School shooting shirts, “Obama/black” shirts, and shirts glorifying depression and excessive alcohol consumption: Urban Outfitters has sold them all.
Urban Outfitters started using controversial merchandise as a marketing ploy in 2003 when they released a Monopoly parody called “Ghettopoly.” The NAACP immediately cried ‘foul’ and called for the game to be removed from all Urban Outfitters across the country. Never one to miss the chance for an offensive racial stereotype, Urban Outfitters was criticized again in 2003 by the Jewish community for selling a t-shirt that read “everyone loves a Jewish girl” with dollar signs around the lettering. Since 2003 they have released everything from “hoe” shot glasses to an “Eat Less” v-neck.
Since 1970, Urban Outfitters has been selling over-priced clothing items and featuring unique controversial items as a marketing pitch to produce sales, but have they gone too far?
The Kent State University shootings were one of the most horrific events of the 1970s. During a protest of the Cambodian Invasion, the Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds in a matter of seconds, killing four student protesters and wounding nine others. This tragedy inspired Urban Outfitters to sell a Kent State University sweatshirt that appears to be covered in blood.
Urban Outfitters released the sweatshirt online with the caption, “Only one! Get it or regret it!” This marketing ploy was meant to stir controversy to make a quick buck. The price of the sweatshirt was originally $159 but eventually sold on Ebay for $550. The bulletholes on the upper left hand shoulder caused the biggest controversy with this apology, “The one-of-a-kind item was purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection.” Kent State University issued this statement directed at Urban Outfitters, “This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.”
Richard Haynes, CEO, President, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Urban Outfitters, may be as different from his customer base as possible. While Urban Outfitters is known to draw a crowd of liberal hipsters, Richard Hayne is a conservative Republican donating to causes like anti-abortion and anti-gay rights.
During the 2008 California vote to stop gay marriage, Urban Outfitters released a shirt stating, “I support same sex marriage.” After less than a week, Urban Outfitters pulled the shirt, claiming ‘bad press’. However, no mention of the gay rights shirt had been mentioned on any online blogs or print newspapers, claims Tara Littman, the shirt’s designer.
Urban Outfitters of course has every right to sell controversial merchandise or pull merchandise that goes against the conservative views on gay rights, but it is up to the people who buy and wear the items that they sell that have the power to change them. As today’s teenagers grow older, children will become the new consumers. Urban Outfitters will thrive or die on what consumers will buy. As physics teacher Zachary Evans said, “I think I would talk to [my children] and tell them what it means and the type of message that it’s sending. Then they can decide if it’s something they want to support.”
Written by Savanah Russ
Produced by Nikki Le