By Emily Gibson
Indie clothing behemoth Urban Outfitters is no stranger to controversy. Through the years, the company has spread its influence globally, becoming the biggest retailer in contemporary bohemian and offbeat fashion. Sometimes, though, their attempts to be edgy result in boycott, scandal and hoards of angry hipsters.
In mid-September, the company weathered their latest scandal when they released a Kent State University sweatshirt as part of their “vintage collection.” The identifying feature of the sweatshirt was that it looked bloodstained, with what appeared to be bullet holes on the shoulder.
It appeared to be a strange homage to the fatal shooting that occurred at Kent State University in May 1970, when the Ohio National Guard turned their guns on student Vietnam War protesters.
Immediately, social media blew up.
Some took a more joking approach to the sweatshirt…
While others were outraged by the company’s audacity…
The release of this sweatshirt was disheartening, but sadly not shocking coming from a company that has offended so many times in the past. After the company released a half-hearted apology and explanation that claimed the appearance of blood stains was unintentional, the scandal got swept under the rug along with the offenses of the past.
Some of the most notable Urban Outfitters scandals include their chronic glamorization of mental illness. In 2010, they released a widely criticized t-shirt that read “eat less” in white script. This year they sold a crop top that said “depression” in varying sizes, and have also sold shot glasses, flasks and other accessories that look like pill bottles.
In an attempt to appeal to pop culture, Urban Outfitters insults those who believe that mental illnesses are a fragile aspect of society that shouldn’t be exploited or sold.
Smaller artists from Etsy and Tumblr have also charged Urban Outfitters with stealing their art or designs.
Web artist SPIRES, who is famous on Tumblr for his work, had one of his designs stolen and made into a bodycon skirt. When he posted about it on Tumblr and got over 100,000 notes, the company formally apologized and removed the product from their site.
Artist Stevie Koerner wasn’t so lucky. Koerner sells her necklaces on Etsy in a series she calls “A World of Love.” The slogan of the series is “wear your love,” and features pendants of different states with a heart cut-out. After she began selling these on her Etsy, Urban Outfitters released a similar design called “I Heart Destination” necklaces, with the slogan “wear your locale love.”
When Koerner accused the company, they refused to admit fault because they used a different heart shape and claimed many other artists had similar designs. “I’m very disappointed in Urban Outfitters. I know they have stolen designs from plenty of other artists,” Koerner wrote on her blog. “I understand that they are a business, but it’s not cool to completely rip off an independent designer’s work.”
In another instance, the Navajo nation sued Urban Outfitters for using their trademarked name on a “distasteful and racially demeaning line that included flasks and panties,” according to Sasha Houston Brown in an open letter. They have also been called out for inappropriate references to the Holocaust, transphobic slurs and the stereotyping of races and genders. The list of their offenses is a long one.
Still, after every shocking scandal and trending topic Urban Outfitters remains one of the biggest names in millennial fashion today.
Urban Outfitters declined ORANGE’s request for comment on the Kent State University sweatshirt.