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Graf: Urban Outfitters' irresponsibility

BY L.C. GRAF | SEPTEMBER 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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Urban Outfitters has done it again. The hip fashion retailer has been climbing to the top of trending topics because of its modern, fashion-forward styles.

Recently the company released a one-of-a-kind Kent State vintage sweatshirt, complete with faux blood stains. For only $129, one lucky person could own what many claim to be a mockery of the 1970 Kent State massacre, in which four unarmed students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard during a Vietnam War protest.

I have spent $274 at Urban Outfitters. This is $274 more than I’d like to admit. I like to think I spent the money begrudgingly, like I do at Walmart, knowing that sometimes you have to sacrifice a little bit of your morals for an 88-cent loaf of white-bread (but we won’t go through the laundry list of why I hate Walmart).

I have tapestries and bedroom decorations from Urban Outfitters, and I’ve visited its stores (then quickly walked out because I’m too underfunded to support a shopping habit).

In a 118-word statement, Urban Outfitters expressed that it was “extremely saddened” by the response but that the perceived blood stains and holes were from natural discoloration and wear.

The item was pulled, and an apology letter was issued to Kent State University, after the university responded to the incident.

The takeaway is that Urban Outfitters did not manufacture or design the sweatshirt but bought it from the Rose Bowl Flea Market. Yes, the company is roughly geared toward 18- to 25-year-olds, which means that the audience may or may not have been educated on the 1970s incident. It could have very truly, been a mistake, overlooked by the public-relations and marketing teams.

However, Urban Outfitters is no stranger to controversy.

In October 2011, Urban Outfitters marketed a line of Navajo-labeled clothes and accessories, even though a 1990 federal law prohibits falsely suggesting that the products were Native American made (not to mention that the Navajo Nation owns 12 trademarks on the word Navajo).

In May 2011, the company created a jewelry line that was nearly identical to independent jewelry designer Stevie Koerner’s. After social-media protests, Urban pulled the line.

In 2003, “Ghettopoly” hit the stands. Goals included getting your neighborhood addicted to illegal drugs (and probably encouraged bloody sweatshirts).

The list is long.

The company’s standard of “edgy” has crossed over into “irresponsibly offensive,” and it has for years. Despite the glaring headlines, it always seems that after the dust settles, we all go back to quietly clicking and buying mustache or cat-themed gear. And why not? There are bigger evils in the world than a company that pushes negative stereotypes … but that’s not an excuse.

The products we buy, and the companies we support are, often, a reflection of our beliefs and morals. While plenty of people can’t afford to stop shopping at places like Wal-Mart (I mean, maybe they would if chains supported “living wages”), this isn’t the same for Urban Outfitters. It’s not a necessary evil; it’s an overly vintage-floral and hip-geometric patterned clothing store.

There’s no reason to not want a Christmas list of things from Urban Outfitters. Its duvet covers, clothing, and apartment accessories are spread across Tumblr and Pinterest boards alike. But the products need to match the ideologies of the audiences Urban is catering toward. It’s time we demand for something better and more responsible.


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