By Brittney MacDonald, Staff Writer
Urban Outfitters is in hot water again after the September 15 debut of their “vintage” Kent State sweatshirt. Advertised as a one-of-a-kind piece from their “sun-faded” collection, the sweatshirt was covered in red dye giving it the appearance of being bloodstained.
Kent State University in Ohio suffered tragedy on May 4, 1970 when four students were killed by the National Guard during a peaceful protest against the Vietnam War. The event led the university to believe that Urban Outfitters was trying to capitalize on its controversy.
The university immediately released a press statement via their website: “May 4, 1970, was a watershed moment for the country and especially the Kent State family. We lost four students that day while nine others were wounded and countless others were changed forever. We take great offence to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit. This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.”
That same day, Urban Outfitters issued an apology over Twitter stating that they “deeply regret that this item [the sweatshirt] was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset.” The statement also attributes the colouring and red patches to fading and “natural wear and fray,” denying that the shade was altered in any way to look like blood.
However this isn’t the first time that Urban Outfitters has run into this sort of accusation. In April of 2012, Jewish communities became upset when the retailer’s website began selling a shirt that resembled a concentration camp uniform around the Passover holiday period of that year. In 2010, a scandal in which actress Sophia Bush called for a boycott of the company resulted when Urban Outfitters began to mass produce a shirt that said “Eat Less,” something that the actress and many others believed promoted eating disorders. Even earlier this year Urban Outfitters was forced to pull their “depression” shirt after people accused it of being insensitive to mental illness.
Though Urban Outfitters claims any connection to the Kent State massacre was unintended, what they haven’t addressed is why they chose to use the lesser known Kent State University name when there are other more popular universities in the nearby area to choose from, such as Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College.
Following the controversy, the sweatshirt was updated to “sold out” before being completely removed from the Urban Outfitters website. While the sweatshirt will no longer be sold, Urban Outfitters’ history of stirring controversy is likely far from over.