Button Pushing Controversy at Urban Outfitters



Urban Outfitters didn’t shock us with having another controversial clothing stunt. However the company’s latest has redefined the term “crossing a line,” and it has left many shocked.

Last Sunday, the store added a Kent State University sweatshirt to the “sun-faded vintage” collection. It was spattered with red and held holes on the right shoulder. What’s concerning is the red that covers the sweatshirt calls to mind the bloody Kent State Massacre on May 4, 1970.

On that day, while protesting the Vietnam War, four students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard.

When Urban responded to the inevitable upset, they shared on Twitter that the company bought the sweatshirt from the Rose Bowl Flea Market and that it was “not altered in any way.” The company tweeted, ”It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970… we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such.”

Whatever their intention was, it was in bad taste. It is hard to believe that they didn’t keep this all in consideration, especially when marketing revolves around conscious decisions and keeping target audiences in mind.

Not to say Urban Outfitters is the only culprit of pushing the envelope, but this particular company has done so too many times before. In 2010, they sold a shirt that promoted anorexia with the words “Eat Less” on the front. In 2012, a shirt with a six-pointed star on the breast pocket was offered, and customers were horrified at its resemblance of the patch that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany.

According to Business Insider, Urban Outfitters’ sales have “tumbled 12 percent” as of May 2014. It only makes sense that these incidents Urban Outfitters stirs up are purposeful tactics to increase buzz and profit, despite all of the company’s (clearly empty) apologies claiming unawareness.

But why is it important? This impacts our culture. Media and corporations tell us what’s in style, and we buy the products. Should we embrace and support the stores that sell negative messages? We should care about the issue of companies that don’t care about anything more than business, because we falsely believe they serve us and our style, when in reality, we are serving them.

“I see where their efforts are focused, but it isn’t right to repeatedly test the limits on how far you are willing to go, especially about something like this,” Ian Yanda, a sophomore at Manhattan College, said.

Kent State expressed their displeasure about Urban Outfitter’s sweatshirt. “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.”

Why should we take a stand? Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young produced a song on the Kent tragedy singing: “What if you knew her… how can you run when you know?” But what if the massacre did hit closer to home? Fortunately, Manhattan College has not experienced heartbreak like that of Ohio, but what if a reference to one of the more serious public safety emails were turned into items in a store catalogue that belittled the situation?

“I just am a little shocked that the decision to sell the sweatshirt went through the whole corporation’s board. I mean, they are a pretty big business and no one said anything?” Carly Cummings, defensive player on the Manhattan College lacrosse team, said. Cummings has never purchased anything from Urban Outfitters, but shared that she certainly would never in the future.

No matter how small the school, students pick the college they feel is their best fit. With that, there is a level of pride for the school; hanging banners on dorm walls, wearing college-name apparel, and riding with school stickers on the backs of cars.

Not just as college students, but as human beings, we should question how we easily accept, support and encourage a company that is more than willing to surrender morality for profit, or offend groups of people for publicity.

Controversy is a tactic that many companies use to get attention, but when they leap over the line a stand needs to be taken. We cannot just shrug off when these companies slide by unethically, and blindly follow a trend or unknowingly embrace products and ideas that people try to sell us.