At Urban Outfitters, who’s minding the store?
The old saying that there’s no such thing as bad press would seem to be true in the case of Urban Outfitters. They’ve been called out for cultural insensitivity (what? you don’t like the Holocaust clothes?), promoting an unhealthy lifestyle (see “Eat Less” t-shirt), and downright swiping of artists’ designs. There’s a nice list of Urban Outfitters controversies going here. With such a string of “what were you thinking?” products, you get the impression that the UO marketing department is comprised of toddlers who have been left to fend for themselves.
Urban Outfitters knows exactly what it is doing. In an era of too many choices, a retailer can sell a gazillion of just about anything, regardless of who doesn’t like it. UO has carved out a niche that appeals to the hippest among us, who pride themselves on their edginess. If East Coast liberals, or parents who actually care what their kids are up to, or grannies in Des Moines are offended, it doesn’t matter. You can’t wreck a brand like Urban Outfitters because enough people like what they do.
Could UO be just as successful without ostensibly promoting getting high and drunk, and starving oneself, to kids? Maybe. But they can be successful with it, too. It doesn’t take much of a philosopher to figure out that moral and cultural relativism, selfishness and apathy will always have an audience in the world of retailing because that’s what’s in the world. UO didn’t invent those concepts, they just reflect them back. Spend ten minutes on the internet and you’ll find out there is something for everyone; what is offensive to some will make a fortune for someone else.
So, Urban Outfitters will go on selling $139 vintage t-shirts of which there are only one (okay) on the de rigeur starved-looking models, 8 oz. of vinegar as a hair rinse for $18, and hats that suggest you hipsters “play dirty.” Who’s minding the store? UO is, and very well. And what are they thinking? What they want you to think.
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