Urban Outfitters offers bloodstained apology

Zan McPherson


Illustration by Luke Hampton.

It’s strange when a company like Urban Outfitters, whose image is so “American,” manages to insult thousands of people across the country.

On Sept. 14, the company released a white and red-colored “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt” for $129 with the description “get it or regret it.” This sweatshirt, which, according to The Washington Post, was removed immediately after the outrage began, appeared to be splattered with blood. The backlash against Urban Outfitters’ new product stems from the insensitivity that it presents toward victims of the Kent State massacre that occurred in May of 1970. At Kent State, National Guard officers opened fire on innocent student protestors, killing four and wounding nine.

The university even posted an online response to the sweatshirt on Sept. 15, claiming, “This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes the loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.” Urban Outfitters apologized profusely for the product on the same day, saying, “It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place … [and] the red stains are discoloration from the original shade of the shirt.”

While it is likely that Urban Outfitters realized their mistake, the excuse that they didn’t intend for the shirt to allude to Kent State seems impossible. The “red stains” are not subtle; they are splattered right where the person’s heart would be.

Similar incidents and apologies within the fashion industry have made their way to the forefront of social protests during the 21st Century. Zara, a huge international clothing retail company, released a white-and-black-striped shirt in August that has a yellow sheriff’s badge in the top right corner. The design of the t-shirt strongly resembles a Holocaust concentration camp uniform, and this fact caused a social media outcry.

According to The New York Times, the company apologized by saying, “The design of the tee shirt was only inspired by the sheriff’s stars from the classic Western films.” This explanation was not enough to dissuade people around the world from taking accusations of anti-Semitism to Twitter.

Similarly, in 2002, Abercrombie & Fitch released a line of graphic tees that contained highly offensive Asian caricatures and sayings like “Wong Brothers Laundry Service – Two Wongs Can Make It White.” A&F’s apology, as per the pattern, was not so sincere. Hampton Carney, the company’s spokesman, said, “We’re very, very, very sorry … We thought they were cheeky, irreverent, and funny and everyone would love them.”

All three of these large companies exhibit similar behavior in response to respective public outrage. Instead of taking full responsibility for the mistake, the statements mainly give a suspicious, superficial explanation for the mistake. It was the “discoloration” of the shirt, it was “only inspired” by western films, they were supposed to be “cheeky.”

These shaky responses prove the lack of integrity of many large, private businesses. The three companies’ main goal after the incident was to save and regain their esteem from the public, so they scrambled to come up with an explanation. By default, these statements ended up more than slightly suspicious. So, how are these large, private companies so out of touch with the real world as to put out such outrageously offensive products?

The truth is that fashion is an outrageous industry in itself. In order to be successful, brands and companies must take risks and push the limits of what is “fashionable.” Unfortunately, sometimes these gambles go too far, or at least are taken more critically than the company presumed they would be.

The insensitive, offensive products that companies put out are by no means acceptable. However, without pushing the boundaries of what pop culture creates, no progress can be made. The fashion business is stained with blood, lack of integrity and cruel implications, but that is the apparent cost of a self-testing, ever-developing industry of modern culture.