Recently a follower told me that my ripping on Urban Outfitters was obnoxious. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that. Actually I get told fairly often things to the effect of “oh you just don’t like them because you want to be different and sound smart.” And I totally see why you would think that, and admittedly, I’m obnoxious about it.
I’ve made a few posts before about why I dislike Urban Outfitters so much, namely this response to an ask. But I wanted to elaborate a little.
So I’ll start from the bottom up. Urban Outfitters- a company which offers cool hip clothes with a progressive liberal attitude, right?
Yeah not really.
Meet Richard Hayne.
In 1970 Hayne and his wife founded Urban Outfitters. They have since branched out to open Free People and Anthropologie. He is the current president and CEO of said companies.
He’s also a staunch right conservative. Him and his wife donated 13,000 dollars to Rick Santorum. He’s also, unfortunately, the #262 richest person in the United States according to the 2008 Forbes 400 list (all of this information is well documented across the internet, and can be found on Hayne’s own Wikipedia page.)
Hayne is also openly anti-gay marriage, in 2008 he personally pulled a pro-gay tee shirt from Urban Outfitter’s shelves:
This is the tee shirt in question. Urban pulled it from their shelves after a week siting ”too much bad press” regarding the garment. However, when the designer Tara Littman went to look for the “bad press” she could find no more than one blog post dissing the shirt. Read about the incident here.
And recently, Urban Outfitters sold a decidedly distasteful transphobic greeting card:
To my knowledge it has since been pulled from the site and is no longer available for purchase, but for a company whose image entails a “forward thinking” “progressive” attitude, their actions seem to embody the complete opposite.
While I’m talking about Urban selling merchandise displaying shitty messages: I think it’s worth making note of their anti-woman and racist inventory of the past.
In 2010 Urban Outfitters sold this tee shirt which had “Eat less” emblazoned on it. In a day and age where some 10-15% of the population has some kind of serious eating disorder, I don’t think I have to explain why this was an irresponsible, if not wreckless, shirt to sell to teen girls.
Urban sold this shirt in September and while it’s not as blatantly offensive as “eat less” it’s pretty anti-woman (which isn’t all that surprising coming from a company run by extremely conservative Republicans) and promotes shitty behavior while also trying to make it look cute. So- I don’t know, it bothered me.
Ok now let’s talk about racism.
I believe they apologized for it and blamed it on a web formatting error, but as this article so perfectly put it:
“Fine, Urban Outfitters: you’re not racist, just careless. But you can’t blame anyone for assuming, considering UO’s history of controversy”
I won’t spend too much longer on the careless and controversial things they’ve sold because going through it all would take a very long time, but I would like to talk about something Urban did on numerous occasions (along with many other clothing retailers, like Forever 21) that’s very racist:
labeling apparel as “Navajo”
The folowing articles perfectly articulate why labeling products as “Navajo” is offensive and wrong:
In the first article, an open letter by Sasha Houston Brown, she laid down why she was offended by the merchandise:
In all seriousness, as a Native American woman, I am deeply distressed by your company’s mass marketed collection of distasteful and racially demeaning apparel and décor. I take personal offense to the blatant racism and perverted cultural appropriation your store features this season as “fashion.”
All too often industries, sports teams and ignorant individuals legitimize racism under the guise of cultural “appreciation”. There is nothing honorable or historically appreciative in selling items such as the Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask, Peace Treaty Feather Necklace, Staring at Stars Skull Native Headdress T-shirt or the Navajo Hipster Panty. These and the dozens of other tacky products you are currently selling referencing Native America make a mockery of our identity and unique cultures.
She also points out that falsely labeling merchandise as ‘Navajo’ when it is not, is against the law:
“The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-644) is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States. If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000”.
Urban issued an apology and renamed the products but never admitted that they were wrong in the first place.
The cultural appropriation of Native American garments for the sake of fashion is a problem not new or specific to Urban Outfitters but I do feel as though they perpetuate it by continuing to sell apparel which mimics and bastardizes native wear.
Now let’s look at a few cases of Urban Outfitters stealing and copying original work:
The most famous instance was in 2011 when popular Etsy vendor Tru.Che, miss Stevie Koerner, saw that Urban Outfitters had quite literally made and sold carbon copies of her easily recognizable “I heart destination” necklaces.
Hers is on the right, Urban’s version is on the left.
The accusations of thievery went viral, trending on twitter, appearing on countless blogs, and the story was eventually picked up by the Washing Post, who noted that this wasn’t the first time Urban had ripped off an independent designer.
(in the case of miss Koerner’s jewelry line it could not legally be proven that the design was a copy, she did not sue, and Urban eventually pulled the necklaces.)
Johnny Cupcakes on the left, Urban’s ripoff on the right
In 2004 Urban outfitters asked for some samples from Johnny Cupcakes, an independent clothing brand based out of Boston. The impression was that they were considering carrying some of the label’s shirts, however Urban decided not to carry any of the shirts and never returned the samples. Two years later, in 2006, they put out and sold the tee shirt featured in the above right. A visible copy of Johnny’s design. No legal action was taken.
There are so many instances of Urban stealing work that instead of talking about it all I’ll just link you:
Now I’m going to talk about what I hate most about Urban Outfitters, and they aren’t alone in this, but that’s no excuse to practice it nonetheless: the utilization sweatshop and child labor. This is something that I find completely inexcusable of any company to practice, I’ve talked about it a bit here and here.
Urban Outfitters outsources their clothing from sweatshops overseas, there has been some (but not much) evidence found that factories of theirs in China utilized child labor. Though there is evidence that UO buys cotton from suppliers who obtained it by means of forced child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields and uses said cotton in their garments (Aeropostale and Forever 21 are guilty of this as well.)
In 2008, LongView Funds, a mutual funds company with large shares of Urban Outfitters, urged them [UO] to adopt what is called “international labor standards.” According to Wikipeia, this is what that entails:
International labor standards refer to conventions agreed upon by international actors, resulting from a series of value judgments, set forth to protect basic worker rights, enhance workers’ job security, and improve their terms of employment on a global scale. The intent of such standards, then, is to establish a worldwide minimum level of protection from inhumane labor practices through the adoption and implementation of said measures. From a theoretical standpoint, it has been maintained, on ethical grounds, that there are certain basic human rights that are universal to mankind. Thus, it is the aim of international labor standards to ensure the provision of such rights in the workplace, such as against workplace aggression, bulling, discrimination and gender inequality on the other hands for working diversity, workplace democracy and empowerment.
However, UO refused to adopt and disclose a code of conduct based on basic, internationally-recognized human rights (i.e.: they declined to adopt international labor standards.) They instead released a statement saying that they “expect[ed] suppliers to adhere to child-labor laws.”
So there you have it. I hate Urban Outfitters. I hate their business model, I hate the people running it, I hate their racism, I hate that they steal work, and most of all I hate their use of unethical labor. And you know what? I’m going to be obnoxious about it. Because I think UO is a really shitty company. Does that mean i think everyone who shops there is shitty? No. Do I think everyone who works there is shitty? No. Do I hate all their clothing? No.
I don’t think you should shop there, in fact I would encourage you not to. But where you shop is your choice and I fully respect and understand your choices even if they are different than my own. If you really like UO but are maybe questioning shopping there I would encourage you to check out this list of ethical alternatives to Urban Outfitters.
I know this post will come across as obnoxious and even self righteous, please know that is not my intention. If you want to shop at Urban Outfitters by all means do so, my aim isn’t to be judgmental of anyone who does. I really just think and believe that consumers have a right to know about where they’re shopping.
And just for the record, UO may be a shitty company but they aren’t alone. I’ve made a post before about why I dislike Forever 21 so much, and:
along with Guess, Walmart, Target- the list goes on and on. Even American Apparel, a company that I’ve bought from in the past but am reconsidering supporting, has a seedy history.
This was long and rambly but yeah anyway I plan to stay very obnoxious when it comes to things I think are wrong.