There are two things you can say about Urban Outfitters. They do good sales, and their history in courting controversy is a well-oiled machine.
In 2012 the brand had to remove a yellow t-shirt with a grey Star of David on the breast pocket. People felt that the eerie similarity to the symbol that Jews had to wear in Nazi-occupied countries was a step too far. The item was removed from shelves.
Last year a reddish sweatshirt emblazoned with the words ‘Kent State’, featuring splatters of a blood pattern, was available to buy on the website. In 1970 Kent State University, Ohio was the scene of a mass shooting. Four people died. Within hours, the public outrage led to the shirt being pulled from the website.
And now this week, a t-shirt is available in stores that resembles the uniform gay men in concentration camps were forced to wear. The striped shirt features a pink triangle, the key signifier of homosexuals in the camps. A Jewish NGO called the Anti-Defamation League are asking Urban Outfitters to remove the shirt from stores.
One would think that Urban Outfitters would have learnt its lesson after the spate of controversies, but the latest move just smacks of bullheadedness. When it comes to issues such as mass shootings and genocide, fashion designers should leave well alone and source their ‘inspiration’ elsewhere.
Last August Zara came under justifiable fire for selling pajamas that closely resembled the striped uniform of Nazi concentration camps. There was even a yellow star on the shirt. The Spanish brand apologised, claiming the item in question was inspired by the sheriff character in Wild West stories. It was soon removed from stores and the online shop hours after the controversy hit social media.
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