Trending News Monday: Urban Outfitters Under Fire

Shootings, particularly school shootings, hit the American public’s sensitive spot. The unfathomable deaths of children and young adults spark national uproar–school’s are supposed to be safe; children are supposed to grow old; no one should ever kill an innocent, unsuspecting child. The mere mention of Virginia Tech University, Columbine High School or Sandy Hook Elementary trigger memories of the tragedies that took place at those academic institutes.

Time doesn’t necessarily lighten the weight of the tragedies, whether the shooting took place 44 years ago or two years ago. So when an apparel company tried to profit off of a school shooting that occurred more than four decades ago, the Internet reacted consequently. This Trending News Monday, take a look at the recent controversy involving the apparel company Urban Outfitters and a recent product offering.

Urban Outfitters began selling a “one-of-a-kind ” vintage Kent State sweatshirt Sunday night, but the shirt has a problem: the red stains and holes seem to look like blood and gun shots alluding to a very dark day in Kent State’s and America’s history. In 1970,  the Ohio National Guard shot dead four Kent State students and wounded nine others during an on campus protest, so the public was quick to believe the sweatshirt’s stains and holes were in some way inspired by the historical tragedy.

America’s youth, who happen to be the market for Urban Outfitters, score lower in U.S. history than in any other subject in school, so (unless adolescents are big Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young Fans), they likely are unfamiliar with the 1970 tragedy at Kent State. That was until BuzzFeed blew the whistle on the apparel company early this morning.

Kent State followed with an official statement regarding the Urban Outfitter’s sweatshirt, saying “We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit. This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.”

Urban Outfitters, a notoriously unapologetic company, was quick to address the issue.  

Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offense our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused. 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. The one-of-a-kind item was purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection. There is no blood on this shirt nor has this item been altered in any way. The red stains are discoloration from the original shade of the shirt and the holes are from natural wear and fray. Again, we deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset.  — Urban Outfitters (@UrbanOutfitters) September 15, 2014

The one-of-a-kind “sun faded” vintage collection Urban Outfitters refers to in its statement includes vintage shirts from schools like Penn State, New Mexico University and UCLA, and all of the shirts clearly aren’t designed by Urban Outfitters, but that doesn’t let them off the hook for the insensitive blunder nor does it excuse the company from responsibly distributing its merchandise. People have voiced their skepticism on social media today that no one at the edgy and trendy company knew of the Kent State May 4 Massacre (which took place the same year the company was founded) or could not see how consumers might interpret the discoloration and holes from wear and tear as dye representing blood stains and holes signifying bullet holes.

The $129 sweatshirt was sold last night and the image has been removed from the Urban Outfitters website, but the sweatshirt then appeared on ebay with a starting bid of $550. Along with the sweatshirt, the ebay user posted a message that said, “I ordered it and am waiting myself, as soon as it arrives, I’ll ship it to you. Perfect for Halloween or whatever your deal is. Also; I’m gonna give 50% of the profit to The Southern Poverty Law Center, who protect those who cannot protect themselves, often those who are victims of police brutality.” The item has since been removed from ebay.

As Urban Outfitters faces this controversy, Twitter users are shaming the apparel company, using the hashtags #UrbanOutfitters, #KentState, #KentStateAlly and #KentStateSweatshirt.

All press cannot be good press, especially with such high public outcry, but this is not the first time the company has faced controversy over its merchandise: a shirt with a Star of David patch resembled Holocaust era wardrobe Jewish people were required to wear; the “Eat Less” tee shirt seemed to promote unhealthy eating habits; and the Ghettopoly game was filled with racial stereotypes.

Urban Outfitters will likely recover from this as they have with other controversies, but that begs the question how long can the brand go on utterly offending people and alienating consumers before their profits take a hit?

Cover Photo Source:Tupungato / Shutterstock.com

Cassandra is a Content Manager and Developer at SJG. She earned her BA from Fontbonne University in 2011. Outside the office, she enjoys an active, healthy and well-rounded lifestyle including reading, writing, running, golfing, watching films, listening to music, taking photographs, and consuming media and social media.