By Jake Baum
On May 4, 1970, during a student protest of the Vietnam War, nine students at Kent State University were wounded and four killed when the Ohio National Guard was deployed to regulate the protest, going down in history with the label “the Kent State Massacre.”
Why is this important, you ask? Unfortunately, it looks like Urban Outfitters is asking the same question.
Just a few weeks ago, a “vintage” Kent State University sweatshirt that featured a blotchy, faded red pattern – seemingly bloodstained in style – made its way onto the Urban Outfitters clothing website. Somehow, it went completely unnoticed until social media users picked up the not-so-subtle reference to the shootings seemingly represented by the sweatshirt.
How did it get past the popular clothing brand’s apparently nonexistent (or severely incompetent) approval board? I’m asking the same question, and with no one in the company to blame as of yet, we have to ask – what were they thinking?
Anyone with any knowledge of the tragic shootings in 1970 could make the connection between the event and the sweatshirt, but apparently no one realized the obvious problems with it. Sadly, Urban wasn’t the first company to make this fatal flaw.
These offensive mistakes are unacceptable, and yet it seems they have made their way into the fashion industry every season. For example, take another internationally respected brand, Zara.
Just a few weeks before Urban Outfitters’ unfortunate blunder, Zara released a shirt, meant for children, no less, that evoked another massacre on a much more massive scale, the Holocaust.
The aforementioned piece was a shirt that resembled a typical uniform worn by a Jewish prisoner of a concentration camp – a blue and white striped uniform, with a six-pointed yellow star to top it all off – apparently taking its inspiration from none other than the Holocaust rather than the “sheriff’s stars from Classic Western films” the brand claimed the shirt’s design was supposed to represent. Thankfully, due to public outcry, the brand removed the controversial shirt from its website soon after its release, but its offense remained in the minds of consumers worldwide.
The worst part about this is, sometimes the consumers don’t notice the offensive nature of some brand-name clothing. Throughout the past summer (and countless summers before), Facebook timelines across the US were flooded with pictures of high school and college students alike wearing supposedly “Native American-inspired” headdresses, earrings, and any other article of clothing you can think of at music festivals nationwide. This screams cultural appropriation – reducing a full-fledged cultural world into simple, tasteless accessories – but no one even bats an eyelash at the apparent ignorance these fashion brands such as H&M and Victoria’s Secret show to the nuances behind the culture by which they are so “inspired.”
Simply put, it is pathetic for clothing companies and consumers alike to support such a distasteful practice as using tragic historical events for their own personal gain. What’s even worse is when no one from the brand can identify the offense in the first place. What the entire fashion industry really needs to take a quick break to read up on their history. When will they learn?
Jake is a freshman international business major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.