Urban Outfitters Capitalizes on Controversy


First Place, Best Feature Story — LIU Post Best of High School Journalism Awards 2016

Urban Outfitters (UO), a popular young adult clothing store, has sparked much controversy over the past few years through its questionable clothing designs. While UO has turned some people away with their unethical messages, many remain loyal to the chain due to its fashionable clothing items.


This Kent State University sweatshirt that was removed from the Urban Outfitter website after sparking controversy.

Throughout the years, UO has released many clothing items from shirts to socks that have sent contentious messages and have affected a variety of racial groups, schools, and religions. One of the most talked about items was a limited edition Kent State University sweatshirt with fake blood stains and rips. This sweatshirt references the shooting that occurred at the university during the Vietnam War. Kent State University released a statement in response to the sale of the sweatshirt describing their dissatisfaction with UO: “We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit.” Kent State went on to say, “This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.” In response to the outrage this sweatshirt caused not only in the Kent State community but with consumers around the country, Urban Outfitters released an apology:

“Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offense our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused. 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. The one-of-a-kind item was purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection. 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. Again, we deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset.”


These Urban Outfitter shirts caused controversy for the company.

Over the years, other items have been sold that have also sparked controversy including a shirt that displays the slogan “Eat Less,” a shirt with the word “Depression” all over it, and a shirt that alludes to the shirts that Jewish people wore during the Holocaust. Urban Outfitters denies that they release items like this on purpose, although there is a tremendous shock value that comes from Urban releasing controversial clothing items like this.

Cindy Krupp, founder of Krupp Group PR, gave her insight about why Urban Outfitters is able to stay so trendy even with their numerous controversies. “Urban could have some benefit from releasing items like this; quite simply, brand awareness from the shock value. You’re talking about it, right? Your friends are talking about it and sharing on their social channels, right? It brings them into the conversation good or bad. It gets people talking about their brand.” Krupp  explained another consequence that Urban could face from releasing questionable products. “There might be some repercussions: a few customers will send angry emails to management, post on their social channels and stop shopping with them. But for everyone they lose, they gain a few more because of the buzz it creates for the brand. Often the conversation gets so diluted that by the time it reaches people they don’t know why they are talking about UO, but it’s on their mind.”


This shirt resembles clothing during the Holocaust.

Students in the Jericho community follow the trend explained by Krupp. In a survey sent out to Jericho High School students, out of 100 respondents, 36% were aware of the controversies, yet still continued to shop at Urban Outfitters. Junior Perry S. said, “I do care that their messages are controversial and often degrading, but it does not really change my perception of the store as whole. I shop at Urban too often to allow those few items to affect my overall view of the store. I know it sounds naive, but I do care more about clothes in general than the message that the store is sending. Although, I wouldn’t purchase or wear the specific items of clothing that advertise a bad message.”

Junior A.G. also shared her opinion on the controversial clothing items sold at Urban Outfitters. “I consider myself an active shopper at Urban Outfitters. I am very aware of the clothing that they sell and how it affects many people and races. I do continue to shop there, but obviously I do not buy the offensive clothing. I would hope that in the future Urban Outfitters makes better decisions with their design choices.”

This is an issue that also has ignited a flame in the hearts of celebrities like Sophia Bush. The popular “One Tree Hill” actress has always supported healthy body image and positivity for women, so whensophia bush tweet she found out about the shirt with the slogan “Eat Less” on it was being sold by Urban Outfitters, she opted to boycott the entire brand. In addition, Bush was outraged at the release of the Kent State sweatshirt and took to Twitter to express her concerns with her tweet, “‘Perceived negatively?’ @UrbanOutfitters knew exactly what they were doing, & they did it for press. Just sad…”

While many of Bush’s fans stopped shopping at Urban Outfitters, the brand is still quite successful. Krupp offers a thought about why. “There are very few young adults that will care that much that they will ban the brand for life. Even if they boycott it for a bit, a friend will have something they love, and back they go,” she said.



2 Comments on this post.
  • Robyn
    13 March 2015 at 1:46 pm -

    Great article girls. I do wish that UO would not make these controversial clothing items, it really is in poor taste.

  • Mrs. Dee aka Natalie Drebsky
    12 March 2015 at 3:22 pm -

    I will not allow my children to shop at this store anymore. They are fooling no one intelligent with this miserable form of self- promotion. The word “depression” being used to sell a shirt is unconscionable. This is an excellent and informative article.


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