London - Better known as the American fashion retailer for "bohemian, hipster, ironically humorous, kitschy, retro and vintage" loving fashion youth, Urban Outfitters is no stranger to controversy. The retail company, which also owns fashion labels Free People and Anthropologie, presents itself as an "innovative specialty retail company" which connects with its customers on an emotional level. However over the past years, the retailer has frequently made news headlines for promoting products which portray backward-minded stereotypes of minority or ethnic cultures, copying designs from independent designers or referencing event such as the Holocaust or the Kent State shooting of 1970.
The latest controversies to hit Urban Outfitters recently its decision to offer free cat and kitten adoptions with any purchase in stores in New York and Brooklyn during international Cat Day and the promotion of its Lotus Jewelry stand, which depicted the Hindu goddess Lakshmi.
Although the fashion retailer partnered with nonprofit animal organization Best Friends Animal Society and covered all adoptions fees for the cats offered in eight stores, concerned was raised for Urban Outfitters failure to screen potential new owners. "The only problem with "free" cat adoption is that some people might adopt on the spur of the moment and then the poor cat eventually winds up homeless," commented one user online. "I hate this idea. Some of these poor little kitties are going to go home with an awful person just to be abused or worse. DON'T DO THIS FREE CAT GIVEAWAY," wrote another user on Facebook.
Urban Outfitters uses controversy to boost sales
Urban Outfitters also managed to offend Hindu followers for the third time this week with the launch of their online exclusive jewelry stand featuring the multi-armed goddess Lakshmi. Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, President of the Universal Society of Hinduism, previously spearheaded two former protests against inappropriate products from Urban Outfitters, was disappointed to see that the retail company has not learnt from its past errors and urged Urban Outfitter's chief executive officer and co-founder Richard Hayne to withdraw the product in question as it trivialized a highly revered Hindu deity. The product in question has since been removed from Urban Outfitters website, but Zed indicated that an official apology from Urban Outfitters and its CEO Hayne was still due.
Many experts have questioned Urban Outfitters concern and sincerity when it comes to its controversies. In an apology sent to Time magazine in regards its "vintage" Kent State sweatshirt which appeared to have bloodstains on it, the company said: "We are deeply saddened by the recent uproar our Vintage Kent State sweatshirt has caused. Though it was never our intention to offend anyone, we understand how the item could have been perceived negatively...Given our history of controversial issues, we understand how our sincerity may be questioned. We can only prove our commitment to improving our product-screening process through our actions and by holding ourselves accountable."
However, given the number of products launched since the Kent State sweatshirt however, which include a tapestry that was "eerily reminiscent" of the attire male prisoners were made to wear in Nazi concentration camps and the use of
'too-skinny' model to advertise its lingerie, it seems as if Urban Outfitters has yet to improve its "product-screening."
Urban Outfitters uses controversy as a marketing tool
In spite of these controversies, Urban Outfitters has seen its business booming over the recent months. The company reach record sales of over 1 billion dollars (650 million pounds) for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2015 and total company net sales increased 8 percent to 3.3 billion dollars (2.13 billion pounds) for the year that ended January 31 2015. In addition, total company net sales for the three months ended April 30, 2015, increased 8 percent to 739 million dollars.
In fact, some insiders believe that Urban Outfitters has been using all issues and controversies as a marketing tool to drawn attention to its brands and appeal to a certain clientele. "It's happening too frequently to be an accident," said Jason Mudd, president of Axia Public Relations to the NPR. "It's certainly intentional, and perhaps part of their brand strategy and positioning. They've been the subject of multiple controversies, particularly those concerning religious [and] ethnic issues. And it seems to be the area they're really comfortable in, and kind of living on the edge there." Rather than negatively affecting Urban Outfitters turnaround, it seems as if these types of political, racial, and cultural controversies have only fuelled it.