By Elyssa Kiva
Catlin Gabel School, Catlin Speak
Clothing store Urban Outfitters is a company that has offended the public and yet remains wildly successful. The store has received public backlash for numerous products and poor business practices for years, but the business shows no signs of stopping its questionable behavior.
One of Urban Outfitters’s most notorious scandals began when the company started selling products described as Navajo, items such as the Navajo Print Fabric-Wrapped Flask and Navajo Hipster Panties. Selling flasks and underwear branded with the word Navajo is insensitive and created outrage among tribal members as well as the general public.
The Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters in 2012 and successfully forced the company to remove the word Navajo from the products under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. The act prevents companies from falsely insinuating that products are produced by or connected to the tribe.
Pulled off the shelves in 2013, pill bottle shaped and patterned products outraged many Americans and made news headlines during production. This playful commentary on the fact that many Americans overuse prescription drugs was seen as seriously offensive by the public. Additionally, pro-alcohol shirts with slogans such as “I Vote for Vodka,” “Misery Loves Alcohol,” and “USA Drinking Team” are seen as inappropriate by many especially considering Urban Outfitters’s largely underage marketing audience.
Urban Outfitters began 2014 with a new controversy when the company decided to make a fashion statement out of mental illnesses with a shirt printed with the word “depression” and a t-shirt that said “eat less.” According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, depression affects roughly 8 percent of Americans, particularly women (a large part of Urban Outfitters’s customer base), so the shirt could offend many Americans. Similarly, eating disorders among young people are common, and an item encouraging consumers to eat less can be damaging to self-esteem.
Another item that created controversy was a greeting card that read: “Jack and Jill/Went up the hill/So Jack could see Jill’s fanny/But Jack got a shock,/And an eyeful of c—,/Because Jill was a closet t—–.” The use of a transgender slur made this product offensive to the LGBTQ community.
In order to keep up with trends that sell, the store has also been accused of stealing independent artists’ ideas. Stevie Koerner, a jewelry designer, sold her “United States of Love” line, which features small state-shaped necklaces with a small cutout heart design, on e-commerce website Etsy. Urban Outfitters produced a nearly identical product but eventually quietly removed the design from shelves.
Urban Outfitters’s controversies have grown numerous over the years, but arguably one of its most offensive products is a board game entitled “Ghettopoly.” The game, based on the popular board game Monopoly, includes hurtful stereotypes about African-Americans. The names of properties in the game are changed to things like “Cheap Trick Avenue” and “Smitty’s XXX Peep Show,” and the game board features characters labeled “Malcum X” and “Martin Luthor King Jr.” misspelled to seemingly mock the two civil rights activists.
Though usually quick to pull its offensive products off shelves, the chain has failed to apologize for many of its mistakes, or attempt to become a more responsible corporate entity.