Urban Outfitters is catching some heat yet again today for selling a “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt” with red splotches that look like blood stains. It was marketed to remember the 1970 tragedy at Kent State University during which four unarmed college students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard while they were protesting the Vietnam War.
Almost immediately the public backlash ensued, including criticism from the university. In a statement to FoxNews.com, Kent State University said: “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.”
Urban Outfitters tweeted an apology, writing in a statement, “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.” And it claims the red stains do not represent blood, but are from natural discoloration and the holes are from regular wear and tear, reports Business Insider.
“Again, we deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset,” the statement continued.
We’re calling BS on this. This isn’t the first time that the retailer has sold something that was insensitive. Today.com has three additional instances from the past three years and there are others. This is looking more and more with each passing second like a company that believes all publicity — good or bad — is a net positive for the company. One analyst tells Business Insider that it might be due to the speed at which decisions about what to sell are made. But the article has a number of examples of companies trying — and failing — to be edgy and in the process committing big ‘ol fails. This, we would propose, is more likely the issue.
Shockingly, the $129 shirt sold out. Maybe people are buying it as a collector’s item because it’s one-of-a-kind. “We only have one, so get it or regret it!” says a company promotion of the item.
The item has already hit eBay, with bidding starting at $550. “According to the seller, it’s ‘perfect for Halloween or whatever your deal is’,” reports New York magazine. Can you imagine? On the up side (if there is one), the seller says 50 percent of the profits from the eBay auction will go to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The question is whether all this controversy pays off. On paper the company seems financially sound. “Year over year, Urban Outfitters Inc. has been able to grow revenues from $2.8B USD to $3.1B USD,” reports BusinessWeek.
Still, the retailer has seen a drop in sales as it has fallen out of fashion with its teen target market. It reported a decline of 12 percent in the first quarter and sales also fell last year. Amazingly, the Kent shirt isn’t the first product to spark major outrage recently. “The brand was forced to pull a ‘Depression’ t-shirt after customers expressed outrage. Urban Outfitters also pulled a shirt depicting “drunk” Jesus. These incidents eroded consumer perception in Urban’s brand,” reports Business Insider.