Why "NOT" to shop at Urban Outfitters.

old_school_kitty's picture

sigh, not that I really can afford their clothes anymore OR fit in a size 1, but...

Published on Thursday, July 8, 2004 by the Minneapolis Star Tribune
In Consumer America it Should be Easier to Shop Our Values
by Lauren Raheja

Most customers who walk into Urban Outfitters to stock up on baby T's, hip-slung jeans and other trendy accessories probably assume they're supporting an independent retailer rather than a massive corporation like The Gap or Express.

Whether it's intentional or not, that's the image Urban Outfitters projects to its target base of young, educated urban consumers -- and it seems to serve the chain well.

Probably unbeknownst to the majority of its customers, however, Urban Outfitters Inc., based in Philadelphia, is a corporation with more than 60 stores in the United States, Canada and Europe; it's also the parent company of both Anthropologie and Free People, clothing chains targeted at slightly different demographic groups.

Moreover, despite Urban Outfitters' appeal to the young, progressive crowd, cofounder and President Richard Hayne's political bent would no doubt surprise many young hipsters. He has, for example, contributed more than $13,000 to Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., most recently noted for comments comparing homosexuality to bestiality.

This incongruity represents a common, troubling phenomenon in retail. It seems that it's getting harder and harder to shop our values with each passing year.

Urban Outfitters is just one example of a company that projects an image completely different from what its executives are really all about.

You would never expect a company that sells T-shirts bearing slogans such as "Support the Arts: Sleep With A Musician" and the ironic "Jesus Is My Homeboy" to actually be led by someone who supports a politician at the forefront of the religious right's attack on homosexuality.

Chipotle, the growing chain that serves seemingly authentic burritos and employs a large percentage of Hispanic workers, is another company whose ownership might surprise customers. Although many probably believe they're supporting an independent business when they eat at Chipotle, the chain is actually owned by McDonald's.

The prevalence of sweatshop labor among certain apparel chains would also probably shock some buyers. The Gap and Lord & Taylor are widely regarded as classy merchandisers with high-quality, well-made apparel, yet BehindTheLabel.org, an online news magazine that covers sweatshop issues in the global clothing industry, cites them as retailers that are "responsible for the global sweatshop crisis."

As awareness of these issues grows, publications such as Ethical Consumer have been publishing boycott lists periodically, urging their readers to shun everything from Starbucks to the country of Burma.

But is it really that simple? We live in a world that's far too complex to slap either a "good company" or a "bad company" label on every corporation in the market. A company with a good track record on sweatshop and child labor may have discriminatory hiring practices or disregard for the environment. A company that's disliked for its corporate ownership may contribute some of its wealth to social programs in local communities.

Starbucks, for example, is the premier sponsor of the 15th Annual Business Ethics Awards and is described as "A Model Global Corporate Citizen," yet it has also been attacked for exploiting foreign labor and using genetically engineered ingredients.

Toyota, to take another example, is praised by environmentalists for its leadership in creating hybrid cars, yet it's one of the few auto manufacturers that have no unionized plants in the United States. This type of corporate dichotomy offers up quite a conundrum for the ethically minded consumer.

Rather than avoid every company on a list put out by a boycotting campaign, consumers should decide for themselves what their values are and which companies they do and do not wish to support. The trouble is, it's harder than it should be to find and keep track of the information it takes to make these decisions -- which is why consumers, even those who strive to shop ethically, find it so difficult to do so.

As much as we'd like to believe it, avoiding Starbucks won't terminate the use of genetically engineered ingredients, nor will shunning Nike result in the downfall of sweatshop labor. Still, shopping our values is something we all have the right to do as individuals, and it does have the potential to make an impact.

In a country that's defined by consumerism, and one that touts the word "freedom" as a symbol of its ideals, it should be easier for shoppers to feel confident that their dollars are going toward companies that they can stand behind.

If Urban Outfitters' T-shirts reflected its president's actual values, they would probably say something more along the lines of "Santorum Is My Homeboy" or "Sleep With A Musician, But Only If You're Married And Heterosexual."

In an ideal world, companies would wear their hearts on their sleeves; their products would reflect not only what they believe, but also their actions.

Lauren Raheja is a recent graduate of St. Paul Academy. She wrote this column during a monthlong internship at the Star Tribune.

Comments

Pelli's picture
Submitted by Pelli on

I knew that Anthropologie and UO were the same company but had NO idea that Chipotle was part of MickeyD's. So surprising since Chipotle claims to only use grain fed chickens and the like.
It's one of the fast food places I DO eat at, since I can request my stuff to be heavy on the fresh veggies and it's yummy.
Thanks for the post.

Remember that you are unique, just like everyone else.

Remember that you are unique, just like everyone else.

IGGY's picture
Submitted by IGGY on

there is no good company/bad company tag we can use to boycott and reflect our values. take ford motors. bad on labor, bad on environment, good on domestic partner benefits.

“Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.� –- Pat Robertson (woo hooo!)

"You know, i could write a book. And this book would be thick enough, to stun an ox." -- Laurie Anderson

IGGY's picture
Submitted by IGGY on

and i buy free people clothes, with a good conscience. they go all out, withe the hand-made look to their tags.

“Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.� –- Pat Robertson (woo hooo!)

"You know, i could write a book. And this book would be thick enough, to stun an ox." -- Laurie Anderson

Pelli's picture
Submitted by Pelli on

Well, not FOUNDED but the company and it's original plans were his or something. The name Volkswagen is his I know that much...

Remember that you are unique, just like everyone else.

Remember that you are unique, just like everyone else.

dahlia's picture
Submitted by dahlia on

A friend of a friend of mine submitted artwork for a t-shirt and never got her sample back or payment for the design. The art "Johnny Cupcakes" started selling last year and has since been pulled (I think) due to litigation. I read the article my friend sent me but don't remember all the details (will look for it later and link it here so y'all know I'm not just talking out my ass; this is a real case currently in litigation). The article mentions other artists that have been ripped off, or had their ideas stolen and sold.

Also on the behindthelabel.org site is an article about American Apparel, in which the CEO of the company is quoted saying "Women initiate most domestic violence". I'm glad I've never given that guy my money.

"People who need people are the luckiest people in the world" Barbara Striesand

sunflower's picture
Submitted by sunflower on

Lucky for me I have no money to shop there, but I was wearing a skirt my ex MIL bought for me there just this week!

Sunflower the unflower

Sunflower the unflower

Mom's Tinfoil Hat
Foodie loves Picky

IGGY's picture
Submitted by IGGY on

looks like a hole in the sweatshop-free t shirt biz an industrious mama can fill.

“Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.� –- Pat Robertson (woo hooo!)

"You know, i could write a book. And this book would be thick enough, to stun an ox." -- Laurie Anderson

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