Urban Outfitters: vintage, vinyl, and vanity


Sexy. Hip. Vintage. Unique. A shining retail store upon a hill. At the cost of attempting to turn young hipsters into acculturated, enlightened individuals across the western world, Urban Outfitters has faced numerous lawsuits and short-lived media scandals due to their fearless (read: tasteless) ways of alluding to painful moments in human history via hoodies and crop tops. As stated on their company profile, they aim for their designs to “resonate with the target audience,” and hell yes they do.

Let’s start in 2012 when UO was selling a yellow $100 T-shirt with a design that closely resembled the Star of David located on the left side of the chest area. The design made headlines as the Anti-Defamation League condemned the design as “extremely distasteful and offensive” in an email sent to the retail company, according to ABC News, as it had the look of what Jews were forced to wear under the Nazi Regime. The store apologized for how the item was “perceived,” which to me smells something like, “Sorry if the mass murder of millions of people still offends you.”

The T-shirt came out just months after UO launched a “Navajo” line of items, including a “Navajo Hipster Panty,” as reported by ABC. The Navajo Nation sued the company and asked them to stop using their trademark to create mock jewelry and clothing that poorly resembled their tribe. The items were not taken down, so consumers were able to purchase small dreamcatchers, amongst other items, made with the mundane hands of UO designers.

This year alone, the store has released several products that “resonate with the target audience” a little too loudly, starting with a crop top that had the word “depression” printed on the front side of it in different sizes, as reported on Buzzfeed.

Twitter users were quick to react to this, making comparisons to a former design by UO of a v-neck with the words “eat less” printed on it. It is as if the fashion industry needed a reminder of the unnatural motto one must abide by to aspire to be a model for most retail companies.

But I suppose if you have ever dreamed of looking hip while simultaneously representing a few major illnesses that plague our generation, UO gives you the opportunity to do so.

Their latest great idea was a pink sweater with the logo of Kent State University in Ohio. It was marketed as vintage, a one of a kind (allegedly, there was literally only one of these available), so the deal  was a  “get it or regret it” sensation. 

Much to the dismay of the designer that must have spent days and pounds of creativity on how the meaningless red splatters of paint would give it the perfect vintage look, the splatters ended up looking like blood stains, taking people back to the disastrous 1970 massacre that happened at the university.

Kent State released a statement on the sweater, judging it “beyond poor taste” that “trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community,” according to The Washington Post. UO, once again, “sincerely” apologized that this item was “perceived negatively,” as if there is any other way to perceive a $120 awful-looking sweater that alludes to our National Guard’s pitiful excuse that their lives were in danger in the presence of an unarmed student protest.

Forgive us, Urban Outfitters, we will do our best to amend our perceptions and interpretation skills.

To be a supporter of UO and rock their faded jeans and v-necks while listening to Bob Dylan means to have truly accepted their X number of apologies (it’s hard to keep an accurate number).

To continue shopping from them and remaining silent about insensitivity is to stand by their statements that their clearly offensive material is open for interpretation, setting the idea that our society’s ideals should cater to publicity stunts masked as some designer’s sudden bursts of creativity.

I was pleased when UO announced to USA TODAY that they will be destroying the sweater. Hopefully, they will soon do the same to their shameless business model, too.