The Case Against Urban Outfitters
I don’t want to get too political on this blog, but I think as time goes on, Urban Outfitters and its sister companies continue to emphasize that its customers really need to be aware of what they’re all about. I will not be shopping there anymore, nor Anthropologie, nor Free People, all of which are owned by far-right conservative Richard Hayne. Theft, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia are the reasons why.
Let’s start with theft.
The above photo is from one of the most talked-about debacles, known as Urban Outrage over at Regretsy. Etsy artist Truche was selling her United States of Love collection featuring pendants in the shape of states with a cut-out heart. Several other Etsy artists carry this design, so no one’s to know who stole from whom. However, that doesn’t mean UO is off the hook. Let’s consider its history.
In 2010, the Village Voice wrote a piece highlighting multiple designs that UO ripped off from other creators in 2006, 2007, and 2009, respectively:
One could argue that these designs are not entirely unique, but you just can’t deny the complete rip-off of the Johnny Cupcakes T-shirt. The Boston designer was reportedly negotiating a deal to sell his apparel at UO, according to The Consumerist, but rather than using his design, the deal did not go through and UO copied it instead.
Moving on… Anthropologie is apparently well-known for stealing designs from Etsy artists and offering an even more expensive, yet somehow shittier version of the designer’s precious product. This is just a little too obvious to ignore (from Regretsy):
Left, Etsy; Right, Anthropologie.
There are knock-offs all over the fashion industry. Last April, Jessica Simpson blatantly put out a complete rip-off of a Christian Louboutin sandal, Guess was ordered to pay $4.7 million to Gucci for trademark infringement in May, Zara does it all day, every day – it’s not uncommon for one major brand to make a cheaper version of another major brand’s designs. But these are companies that likely expect copycats, do not have the same target customers, and can take a loss. That doesn’t make it ethical, but it’s the lesser of two evils. It hurts independent designers far worse to lose all of those sales to a corporate giant. Rather than stealing artists’ work maybe they can sell a few more racist tees, hm? Onto the next subject.
UO briefly sold Ghettopoly, a board game that has players traveling through Harlem, The Bronx, and other “ghetto” areas and getting addicted to crack. Though not a UO-made product, the decision was made to stock this game. It caused enough of a stir that the NAACP demanded it be pulled from the shelves.
This short-sleeved henley shirt that has nothing to do with politics or the president or anything other than being a basic piece of clothing comes in White/Charcoal, and also Obama/Black! UO attributed this to a system error after pulling it from the website.
Most recently, Anthro came out with an incredibly strange candlestick (for $398, no less) featuring a “mammie” effigy. Critics of the Business Insider disdain say it’s a collectible piece of history… but that would be true if it weren’t deliberately mass-produced for sale online. The item was removed from the website the Friday after it was discovered by BI.
UO doesn’t discriminate against one race, you guys, it discriminates against the Jews, too. The Anti-Defamation League found this yellow tee with a six-pointed star on the pocket to be “extremely distasteful and offensive,” according to TIME. “[It] bears unfortunate overtones of the yellow badge Jewish people were forced to wear under the Nazi regime. The $100 shirt appeared on the Urban Outfitters website … in the same week as Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day. Some detractors believe that this was not a coincidence.”
There used to be plenty of these tees on the shelves for Asians, Italians, the Polish, and Irish, but none that pandered to ethnic stereotypes quite like the dollar signs and shopping bags of the “Everyone Loves A Jewish Girl” T-shirt. The ADL demanded these be removed from the shelves, and UO simply made more but without the accompanying graphics.
This shirt, depicting a Palestinian boy wielding an AK-47 above the word “Victimized,” caused an outrage for promoting terrorism and violence against the Jewish community. Hayne maintains that this shirt was never meant to convey this, but critics believe otherwise, considering UO has previously gone under fire for selling what it called an “anti-war scarf” a.k.a. a keffiyeh, an Arab headdress worn in support of Islamic terror on Israel. Worn in the East, it is typical to wear in hot weather for comfort; in the West, it is usually an anti-Semitic political statement.
There is nothing wrong with this shirt. It’s a great tee with a great message, but we can’t leave the gay community out of the equation, either. Unfortunately, it caused a major backlash with UO’s homophobic fans, causing the brand to remove it from the shelves after just one week of availability because it was stirring up “too much bad press.” Bad press for promoting gay marriage, supporting equality for a huge portion of your customer base? I’d say suck it up stick to your beliefs, but that’s exactly what Hayne did. He believes in money any which way you can get it. People don’t like it? Get rid of it, he doesn’t like gay marriage anyway!
And just to further emphasize the rampant homophobia at UO, I present to you the transphobic greeting card. Charming, eh?
And there’s the pro-anorexia tee that has “Eat Less” across the stomach of a teeny model, there’s the Navajo apparel that was deemed “derogatory and scandalous,” there were those “salacious” photos of the 16-year-old model that were illegally used on UO’s shirts…. There’s also that time, according to Jezebel, that Richard Hayne “donated upwards of 13K to Rick Santorum, the most disgustingly homophobic man on earth.”
Singled out, these incidents seem like a simple case of an ill-thought-out product. But when you comb through its sordid history, you begin to see just what a rotten company it really is. This isn’t something fashion bloggers talk much about, but it needs to be addressed – it’s important to make educated shopping decisions. Most people don’t know about any of these incidents, and what’s worse, many who will read this don’t really care.
But there you have it, folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Portions of this post first appeared on my personal blog in June 2012. It has been updated to reflect the latest news.