Urban Outfitters’ KSU Sweatshirt: A Blood Stain on Our Fashion Obsession

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Urban Outfitters’ latest fashion faux pas–its “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt”–reminds us why “fashion statements” can be so dangerous. And that fake blood is only ever a good look for Halloween.

The Urban Outfitters sweatshirt bears the KSU emblem splattered with fake blood in some sort of twisted homage to the four Kent State students shot and killed by National Guard soldiers during a Vietnam War protest on campus in 1970. Is the blood supposed to honor the slain students or the National Guard’s senseless murder?

What’s next, a Sharon Tate T-shirt with stab marks in it? A Robin Williams suicide belt? This isn’t the first time Urban Outfitters has released some not so tactful articles of clothing. Slate reports that in 2010, the company launched a T-shirt with the words “Eat Less” across the front. Was it a message to overweight people or those who starve themselves to look like Urban Outfitters models? In 2004, the company sold a “Jewish Girls” T-shirt covered in dollar signs, because us JAPS really love us some money, of course. And all the way back in 2003 Urban Outfitters sold a board game called ‘Ghettopoly,’ “which included a card rewarding players for the achievement of ‘you got yo whole neighborhood addicted to crack,’ reports Slate. “The joke is that poor people are drug addicts and drug dealers.” Last time I checked, that’s not a joke but a national crisis fueling overcrowded prison systems and displacing children from their homes.

Of course the real tragedy here (besides the four dead KSU students being marginalized for profit) is that Urban Outfitters pulls these stunts in order to get attention and drive more sales. Urban Outfitters, which also owns Free People and Anthropologie, continue to battle fast fashion chains like Forever 21 and H&M, which are able to sell similar styles and products for a lot less money. It’s unlikely that anyone will purchase the KSU sweatshirt (right, America?), but people might now be more likely to wander into their local UO location and buy something, even if it isn’t as offensive as blood-splattered nonsense.

We wear a lot of clothes. And regardless of whether we’re Jewish American Princesses or ghetto drug dealers, we allow clothes to become statements—unofficial uniforms. We let brands dictate what we stand for just because they can, when it should be the other way around. And this is a problem. It perpetuates sweatshop conditions in countries like Bangladesh, China and Cambodia. It impacts our resources including water and fossil fuels. It creates debt and stress in the people who become addicted to shopping and powerless to the influence of fashion brands. It instills in us the sense that we need certain articles of clothing in the same way that we need oxygen or water, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image via Urban Outfitters 

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.