by Caitlin Karna
What you wear has the power to reflect who you are. One of the greatest parts about fashion and style is the way you in which you can personalize it, make a statement, and feel good in your own skin. However, what you wear is also a representation of the designer’s vision, and when you choose to purchase a product, you also decide to advertise this particular vision.
What if the vision of the designer is not what you thought it was?
“Urban Outfitters Under Fire for Tapestry Reminiscent of Uniforms Worn By Gay Nazi Prisoners”
“Is Urban Outfitters Offending People On Purpose?”
“Urban Outfitters Hits New Low With Faux Blood-Stained Kent State Sweatshirt”
“Urban Outfitters Sparks Fury Over Religious Socks”
These are a few of the headlines that appear on the Huffington Post when you search “Urban Outfitters Controversy.” URBN, Inc. describes Urban Outfitters’ brand profile by saying, “We stock our stores with what we love, calling on our — and our customer’s — interest in contemporary art, music and fashion.” As a concept, this statement is respectable. But with all the controversy that follows the Urban brand, it is difficult to accept the statement as wholly true.
In September of 2012, the CEO of URBN, Inc., Richard Hayne described the Urban Outfitters customer during Analyst Day. “The Urban customer we always talk about is the upscale homeless person who has a slight degree of angst and is probably in the life stage of 18 to 26.” If this is the image Urban Outfitters wants to reach their target audience, I would really like to know how many “upscale homeless” people do actually shop there. While Urban’s products definitely exemplify the grungy, street-chic, effortlessly cool look, they are not cheap. Prices range anywhere from cheap sale accessories under $10 to overpriced “vintage” items that are sometimes over $600.
However, the controversy that spurred the most outrage in recent news was the “vintage Kent State sweatshirts” released last year. In 1970, the National Guard opened fire on peaceful student protesters at Kent State in Ohio, killing four of them. In September of this past year, shoppers could find sweatshirts with the Kent State name and logo—“coincidentally” a discolored red with splatters that resembled bloodstains.
According to a New York Times opinion article, this was not Urban Outfitters’ first offense. Other contentious products included a hat with a stick figure vomiting labeled “Irish Yoga,” a t-shirt that read “Eat Less,” and another Holocaust-themed shirt that had a Star of David on its pocket.
So how did Urban respond? Supposedly, they “deeply regret that [these items were] perceived negatively,” as if the perception was the problem. It is clear that there is nothing coincidental about Urban’s controversial products. Yet they continue to err time and time again, with the perception that they are being artistic, rebellious, or simply just making a statement. But in actuality, Urban’s statement affects all the groups of people targeted in their products. From the four people who died in the Kent State tragedy all the way to the millions of people affected by the Holocaust, Urban’s products extremely insensitive to them, if not all people.
And yet, Urban Outfitters’ sales last year were about $2.8 billion, up from the year before.