Cut Urban Outfitters Some Slack, Mistakes Happen

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I recently wrote about how fashion ads are becoming less and less controversial. But now I think I know where all the controversy went in today’s retail strategy: it has shifted to the product itself. By now you may have heard about Urban Outfitters’ recent bloody Kent State sweatshirt. I’ve read a lot of opinions, including that of fellow Law Street writer Anneliese Mahoney, claiming that Urban Outfitters intentionally released the controversial garment in order to increase its recently dwindling sales. I’m not so sure about that though.

A few weeks ago, Spanish retailer Zara came under fire for producing a children’s top with a six-pointed star patch on the chest that bore a striking resemblance to the star of David patches that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. Last I checked, Zara has been doing pretty well financially. Maybe it isn’t necessarily booming but sales don’t seem to be dwindling either. If anything, producing such a controversial item would hurt its profits and reputation, especially in the dominant European market where the Holocaust occured. It would be a poor choice on Zara’s part if it purposely released a controversial shirt in order to gain publicity.  

While the situation with Urban Outfitters may be a little different, I also don’t think it’s fair to claim that garments go through so many people in production that it would be impossible for someone not to catch something that appears to be a little off. There’s a reason it’s called fast fashion. Unlike more specialized design houses, mass clothing retailers have to move quickly in order to meet consumer demands and make a profit. It’s not like there’s a group of people focused on each item for more than a few seconds at a time. Often the products are presented as a seasonal collection, so details on individual items may be overlooked.

As a writer and someone who works in the creative field, I know what it’s like to look at a project so much that you get sick of it, which may be the case for both the design and production teams in these companies. Also, when you’re working for a company, you look at the product with a completely different mindset than the hypercritical masses that are always looking for a reason to be angry about something. Even The New York Times gets busted for being lazy sometimes. I’m not necessarily condoning such laziness when it comes to editing, but I know for a fact that sometimes it just happens because people are human.

The offending sweatshirt was a one-of-kind vintage piece from Urban Outfitters’ Urban Renewal line, which consists of curated items that may be slightly altered or updated by the company. What seems to be the case with this sweatshirt is that the college apparel was tie-dyed by Urban’s design team in an unfortunate red color. The deep red dots appear to be parts where the dye was more saturated than the rest of the garment. Now if you’ve ever tried to tie-dye before you probably know that it can be pretty damn messy, not to mention difficult to make a consistent design. In this case they only had one item to work with, so if they messed up it was just seen as added character to the unique vintage gem.

While part of Urban’s reputation is to make quirky — and not always politically correct — products, I don’t think this was the case here. Sometimes the viewer reads way more into a piece of art than the artist ever intended. Also, producing a controversial product instead of an ad is a pretty risky business strategy, especially in Urban’s case where the sweatshirt was one of a kind. If anything, they would be at risk of losing even more money if people were to start a boycott of the brand altogether. While I wouldn’t excuse Urban Outfitters or Zara for having such a sloppy editing process, consumers need to calm down when it comes to judging a whole company for a mere oversight.

Katherine Fabian (@kafernn) is a recent graduate of Fordham University’s College at Lincoln Center and is currently applying to law schools, freelance writing, and teaching yoga. She hopes to one day practice fashion law and defend the intellectual property rights of designers.

Featured image courtesy of [Neff Conner via Flickr]

Katherine Fabian
Katherine Fabian is a recent graduate of Fordham University’s College at Lincoln Center. She is a freelance writer and yoga teacher who hopes to one day practice fashion law and defend the intellectual property rights of designers. Contact Katherine at



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