Pendleton is not now and never has been a Native-owned company.

A folded heavy wool blanket woven in a pattern with several colors.
The well-recognized Chief Joseph blanket. Photo from Pendleton website.

The style of blanket seen above is often called a ‘trade blanket.’ Pendleton began weaving trade blankets sometime in the mid- to late-1800s because of their loom artisan Joe Rawnsley, who lived with multiple tribes in the southwest. Rawnsley’s original blanket designs were very well-received by the Nez Perce, so he set out to find more designs that the Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi would like to see on blankets based on their existing designs on pottery, weavings, and regalia.