A new year, and a new controversy for Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters is known to be a hub of (over-priced) hipster apparel. Coined for being the heart of urban trends for all those cool kids with fixie bikes and five panel hats. Stereotypes aside, I actually really enjoy splashing out in my local Urban. Yes, I could pick up this bohemian dress in my nearest charity shop. But, much like the Apple brand, it is a corporation I have bought into and, despite its high prices; I have been hooked ever since.

Since moving to the UK in 1998, Urban Outfitters has gained recognition with a niche in the market and is doing a bloody good job at maintaining it, celebrating collaborations with many reputable fashion houses; Vivienne Westwood, Cheap Monday, House of Harlow, Fred Perry (to name but a few).

Another thing Urban has been good at is creating a stir. The latest issue that has been hot topic in the New Year is the inappropriate stylisation of mental health. The fashion in question (featured below) is a crop top branded with the meaningless slogan; ‘Depression’; as if it is cool to have a mental disorder.

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Designers of the DEPRESSION COLLECTION, Andrew Loh and Kenny Lim discuss the concept:

“DEPRESSION represents breaking from boredom, making a statement and standing out, and aims to meet the needs, occasions and aspirations of the Creative professional. In signature monochrome, each collection is presented as a black comedy based on medical themes, and some titles of their men’s, women’s and shoes collections include AW12 ‘Plastic Surgery’ and AW13 ‘Dysmorphia’. Seven years later, the former Art Director and Copywriter team is a lot less depressed, and has created the fast-fashion diffusion line ANTIDEPRESSANT, a trendy and more casual line of graphic t-shirts and basics that’s inspired by whimsical thoughts and geek culture”.


Of course Urban Outfitters are aware of the controversy they have caused. The company banks on products generating an outrage, conveying to young shoppers they’re an “edgy” brand (and gives them free publicity). A stroll down memory lane: back in 2010, Urban Outfitters sold a women’s t-shirt  that read “Eat Less” and in 2012, the store was criticized for selling a novelty card about “a closet tranny”. Just before the holidays, the store pulled a pair of socks depicting the Hindu deity, Ganesh. I could go on with more examples, but you get the point..

One scroll through my twitter newsfeed, I was met with people tweeting and re-tweeting their disgust; some whom, before the controversy may have assumed Urban Outfitters was an outdoor urban developer.. or plumbing. Someone even created a petition urging Urban Outfitters to halt production of the shirt. Nonetheless, within a few hours people were talking about Urban.


Urban Outfitters has since pulled the item from their shelves, but at what lengths should a store cause a stir in order to promote their branding and where do we draw the line between being ‘edgy’ and simply being offensive?


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