Latest Urban Outfitters Stunt Creates (More) Controversy

Over the years, Urban Outfitters has managed to offend blacks, Jews, Native Americans, liberals, conservatives and eating-disorder awareness groups... just to name a few. From T-shirts that appear to endorse underage drinking to stickers proudly displaying marijuana leaves, the brand has continuously received negative attention for its politically incorrect fashion statements. Yet, now the company’s insensitive ideas have stretched beyond their products to its actual behavior. 

Earlier this week, Gawker published a picture of an actual invitation distributed to Urban Outfitters employees for its annual holiday party. The invitation was blatantly offensive to Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, as it encouraged guests to "break out your juttis, kurtas, turbans, saris, lehenga cholis and harem pants” in order to properly celebrate.

This latest controversy comes only a few months after Urban Outfitters released a “vintage” Kent State sweatshirt with faux bloodstains. An apparent reference to the tragedy that occurred at the institution in 1970, in which four unarmed students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard during a Vietnam War protest, the design prompted consumers to charge the company with exploring “the outer reaches of bad taste,” according to Buzzfeed.

"It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970," Urban Outfitters said in a statement on Twitter, "and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such."

Just two months before the Kent State sweatshirt, the company angered Hindus with its Lord Ganesha duvet cover: "Lord Ganesha was highly revered in Hinduism and was meant to be worshipped in temples or home shrines," Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, said in a statement, "and not to be slept upon." The previous December, a pair of Lord Ganesh socks had drawn similar criticism. According to a company statement published by the Huffington Post: "We sincerely apologize if we offended the Hindu community and our customers. We appreciate Rajan Zed and the Universal Society of Hinduism for bringing this matter to our attention and for helping us understand the cultural and religious sensitivities this product carries. We will remove the Ganesh Socks immediately from our website and stores."

Despite Urban Outfitter’s acknowledgement of “religious sensitivities,” the “Ganesha Tapestry” is still available for purchase on the Urban Outfitters website.

These culturally offensive items join the ranks of other Urban Outfitters mistakes, such as bottle-shaped alcohol paraphernalia 
that “glamorize prescription drugs” according to Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, the Holocaust-evoking “Jewish Star” shirt that eerily resembled the Star of David patch that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany and the widely debated “Eat Less” and “depression” T-shirts ignorantly praising mental illness. 
The list goes on, thus suggesting to many critics that the company’s various public apologies have been less than genuine.

This most recent issue has now raised another question: Is Urban Outfitters doing it on purpose?

“I think it begins to beg the question: Is there an absolute lack of any racial sensitivity or any sensitivity whatsoever within the organization as part of their culture?” Jason Mudd, president of Axia Public Relations, told NPR.

Whether Urban Outfitters’ controversies reflect either a true lack of cultural awareness or a misguided publicity stunt, the company is alienating customers and now, employees, and has certainly gone far beyond the line of what is appropriate in public advertising.

What do you think of Urban Outfitters’ controversies? Is this a marketing tool? Do these inappropriate designs affect whether or not you will continue to shop there?