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Retailer’s insensitivity is appalling

Retailer’s insensitivity is appalling. (credit: Josh Smith/Forum Editor) Retailer’s insensitivity is appalling. (credit: Josh Smith/Forum Editor)
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Retailer Urban Outfitters is receiving backlash from both Jewish and non-Jewish groups over a controversial T-shirt design. The shirt, yellow in color, includes a six-pointed star embroidered directly over the breast pocket. Many have drawn connections with the yellow badge that was forced upon Jewish people during the Nazi regime. The entire design prompted connections to the Holocaust, especially because it was released in the same week as Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The shirt is part of the spring/summer collection of Danish fashion label Wood Wood, and the design was posted on Urban Outfitters’ website on April 19 for $100. Since the posting of the design, organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League have voiced their opinion. “We find this use of symbolism to be extremely distasteful and offensive,” Barry Morrison, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote in a letter emailed to President and CEO of Urban Outfitters Richard A. Hayne, “and we are outraged that your company would make this product available to your customers.”

In a response on Wood Wood’s website, co-founder Brian Jensen stated, “I assume the image people have reacted to comes from Urban Outfitters’ website. This must be a photograph of an early prototype.” The label claimed that after noticing that the design resembled the controversial badge, it removed the star from the final design. Urban Outfitters also recently removed the image of the shirt with the badge on its online store.

Besides the fact that the shirt is over-priced (a yellow shirt with a pocket is a staggering $100), it is an affront to humanity. To say that the design posted on the website was an earlier form of the final product is ridiculous on two counts. First, there is no precedent for fashion labels to post initial forms of a design on a website. Items on online stores are for purchase and are in no way meant for tracking a shirt from its earlier to final stages.

This statement also brings to mind another deep hole in logic. The shirt recognizably and undoubtedly resembles the Holocaust badge. Any layman — including those who have little knowledge of Jewish history — can identify the badge. The notion that no one from Urban Outfitters, a label that deems itself cultured and trendy, identified the design when it was presented by Wood Wood is impossible to believe. The move was derogatory and, in my view, intentional.

Urban Outfitters has built a reputation for scandalous behavior. They have insulted many minority groups in the past. For St. Patrick’s Day, they sold a T-shirt with “Irish I was Drunk” written in the center. The label has also been under fire from Native Americans, who claimed that the “Navajo” line was a highly distressing trademark violation.

The Wood Wood move was historically and racially insensitive. It was either a publicity stunt — an action by the label to build controversy in order to boost sales — or an intentionally racist move made by a racist fashion label during a racially sensitive week.

In any viewpoint, the shirt cannot be labeled as unintentional. Urban Outfitters should be both legally and financially reprimanded. I’m pushing for a boycott on their clothes. The label wants to push the controversy under the rug, having removed the badge from the shirt, but no formal apology by the company has been presented. Until this happens, I urge those who shop at Urban Outfitters and elsewhere to spread the word.