Is Urban Outfitters Offending People On Purpose?

Photo: Courtesy of Urban Outfitters.
When it comes to the business of style, there are some truths to accept: Fashion Week will ruin your Instagram stream, that item you're stalking will sell out in your size, and Urban Outfitters will stock some crass product or another, greatly offending a large swath of people. The brand is nearly an equal-opportunity offender: Whether you're Jewish, Mexican, Native American, Irish, Hindu, Chinese, or have some other ethnic, religious, or national identity (or, the basic human ability to empathize with people different from yourself), you've probably come across something that just didn't sit right. While UO has chalked each snafu up to nothing more than an accident, some PR experts believe that the retailer is stocking these items on purpose.
NPR asked Jason Mudd, CEO and president of Axia Public Relations to weigh in on the consistent PR disasters Urban Outfitters is associated with, and he didn't mince words: "It's certainly intentional, and perhaps part of their brand strategy and positioning. They've been the subject of multiple controversies, particularly those concerning religious [and] ethnic issues. And, it seems to be the area they're really comfortable in."
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While the brand has moved away from advertising its Spencer Gifts brand of shock products, they definitely still exist, and if you head over to its gifts and home goods sections, you'll find the gratuitous use of swear words, drug and scatological humor, and generally the kind of catchphrases, buzzwords, and tropes that your 12-year-old cousin might find funny. Also like your 12-year-old cousin, Urban only apologizes for misbehaving when it gets caught — and it's right back to its bad-kid ways when no one's looking. In the case of its Lord Ganesh duvet cover that attracted the condemnation of the Universal Society of Hinduism among others, UO apologized for its callousness and pulled the item from stores. It's been restocked now, though, among other products displaying the sacred image of Lord Ganesh.
It'd be one thing if a brand were unapologetic about its offerings, but for a retailer to claim to welcome diversity, participate in international trends, and support independent labels while simultaneously alienating, offending, and even stealing from those same people is two-faced at best. Perhaps its designers have wholly misinterpreted the meaning of the many-limbed deity of which they're so fond. (NPR)
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