How Urban Outfitters Peddles Ironic Conservatism, Hipster Racism and Other Terrible Values
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Appropriating Native imagery: The blog Native Appropriations has detailed at length the many ways Urban Outfitters has appropriated Native symbols. Headdresses, “tribal” patterns and dream catchers have become hipster mainstays, in fact, and Urban Outfitters is in large part responsible for their proliferation.
Stealing designers’ work: The ripping off of indie designers’ ideas is a problem that’s rampant among all fast-fashion chains, and Urban Outfitters is no exception. Both Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie have been accused many times of stealing designs from local designers and jewelry makers who sell their wares at places like the Brooklyn Flea and Etsy.
Unapologetic use of sweatshop labor: Urban Outfitters not only uses sweatshop labor, they're proud of it. Hayne told the Philadelphia Weekly in 2003 that he has no qualms about his company sourcing the vast majority of its clothing from sweatshops in the developing world. He said he was aware that garment workers were not paid fairly, but “most of his customers could not afford the price he would have to charge to turn a profit” (little consolation for the people buying that $69 peace-sign tank top).
As a teenager growing up in Dallas, back before Urban Outfitters stores were ubiquitous, I looked forward to trips to Austin so I could visit the Urban Outfitters on Guadalupe. My friend and I would spend hours browsing the faux-vintage T-shirts and strings of fish lights. At 15, Urban Outfitters’ cool, edgy, ironic sensibility was everything I wanted in a store.
But I was being used. Yes, every company uses consumers to sell products, but Urban Outfitters’ way of doing so feels especially slimy: exploiting young peoples’ desire to be cool and progressive and ironic while supporting a conservative agenda and filling the world with mass-produced, racist bullshit.
Shoppers, we can do better.
Lauren Kelley is the activism and gender editor at AlterNet and a freelance journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in Salon, Time Out New York, the L Magazine, and other publications. Follow her on Twitter.