Fashion retailer Urban Outfitters is in hot water with Native Americans, and possibly the law, for selling cheap knockoff “Navajo” products. But this is hardly the first controversy for Urban Outfitters, a store aimed at young hipsters and owned by big-time conservative donor Richard Hayne. Along with Navajos, the retailer has managed to offend blacks, Jews, liberals, conservatives, and eating-disorder groups, among others. Here’s a look at eight of Urban Outfitters’ biggest controversies:
- Ersatz “Navajo” fashion
In the latest flap, Sasha Houston Brown, a member of the Santee Sioux Nation, is asking Urban Outfitters to pull its “distasteful and racially demeaning” line of Navajo-labeled clothes and accessories. The Navajo Nation holds 12 trademarks on the word “Navajo,” including for clothing, and a 1990 federal law prohibits falsely suggesting that products are made by Native Americans. These “blatantly racist” knockoffs clearly aren’t, and they’re tacky to boot, Brown says in an open letter to CEO Glen Senk. “I doubt that you consulted the Navajo Nation about using their tribal name on sophisticated items such as the ‘Navajo Hipster Panty.’”
- The “Obama/Black” T-shirt option
In January 2010, Jezebel editor Anna North noticed a T-shirt for sale on Urban Outfitters’ website in two color combinations: “White/Charcoal” and “Obama/Black.” Urban Outfitters said they “screwed up, and are sincerely sorry,” explaining that they had internally developed a color called “Obama Blue” that accidentally appeared on the website. “Fine, Urban Outfitters: You’re not racist, just careless,” says Univeristy Chic. But given your history, and penchant for making controversial political statements, “you can’t blame anyone for assuming” the worst.
- The “Eat Less” T-shirt
The next group Urban Outfitters offended was… well, anyone who thinks it’s a bad idea to sell a V-neck T-shirt with the words “Eat Less” on it, displayed on a “rail-thin brunette model in a hiked-up miniskirt,” says Ryan Halliday in FOX Boston. There were enough of those people that, after a backlash, the shirt was pulled from Urban Outfitters’ website in June 2010. But not its stores, says Amy Odell in New York. But hey, at least it’s not as blatant as the shirt sold elsewhere displaying Kate Moss’ old slogan, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
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