Urban Outfitters has adorable and trendy clothing, homewares, and accessories, but not so adorable? Some of the more problematic aspects of their business, business model, and president and CEO. Urban Outfitters has made billions of dollars selling trendy items to teens and young adults, but their cool, hipster facade hides a much less cool and, to be quite frank, ugly underbelly. It’s important in a capitalist society to be conscious of where you shop, because as we’ve seen, when problematic people get a lot of money, they often get a lot of power and influence in that society, which gives them the opportunity to hurt others. This isn’t to tell you not to shop at Urban Outfitters; you should simply know before you shop there the type of company Urban Outfitters is, the person who runs it, and the scandals they’ve had. These aren’t all of them by any means; there have been quite a few more, including selling products glamorizing or encouraging mental illness, among others.
President and CEO Richard Hayne
Richard Hayne is the current President and CEO of Urban Outfitters, a company that owns not only Urban Outfitters but also Anthropologie, Free People, BHLDN, and Terrain. He’s also ranked #1818 on the Forbes Billionaires 2019 list with his net worth of $1.2 billion. While Hayne apparently only takes a yearly salary of $1, he receives bonuses and compensation under the company’s 401(k) plan, as well as auto and life insurance premiums, and he owns around a quarter of the company’s stocks with his wife. All in all, he makes more than 4.5 times as much as the median Urban Outfitters pay rate. To be fair, that’s a lower number than many other company CEOs.
However, Hayne and his wife have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the previous campaigns of Rick Santorum, a politician notorious for his anti-gay and anti-choice views and his support for teaching intelligent design in schools, i.e. creationism. Hayne refused to give his personal views on gay rights and homosexuality when asked and he did say that he disagreed with Santorum on some points but refused to explain further. During his time as chairman, the company pulled an “I support gay rights” t-shirt off the racks after the passing of California’s Proposition 8, which declared legal marriages as being solely between a man and a woman.
On more than one occasion, the company has been accused of stealing designs from craftspeople and designers without recognizing the original creations. It literally profited off of someone else’s hard work and designs without giving them any credit, and if you’ve been in any class that you’ve needed to write a paper for, you know that plagiarism and stealing work is extremely sleazy.
Trying to trademark and sell an entire culture
Does anyone else remember the “Navajo” trend at Urban Outfitters? The Navajo Nation definitely does since in 2012, it sued the company for trademark infringement after Urban Outfitters released an entire line of products using the name and symbols of the tribe without any compensation for the Navajo Nation. Stealing a culture and its components to sell things is nasty, tacky, and harmful, especially when you consider the fact that many Native American tribes were forced to relinquish their cultures, their land, their languages, and their lives, and assimilate to non-Native traditions. To add insult to injury, Urban Outfitters sold a flask that they labeled as “Navajo,” something that is even more disgusting when you learn that, according to the tribe’s attorneys, the Nation has “long banned the sale and consumption of alcohol within its borders and the Navajo Nation does not use its mark in conjunction with alcohol.” Plus, the long and complex history of Native Americans and a link to alcohol consumption (which white colonizers encouraged and perpetuated in early days) makes it even more insensitive.
Homophobia and transphobia
Of course, there’s the incident mentioned earlier with Urban Outfitters pulling a shirt promoting gay rights from its racks. More recently, Urban Outfitters sold a card using a transphobic slur, and one of their stores kept a genderfluid individual from bringing women’s clothing into the women’s dressing rooms and instead pointed them to the men’s dressing room. The explanation for not allowing them to use the women’s dressing room was that, in essence, there was no law requiring the store to have gender neutral changing rooms. Another incident was the sale of tapestries which had very similar designs to the uniforms that gay men in concentration camps were forced to wear during the Holocaust: grey and white stripes with one upside down pink triangle. The tapestry’s stripes were horizontal and the uniforms’ were vertical but the parallel is definitely there.
Urban Outfitters has quite a history involving anti-semitic products being sold in stores and online. This includes selling a shirt featuring the phrase “Everyone loves a Jewish girl” with dollar signs and shopping bags printed on the shirt. There’s also the tapestries it sold that were mentioned earlier which invoked comparisons to concentration camp uniforms for gay men, but in addition to that, Urban Outfitters also sold shirts with a star of David on the left breast pocket. Supportive, perhaps? Not so much, given the long history of Jewish peoples around the world being forced to wear stars of David on their clothing like the one below or other sorts of markers (i.e. pointed hats or armbands) so that people knew who was Jewish and who wasn’t.
Some people may remember that Urban Outfitters sold a board game called “Ghettopoly,” a parody of the Monopoly game, and included in the product cards with phrases like, “You got yo whole neighborhood addicted to crack. Collect $50.” They also sold a shirt that called the entirety of Mexico “dirty.” Really, Urban Outfitters? A company that earns money by, in part, providing spaces for many different people to try on the same clothes and spread germs and bacteria is calling literally anything dirty?
Kent State Tragedy
Urban Outfitters stirred up headlines in 2014 once again when it sold a “vintage” Kent State University sweatshirt that appeared to be covered in blood stains. KSU was the location of shootings in the 1970’s where Ohio National Guardsmen fired into a crowd of students protesting the Vietnam war, and four people died. The university called out Urban Outfitters for the product and invited executives to visit the memorial on campus for the shootings.