Clothing stores face criticism over controversial products

Eveline Murphy-Wilson, Staff Writer

Have you ever seen a shirt that says ‘eat less?’ What about ‘misery loves alcohol,’ ‘USA Drinking Team,’ or simply ‘depression?’ These words are part of an ‘offend first’ strategy designed to attract more millennial shoppers to stores like Urban Outfitters.

Words and phrases are printed on shirts that are sold by stores that American teens shop at constantly. These simple words convey complex messages and have become extremely controversial.

Urban Outfitters has added a disclaimer on their website for the ‘eat less’ t-shirt. The disclaimer reads “eat less or more or however much you’d like in this seriously soft knit tee cut long and topped with a v-neck.” This quote highlights Urban Outfitters’ attempt at covering up the pro-anorexia message portrayed on this t-shirt.

The Huffington Post Website’s headline “Urban Outfitters Controversy” suggests the Urban Outfitters “Eat Less” t-shirt should have added the disclaimer on to the shirt itself.

Along with the “eat less” debacle, Urban Outfitters also came out with a “Kent State” sweatshirt designed with red stains, signifying blood, on it. The shirt references the Kent State shootings. In 1970, the National Guard fired into a group of Kent State demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine. The shooting was devastating, not only to the families who suffered great losses, but to the entire nation. Is Urban Outfitters trying to teach history?

The Washington Post reported on the Kent State scandal, “‘Get it or regret it!’ read the description for a ‘vintage,’ one-of-a-kind Kent State sweatshirt that Urban Outfitters briefly offered for just $129.” Urban made the decision to make 129 dollars worth of profit per item sold off of the heart breaking losses of 1970 and calling it “vintage.”

Kent State had a reaction to the sweatshirt as well. “We take great offense to a company using our pain for the publicity and profit. … This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community of today,” stated the university.

TIME magazine explained that, “a factor that may reward an offend-first strategy is that millennials, Urban Outfitter’s core demographic, are especially difficult to reach because they’re constantly bombarded with stimulation and advertising.” Companies get business from printing controversial designs that draw attention to clothes sold to teens, their main clientele.

Along with the controversial phrases comes the twisted body image expectations of stores. For example, last year, the ex-president of lululemon was quoted in an interview with Bloomberg saying, “quite frankly, some women’s bodies just don’t work for [the pants] … It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time.” He explained that the reason for their legging fabric thinning is that their clothes are made for girls with thigh gaps.

Sophomore Nadine Stodolka, a member of the fashion club here at South, had something to say on the topic of the “offend-first” strategy.

“On principal, I don’t like to buy clothes with ‘clever’ sayings or phrases on them, because of how easy it is to be taken the wrong way. [These] words and phrases without a doubt fall under the category of ‘possibly offensive,’ so even an atrocious case of the ‘I have nothing to wear syndrome,’ wouldn’t tempt me to wear a shirt with something like ‘USA drinking team’ on it,” she explained.

Urban Outfitters’ main customers are teens, making their collection of alcohol affirmative t-shirts “not right whatsoever,” said freshman Estelle Clark. Clark had a definite opinion saying that she would never “want to be viewed as a person that wears that.”

Urban Outfitters apologized for the Kent State sweater controversy by saying ,”given our history of controversial issues, we understand how our sincerity may be questioned. We are deeply saddened by the recent uproar our Vintage Kent State sweatshirt has caused,” in an interview with TIME magazine.

Clark mentioned students could, “make a website or a video of wearing [the controversial designs] and seeing peoples reactions,” a plan where viewers would have the opportunity to send in comments or opinions about the designs and their impact on real world people.

“Urban Outfitters should definitely check to make sure they’re sending the desired message to consumers,” said Stodolka.

Until stores begin making ethical decisions, as Stodolka suggested, teens will be stuck in the impractical cycle of body image expectations and pro-drinking. Both situations create lasting effects on kids’ mental health.