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Opinion: Urban Outfitters sweatshirt a cruel mockery for Kent community

On Sept. 15, Urban Outfitters sparked controversy when a red, ‘sun-faded,’ vintage crewneck sweatshirt sporting the Kent State University logo was up for sale on the popular clothing store’s website. The sweatshirt’s blood color and bullet-like holes on the left shoulder drew connections to the May 4, 1970 shooting of four students on Kent’s campus, also known as the Kent State massacre. The store pulled the sweatshirt from its site.  Credit: Screenshot from Urban Outfitters website

On Sept. 15, Urban Outfitters sparked controversy when a red, ‘sun-faded,’ vintage crewneck sweatshirt sporting the Kent State University logo was up for sale on the popular clothing store’s website. The sweatshirt’s blood color and bullet-like holes on the left shoulder drew connections to the May 4, 1970 shooting of four students on Kent’s campus, also known as the Kent State massacre. The store pulled the sweatshirt from its site.
Credit: Screenshot from Urban Outfitters website

Urban Outfitters has hit yet another controversial rut for its distasteful clothing design, with the recent release of a single $129 vintage sweatshirt as the most recent addition to the repulsive rack.

Branded with the Kent State University name and a mock-up logo based on the seal of Ohio, the crewneck is a faded red color and has a few holes near the left shoulder surrounded by a darker, blood-like hue. In fact, the blotches of red have been interpreted as blood and the holes as bullet holes. Understandably, the public has interpreted this sweatshirt as an insensitive reference to the university’s infamous shooting on May 4, 1970.

On that day, four Kent State students were killed and nine injured by the Ohio National Guard while protesting the Vietnam War.

The shooting has been a major part of Kent’s culture, history and future ever since, and as someone who grew up in Kent, I can truly say it is one of the essential — and touchiest — points of identification for everyone who calls Kent home.

Kent State released a public statement criticizing Urban Outfitters’ lack of taste and culture, saying, “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.”

And it couldn’t be more right. When I started seeing the pictures of the sweatshirt on Urban Outfitters’ website — they “only have one, so get it or regret it!” — I felt a pang in my heart. Capitalizing off of such meaningful parts of a culture — something I and everyone else from Kent grew up with and continue to live with — is simply disgusting.

Of course, this sort of PR is nothing new for the attention-craving company (just recently, they came out with a T-shirt that said “Eat Less”). The store’s apology, which was relayed via Twitter, read as follows:

“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. The one-of-a-kind item was purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection. There is no blood on this shirt nor has this item been altered in any way. The red stains are discoloration from the original shade of the shirt and the holes are from natural wear and fray. Again, we deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset.”

Although the store claimed they removed it, one eBay user claims to have bought it, posted a screenshot of their online receipt and has it listed with a starting bid of $550. Urban Outfitters later denied the sweatshirt was sold, and a spokesperson for the company told several outlets that the sweatshirt had been removed and would be destroyed.

Either way, it’s clear that Urban Outfitters has no limit when it comes to profiting from peoples’ pain and tragedy.

2 comments

  1. It’s unfortunate how many sites have reported on this without doing any research.

    -Urban Outfitters regularly offers vintage items for sale on its site. You can see them here: http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/urban/catalog/category.jsp?id=VINTAGE_ONEOFAKIND&cm_sp=NAV_HOVER-_-WOMENS-_-VINTAGE_ONEOFAKIND

    -At that link you’ll see a number of vintage college sweatshirts for sale, many are tattered and worn. The “get it or regret it” appears on every one of these items as they are one-of-a-kind vintage items…there is only 1 for sale.

    -What should be investigated is if there is truly any “design” work that goes into these vintage items. UO states that they have buyers out looking for these vintage items all over the country – you would assume in thrift stores, etc. And their response states they they did not “design” this sweatshirt….per UO the condition you see it in is how it was originally found. Although looking at other vintage items, you might want to assume that they do cut off sleeves, etc.

    -Even if UO did “relic” the shirt additionally before sale, its a pretty big assumption they intentionally made it look bloody. The shootings happened quite a while ago….easy to imagine that a UO “buyer” in their 20s or 30s was not aware of the event and simply found a “cool” looking beat up old red sweatshirt.

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