Monday, September 15, 2014

Urban Outfitters Making American Apparel Look Good

In the battle of selling hip to young consumers by any means necessary, American Apparel has more often won the gag award over Urban Outfitters, but only by slim margins. The victor started out as a company selling the idea that clothes could still be made in America, thus bucking the trend of the industry using sweatshops workers from Third World countries. But they soon became just as famous for their revealing billboards and magazine ads, often featuring Lolita-like, nymphs in revealing poses (AA Photo-shoots). Numerous allegations quickly began surfacing that CEO Dov Charney was involved in sexual harassment, or maybe simply sex, with some of his young, female employees. And there was criticism of the actual working conditions at the Los Angeles factory, even as he continued to tout their ethical work practices (Huff Post) In June of this year, Charney was fired, after refusing to take a package that stripped him of his title but gave him a golden parachute (Huff Post) as the company tries to put his checkered past behind them.

Urban Outfitters doesn’t play at being ethical or socially-responsible in any way, and thus it is not surprising that they often push the envelope of taste to its outer limits, though generally in “funny” racist, anti-Semitic and sexist ways. This past weekend the company briefly made a “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt” splattered with fake blood available on its website for $130. The sweatshirt is now listed as “Sold Out,” but one wonders how the death of four students at the hands of the National Guard back in 1970 could ever be considered in good taste? (Slate) Yet this is just the latest example of their very clever attempts at ironic humor: 1. In 2003, they sold a board game called “Ghettopoly” including a card rewarding players for the achievement of “you got yo whole neighborhood addicted to crack.” 2. In 2004, they sold a “Jewish Girls” t-shirt that was covered in dollar signs. 3. And in 2010, they sold an “Eat Less” t-shirt, to make sure we could all outwardly enjoy the eating disorders one in four female college students now suffer from.

And so the battle rages on, wondering who can embarrass themselves more on the road to selling to the kids too lazy to make a trip to the local vintage or second hand clothing shop. I’m sure American Apparel will feel slighted by falling out of the headlines and find their own way to lower the bar quite soon. Stay tuned …

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