Here's a list of all the people Urban Outfitters have offended
Urban Outfitters is one of those love-it-or-hate-it brands. Row upon row of floaty dresses, baggy jumpers and too-cool-for-school 90s throwback gear, they’ve certainly got a talent for making you either feel down with the kids or judged by the kids. But this high-street hipster haven has one other very special talent: an incredible knack for offending people.
So just who have Urban Outfitters upset over the years? You might want to sit down for this, it's a pretty long list.
You know what’s cooler than cool? It’s paying $129 for a faux blood-spattered vintage-style jumper, referencing a notorious shooting of unarmed college students by the national guard, in which four people were killed, one person left paralysed and a further eight injured. In response to criticism, Urban Outfitters put out a (fairly weak) statement saying that any resemblance was unintentional: "It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such", going on to claim that the colour was due to sun fading and the red stains (on every single jumper) were due to de-colourisation. Of course they were.
In 2015, Urban Outfitters found themselves in trouble for selling a tapestry that bore more than a passing resemblance to the outfit that gay male prisoners were forced to wear at concentration camps. Featuring white and blue stripes overlaid with a pink triangle, it was criticised by groups including Holocaust survivors as being insensitive and of bad taste: "Whether intentional or not, this gray and white striped pattern and pink triangle combination is deeply offensive and should not be mainstreamed into popular culture," said Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
In 2008, with California's debate on same-sex marriage reaching fever pitch, Urban Outfitters took the decision to pull a t-shirt reading: "I Support Same-Sex Marriage" within a week of it going on sale. You'd think that given that their biggest spending age group is young people aged between 18 to 24, usually a pretty liberal group, there wouldn't have really been a problem with it, but "too much bad press" was the reason given for its removal. However, not everyone is convinced this is quite the truth; Urban Outfitters’ CEO Richard Hayne has always avoided talking about his own views of homosexuality when pressed, but did donate over $14,000 to the notoriously anti-gay senator Rick Santorum.
Urban Outfitters have a pretty strong track record for upsetting parents, repeatedly selling teen-targeted clothing - their second biggest market is under 18s - covered in swear words, and promoting drinking and casual sex. Their "I Drink You're Cute" and "USA Drinking Team" tees were also reportedly modelled by under 21s. Another "punk as f**k" t-shirt and sticker range was quietly removed from sale on their website after complaints from parents.
Allow me to present "Ghettopoly": a version of Monopoly centred around stereotypes of ghetto life. Its mascot was a gun toting, weed smoking, soda chugging black guy, wearing a chunky gold chain and a headband; its "properties" included Harlem, the Bronx, a gun shop. Apparently not derogatory enough, Chance cards include: "You got da whole neighbourhood addicted to crack, collect $50." Although Urban Outfitters wasn't the only place you could buy it, they were the only major retailer to sell it and promptly stopped after a barrage of criticism in the USA.
A 15-year-old girl
Not only did Urban Outfitters use a provocative image of a then 15-year-old model Hailey Clauson, legs spread on the back of a motorbike, on one of their t-shirts, they did so without her permission. After her and her parents took both the photographer and Urban Outfitters to court, to the tune of $28 million, the clothing company eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum of money. But seriously, would you want to parade around with an underage child with her legs akimbo on a t-shirt? Not cool. We've left the photo out, for obvious reasons.
Managing to insult a group of people is one thing; managing to insult an entire country? That's some next level stuff. But that's exactly what Urban Outfitters did when they released a t-shirt reading: "New Mexico, Cleaner than Regular Mexico". I can imagine Trump's already got his order in.
A few years back, UO released a t-shirt reading "Everyone loves a Jewish girl" surrounded by pictures of shopping bags and dollar signs, and playing on the derogatory stereotype of the Jewish American princess. If that wasn't bad enough, you should also take a second to digest the idea that they also produced another t-shirt with a blue Star of David above the left breast, on a yellow background, which many said mimicked the symbolism of the holocaust. Nothing says edgy like racial stereotypes and Nazi references.
The Navajo Nation
Cultural appropriate has become a hot topic in the last few years, which might go some way to explain why Urban Outfitters finally agreed to settle out of court with the Navajo Nation in November 2016 after fighting a trademark lawsuit against them for almost four years. The Nation took exception to the fashion chain's use of their name in promoting of a line of generic patterned items including the "Navajo hipster panties" and the "Navajo print flask", commenting that: "These and the dozens of other tacky products you are currently selling referencing Native America make a mockery of our identity and unique cultures."
People with mental health issues
I'll leave it up to you to decide which one of these is worse: the tee that promotes eating disorders or the one that uses depression as a fashion statement? After an outpouring of public outrage to the depression shirt, including a change.org petition, the shop pulled it from shelves. As for the "eat less" tee, modelled by a woman who is quite clearly borderline underweight - well, seven years later people are still talking about it on social media.
So is it all a ploy to keep people talking about them in the cut-throat fast fashion world? Well, it’s hard to imagine you can create a replica Holocaust tapestry and not expect some kind of backlash. And, as if by clockwork, this seems to happen every couple of years. So the chances are that yes, they probably know exactly what they're doing. As the saying goes, being talked about is better than not being talked about. But that in itself is a pretty damning indictment of how this oh-so-cool store matches up with the supposedly young and liberal values of those who spend their cash there. Maybe someone should tell them that you can be edgy without being dicks?