Urban Outfitters’ clothes not worth its bad practices

Last week Urban Outfitters received a request from the Anti-Defamation League to remove a tapestry from its stores which resembles the garb of gay prisoners in Nazi concentration camps.

The design — white and gray stripes with pink triangles — is not the first of Urban Outfitters’ to invoke imagery of the Holocaust. In 2012, a yellow shirt with the Star of David on the breast pocket was reminiscent of the yellow patches Jewish citizens were forced to wear in Nazi Germany.

This most recent offensive design joins a long list of controversial products which have been released and subsequently pulled from Urban Outfitters stores. Urban Outfitters has produced several questionable products in the past, including a vintage-style Kent State University sweatshirt with red, blood-like spots and racist knockoff Navajo-labelled products that violate trademarks held by the Navajo nation.

Other examples of bad taste include shot glasses shaped like pill bottles, shirts that encourage anorexia, and a “Ghettopoly” board game. There have also been accusations against Urban Outfitters for stealing designs from individual artists.

Given the organizations’ history of distasteful choices, it seems to purposefully create products that lead to headlines and publicity without actually selling. The vintage Kent State sweatshirt, for example, only sold a single unit. These stunts have created a successful business model — free advertising and notoriety have promoted the brand, not harmed it.

Customers are either unaware or do not care about the ethics of the business they support. The teens who buy from Urban Outfitters are more concerned with cheaply-made, fashionable items than ethical ones.

Customers, however, need to show discretion. The Tartan does not support the business practices of Urban Outfitters, but the chain has no incentive to change their ways without a clear message from consumers. Some of this responsibility must fall to the individuals who shop there — or those who no longer will.