Urban Outfitters is no stranger to controversy. The edgy retailer is known for marketing clothing that is questionable both in taste and in tact to young hipsters.
Recently the company came under fire for a T-shirt that read “Eat Less,” seemingly promoting anorexia. Then who can forget their sweatshirt with a repeating pattern saying “Depression,” which minimized mental illness and all the uproar over the cultural appropriation of Native American patterns placed on items like panties?
But Urban Outfitters have outdone themselves now with a blood-spattered Kent State sweatshirt. The shirt appears to be an homage to the murder of four Kent State students by police officers during a Vietnam War protest in 1970. While the historical reference may seem esoteric in light of the recent spate of school shootings, people are understandably disgusted.
However, Urban Outfitters thinks you’re just misunderstanding them. In a recent sorry-not-sorry press release they said, “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.” Oh really?
It’s hard to see what else the shirt would have been referencing as Kent State, a widely respected school, hasn’t made headlines for much since then. While some think this is just another instance of the retailer trying to be provocative (and succeeding) others are asking if this is more evidence that fast fashion has become too fast for its own good. With the shooting 44 years in the past, it’s a fair bet that most employees and those responsible for choosing the item are too young to even remember it.
American Apparel made a similar gaffe last year when a young staffer tweeted a “cool pic” of “smoke and clouds.” It turned out to be an image of the Challenger shuttle exploding, capturing the instant that seven people were killed in the tragic accident. The image was quickly pulled and the company apologized, but is that enough? It seems like there are more and more of these types of incidents and a lot of it can be chalked up to the rush to the top of the fashion pile that makes companies overlook little details like plagiarism, copyright violations, offensive statements and pictures and… blood spatter.
The backlash has been swift and, in true internet style, both cheeky and severe. One person tweeted, “Hey @UrbanOutfitters, when will the Sandy Hook shirts be available? And will there be child sizes?”
— Dixville Nacho (@kickitupanacho) September 15, 2014
The store eventually apologized, saying, “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” and pulled the shirt — but not before it sold out.