Urban Outfitters is a calculating, cowardly, conscienceless company. But you knew that. So the question is: why are you still giving them your money?
Let’s be frank. You should have had the good taste to shop elsewhere on fashion principle a later than a year ago, when Urban Outfitters started selling prefabricated “vintage,” pretend DIY punk-rock jackets. But it shouldn’t have come to that, considering the far more ethically dubious products they had long been putting out.
A concise video review of what I’m talking about was put together by the Washington Post. Among the highlights are a line of clothing promoting the stereotype that Irish people are drunks, a line illegally marketed as Navajo products (including a hip flask with a faux Navajo design, believe it or not), and an “Eat Less” T-shirt—modeled, of course, by an emaciated young woman who herself may or may not be healthy but whose presence clearly sends a message along the lines of, “Anorexia nervosa is cool!”
Then this month came the blood-stained Kent State sweatshirt. Never mind Urban Outfitters’ cowardly claim that the faux blood splatter is actually meant to evoke that “sun-faded vintage” look, and only later did anyone say, “Looks like blood…Kent State…oh, wait a minute.” But since when does sun-fading produce dark red spots? Obviously, the only thing the shirt is designed to evoke is the 1970 murders of four unarmed students at the hands of National Guardsmen.
Well, that’s not entirely true: it’s also designed to evoke controversy. This is the “All press is good press” model. As their history has demonstrated, Urban Outfitters will market anything they think will help them make a buck, including that which is in the worst of taste, banking on the belief that feigned innocence and a quick mea culpa will minimize the damage to their reputation enough so that the net result from the flash of negative attention will be a broader customer base.
But you, the consumer, can buck Urban Outfitters’ conventional wisdom. You can stopping giving them your dollars, instead buying your clothing from one of the indie retailers in your town (which you should have been doing, anyway). Because that’s the only thing people and companies like Urban Outfitters care about: the financial bottom line. If Urban Outfitters sees a noticeable drop in their 2014 Q4 sales report, they’ll second-guess their “disgust equals dollars” strategy.
You can also contribute on the public-relations side. You can start by un-Liking their Facebook page. (I see your Likes. You Like way too much), and you can tell Urban Outfitters you’ll never again shop there. One of the amusing side effects of their recent trivialization of murder is the response on their Facebook page. On every single post they’ve made since marketing their shitty little sweatshirt, numerous people have sounded the theme. “Would look better with blood splatters, right?” commented a visitor beneath multiple posts promoting various products. “Where’s the Holocaust vintage wallpaper?” asked another visitor under a post about Urban Outfitters’ removal wallpaper. Even a seemingly random posting about freshly picked flowers drew ire: “Remember those kids who died at Kent State? They carried freshly picked flowers too! Your blood splattered Kent State University sweatshirts are appalling. More than a few people in the marketing/design departments should be looking for new jobs. That is, ‘if’ the company has any type of soul left to it.”
The main message, though, has been the obvious one: boycott. “I am sick to my stomach after seeing the Kent State sweater,” read one comment that attracted 700 Likes within 24 hours of being posted. “Absolutely disgusted with the UO company. Planning to never shop UO or it’s other companies, Anthro & Free People.”
It’s just talk, though. Without action, it’s like a tree falling in the forest with no-one around to hear it: it doesn’t fucking matter whether it makes a sound. If Urban Outfitters’ bottom line doesn’t change for the worse, their business practices won’t change for the better. So stop shopping there, or otherwise you may find a Who ’79 Concert Tour T-shirt with red stains (I can just hear the false apology now: “Oh, that’s not supposed to be blood—it’s ketchup from a Riverfront Stadium concession stand”) coming to a store near you. And nobody needs that. Nobody.
P.S. Will you at least stop buying all your LPs there? Can’t you find a record store to support? What the fuck is wrong with you?
Love and formic acid,