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How Urban Outfitters trades on moral outrage

It seems like every few weeks, Urban Outfitters is in the news for some new controversy. Today, it's for a blood-red-stained Kent State sweatshirt. (Video: The Washington Post)

Moral outrage is almost always on sale at Urban Outfitters, and the coolest clothing company at suburban high schools in, say, 2007, had a super blowout today.

The release of a blood-red-stained Kent State sweatshirt wasn’t really surprising, as horrifically offensive as it was. It’s just the latest in the clothier’s line of insensitive products apparently aimed at generating buzz to boost visibility. These clothes aren’t really meant to be purchased and worn; they are marketing tools.

The process goes something like this:

1. Release offensive item.

2. Quietly bask in outraged media coverage.

3. (Optional) Pull offensive item.

4. (Optional) Send half-hearted “sorry you were offended ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ” non-apology.

5. Repeat.

The company, which apologized for the Kent State sweatshirt on Monday, has this down to a science.

Here are a few of its most tasteless marketing tools from the last few years.

Pro-anorexia v-neck

What happened? Urban’s infamous “Eat Less” shirt from 2010 is perhaps the company’s most controversial product. Sophia Bush even boycotted the store over the pro-anorexia shirt.

Who was mad? Everyone, basically.

On a scale of 1-10, how sorry was Urban? 1. No apology, and it was still available in some stores.

Was it pulled? Sorta kinda but not really.

The drinking is cool series

What happened? In 2012, Urban dropped a series of cutesy drinking shirts for which they garnered the usual outrage, with many people saying the tops targeted underage drinkers.

Who was mad? MADD, for one, saying the series promoted drinking to Urban’s target demo of 18-to-24-year-olds.

On a scale of 1-10, how sorry was Urban? Not sorry at all? Negative sorry? Though the shirts aren’t available anymore, booze items abound.

Was it pulled? Not at the time, but the shirts are no longer available.

Depression chic

What happened? Earlier this year the company unleashed this doozy.

Who was mad? Again, there was pretty universal outrage here.

On a scale of 1-10, how sorry was Urban? 3-ish. They actually apologized, but it was a classic “sorry you were offended” apology.

Was it pulled? Yep.

Ongoing: Racial stereotypes make funny clothes!

What happened? Irish people are drunks! Trademarked Native American symbols look great on flasks! Obama is black! Jewish people are rich!

Who was mad? See above list.

On a scale of 1-10, how sorry was Urban? Well, they were sued for the Native American items, so I dunno, maybe sorry for legal costs?

Was it pulled? Varies, but you can still buy similar-looking items to the Native American designs.

(Maybe) Star of David T-shirt

What happened? In 2012 the company released this “Kellog Tee,” which many thought resembled the yellow Star of David Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.

Who was mad? The Anti-Defamation League harshly condemned the shirt.

On a scale of 1-10, how sorry was Urban? 1. Radio silence. The shirt’s designer, Wood Wood, however, did deny that the symbol on the shirt is the Star of David.

Was it pulled? Yep.