Urban Outfitters Crosses the Line With 'Bloody' Kent State Sweatshirt
In case you haven't seen or heard the news yet, Urban Outfitters is embroiled in yet another controversy. The apparel retailer decided it was a good idea to sell a red-stained, seemingly blood-splattered "Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt" on its website. The university in Kent, Ohio was the site of a deadly confrontation between students protesting the Vietnam War and the Ohio National Guard. Four students were killed and nine others were wounded on a fateful day in May 1970. Yet Urban Outfitters thought it was wise to make light — and a few bucks, the sweatshirt sold for a mere $129 — of the situation.
While hardly a prude or proponent of being politically correct all the time, I was taken aback by the astounding lack of judgment shown here by Urban Outfitters. There are certainly times when being funny or ironic makes sense for a brand, but this clearly isn't one of them. Call me old-fashioned, but a massacre isn't a situation to satirize. Urban Outfitters crossed the line ... and kept running.
Urban Outfitters is no stranger to controversy. While most minor in nature (at least to me — I even found some of its St. Patrick's Day merchandise to be amusing, and I'm Irish), this latest one feels different. I can only imagine what people who lost family members or friends in the Kent State shootings — even alumni of the school who weren't directly tied to the event — think about the sweatshirt. And to think that this particular item had to be approved by so many people at Urban Outfitters — designers, merchandisers, photographers, e-commerce team, etc. — is equally troublesome. You think someone would have raised a red flag and said, "Is this a good idea? Should we be selling this?"
For its part, Kent State University responded to the controversy by releasing the following statement yesterday: "We take great offense 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. 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."
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this whole story — and that's saying something — is Urban Outfitters lame apology, which came via Twitter for what it's worth: "Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offense our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused. It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such. Again, we deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset."
Really? It didn't think people were going to connect the two? I refuse to believe a company — and a successful one at that — could be so naïve. I wasn't alive when the Kent State shootings took place, but the second I saw a picture of the sweatshirt I knew what it was alluding to. Own the mistake, Urban Outfitters, and apologize incessantly; don't insult my or other consumers’ intelligence in the process.
I'd love to get your opinions on this matter. Please post your thoughts in the comments section below.