For many people, especially in New York City, a person’s clothing represents the authenticity of their style. A perfect outfit is the result of much searching and work. Stores who sell fast fashion, or racks of ready-made clothes cheaply made and ready for the upcoming season, threaten all of that. Culture tends to create certain niches for style. As time and culture define styles, stores often become connected with a defined image. Each store creates competition with other stores and creates their own fashion authenticity. They sacrifice any hard work they could put into their style.
By attempting to profit from the recently trendy “hipster” look, Urban Outfitters is undermining the actual definition of hipster or bohemian, requiring individuality and authenticity–something that is certainly lost in their racks of leather pants and fur vests. The company draws inspiration for its clothes by being quirky, ironic, and retro. The company is looking to be edgy and creative through its clothing; however, authenticity is threatened in the process. With their attempt to provide real clothing in an unauthentic setting, Urban Outfitters is alienating many customers who seek true fashion, or an expression of themselves through their clothing. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, as their latest marketing schemes might be the ultimate alienation to their audiences.
Urban Outfitters has faced serious controversy with many clothing blunders. In 2012, Urban Outfitters made a shirt that had a resemblance a Star of David, which looked similar to Nazi Germany’s practice during the Holocaust in which Jews were forced to wear a yellow Star of David. The company has also been criticized for its use of “Navajo” inspired products, with the company ignoring the fact that Navajo is the name of a Native American tribe, not to mention a trademark owned by the tribe itself. They even sold a t-shirt with the words “Eat Less”, a dangerous piece of not-so-subliminal advice, especially with a reputation of having stick-thin models and impossibly tiny sizing. Moreover, the apparel could be triggering for those currently suffering from eating disorders. Their latest blunder has a more direct hit to America’s emotions. The retailer created a sweatshirt with the Kent State University logo on it. The sweatshirt also featured what the retailer said was supposed to be a paint splatter, but instead looked like blood stains . The sweatshirt is a very tasteless attempt at profiting from a terrible tragedy-The Kent State massacre of May 1970. Urban Outfitters apologized, but is now under new fire for this blunder being the latest in a growing list. Most recently, Urban Outfitters sent out a newsletter to its employees for a Christmas party. The company asked its employees to “break out your juttis, kurtas, turbans, saris, lehenga cholis and harem pants” in celebration. Many employees found this to be very offensive and forwarded the invitation to news outlets to showcase the company’s insensitivity. Urban Outfitters not only externally misrepresents its products, but has problems with internal communication as well. These miscommunications are very harmful to their customer base. Each blunder almost always goes public.
Urban Outfitters’ latest profit reports display falling profits. That said, many of Urban’s customers remain either in the dark or unbothered by these recent, upsetting developments. While it is admittedly quite easy to find incriminating information about the company over the last few years, I personally did not find Urban Outfitters offensive before I actively investigated the company. I too was in the dark about what was happening. After the Kent State blunder, I discovered that it was not a single faux-pas that was bringing the company a bad reputation. Rather, it was a series of mistakes that were impossible to ignore. My perception of the company shifted, and I decided to not shop there anymore. I cannot buy the discriminatory and offensive products that Urban Outfitters approves. I simply do not want the company to have any more of my hard earned money.
How authentic is Urban Outfitters? They take the work out of style, providing easy ready to wear clothing for young people. Ideally, to attain a “vintage, quirky, and hipster” vibe, these young people would have to scour through racks of vintage shops or thrift stores. Authenticity is about making the experience just as valuable as the end product. Searching for a unique article of clothing is just as precious as wearing the article of clothing with pride. What happens when Urban Outfitters takes away the thrill of the hunt? All the fashion is mass-produced and found in easy piles on racks at any number of the chain’s retail stores. While the company prides itself on being a “bohemian” clothing outlet, it has lots of hallmarks that demonstrate otherwise.
The CEO, Richard Hayne, is a poor leader for the company. As a brand that markets itself toward teens and young adults, Hayne appears to represent values that would alienate the millennial generation. In an interview with a local NBC station near Philadelphia, Hayne said many odd things. He discussed his experience after college, “After going to Alaska and working with Eskimos for a year, I applied for two jobs—they didn’t like me and I didn’t like them. I decided I should probably do something on my own.”
As a young person who views working with others as a key fact of life and generally a good thing, this statement made by Hayne disturbed me. How can I expect Hayne to lead a company if he really cannot work well with others? It seems counterproductive to the idea of a company. Additionally, there is increased speculation that Urban Outfitters is committing these blunders purposefully. A recent article by Steve Haruch of NPR discusses the motivation behind the company’s moves. Haruch speculates that Urban Outfitters is attempting to generate public relations buzz. However, with the company’s declining sales, the moves are certainly not helping. Haruch believes that Urban Outfitters is trying to move its customer base. Recently, there has been a spike of 14 and 15 year old customers, and Urban Outfitters wishes to attract older customers of 18 to 28 years old. By marketing controversial products, the company is hoping that young people old enough to understand the controversy will buy their products in irony. This business strategy is quite controversial and seems to have a few holes.
Urban Outfitters wants to represent a generation through fashion. However, due to their recent actions, it seems impossible. With declining sales, Urban Outfitters is only driving away its customer base and ruining their goals of being a successful company. Also, with a CEO with strange motivations, Urban Outfitters only alienates its customers more. Urban Outfitters needs to return to authenticity and originality to regain its customers, and not resort to ridiculous gimmicks.