Big Business and Bad Business
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|Allyson Rowen Taylor||May 26th 2008|
Cutting Edge Contributor
Last week, international retailer Urban Outfitters offered the world a provocative hate-inspiring T-shirt with a blatant anti-Israel message that offends Jews, Israelis, and anyone interested in the truth. Perhaps worse, it glorifies child abuse and exploitation, as well as terrorism.
The T-shirt portrays a young Palestinian youth with a keffiya around his neck, clutching an AK-47 in three images. Also pictured on the shirt are the Palestinian territories, and the Palestinian flag. The shirtâ€™s bottom is emblazoned with the word â€œVictimizedâ€ embellished with a red blood image threading through the word. Numerous emails and blogs picked up on the item. A barrage of complaints to Urban Outfitters ensued.
Many who complained received an automatic email from Stacey Strober, the Urban Outfitters Store Operations Manager, stating, â€œPlease understand that we do not buy items to provoke controversy or to intentionally offend. We have pulled this item in all of our locations and will no longer be selling it online either.â€ She also stated that the company â€œnever intended to cause upset.â€
Case closed? Perhaps. But this is not the first time Urban Outfitters has profited from hate novelties.
In 2004, Urban Outfitters was criticized for merchandising a T-shirt with the slogan, â€œEveryone loves a Jewish Girlâ€ with dollar signs and shopping bags as the image. This played on the stereotype of a â€œJewish American Princessâ€ with money being the most important aspect of a Jewish girlâ€™s life. After criticism from the Anti-Defamation League, this item was pulled from store shelves and replaced with a shirt sporting the same slogan but no image.
In December of 2007, great controversy erupted over another Urban Outfitters item. The companyâ€™s online and print catalog featured the black and white â€œArafat Keffiyaâ€ pictured on a young man and sold as â€œthe Anti-War Scarf.â€ At the time, the scarf was associated with supporters of Al Fatah, Hamas, and Al Qaeda, and was equally familiar as an icon on the videos of beheadings, and celebrations after the murders of 9/11.
Urban Outfittersâ€™ Chairman and President, Richard Hayne, and every member of his board were sent emails complaining about the keffiya. Included in the email was the image of the catalog, along with images of Hamas terrorists, bedecked in Kalashnikovs and bomb belts, wearing a similar scarf. Protestors questioned how such an item could be dubbed â€œAnti-War.â€ The next morning emails were received from Hayne, saying that the item was not meant to be offensive, and that it was being removed from the online catalog and the stores.
About two months later, Urban Outfitters began reselling the Arafat Keffiya, but now in psychedelic colors. Prominent displays were set up at front of the stores. Evidently, stuck with a glut of â€œAnti-Warâ€ Scarves, the merchandisers decided to send the black and white keffiyas to be dyed in pink, turquoise, and yellow. They appeared now as colorful fashion items. While this angered many, and again triggered written complaints to Urban Outfitters, this time no apologetic emails were received, no scarves were pulled from sales racks, and in the end, Urban Outfitters and the stereotyping message they were sending to the consumer and public, remained.
Who are the people behind Urban Outfitters? Some research on company executive Hayne reveals that his roots are in the sixties anti-war movement. He and his former wife traveled the world, bringing back trinkets from India and other countries. They formed a company now listed in Forbes 400 Top Companies. Hayne is listed as a multimillionaire many times over. With this bounty of money, he also created Anthropologie, a more upscale shop, catering to women. Anthropologie also carries items from around the world, but their collection is more soothing than confrontational.
Hayneâ€™s support for causes that are considered liberal is well known, and looking at Urban Outfitters T-shirts in their online catalog, one can find many that are supportive of Obama, Che Guevara, and many that are blatantly anti-American.
Fashion is known to be political. It is the nature of young consumers to wear their hearts on their T-shirts. But Urban Outfittersâ€™ blatant sentiments against Jews and the State of Israel are not appropriate for big corporate marketing. The child terrorist T-shirts are gone for now. The only question is, will we be seeing this latest terror-glorifying T-shirt return in a dyed version, proclaiming its glorification of terrorism in glitzy pink, turquoise and yellow hues so it can again appear on the shelves and web pages of Urban Outfitters?
Allyson Rowen Taylor, a cofounder of StandWithUs can be reached at http://shariahfinancewatch.wordpress.com.