In an email to employees, Urban Outfitters CEO Dick Hayne calls the recent uproar over a red-blotched, “vintage” Kent State University sweatshirt an “unfortunate occurrence,” but he doesn’t offer many suggestions for keeping it from happening again.
Over the weekend, the clothing brand posted the distressed sweatshirt for sale on its website, promoting it as a one-of-a-kind item.
Many social media observers and bloggers said the sweatshirt was a clear allusion to the 1970 campus shootings at Kent State and that the red blotches on the shirt resembled bloodstains. Kent State issued a statement in which officials said they took “great offense” to the promotion and sale of the sweatshirt.
Urban Outfitters has maintained that the sweatshirt was never meant to have a connection to the shootings, in which the Ohio National Guard fired on students protesting the Vietnam War, killing four.
Hayne’s email, which Gawker released Wednesday, maintains that line:
Despite what has been reported, the sweatshirt in question is a vintage item and there is only one. We purchased it from the Rose Bowl Flea Market in an assorted lot of 50 other sweatshirts from other colleges and universities across the country. All were well worn and many were ‘distressed’. We photographed them as purchased, including the Kent State sweatshirt, and posted for sale on our website as part of our sun-faded vintage collection.
The condition of the Kent State sweatshirt pictured is as we bought it. There is no blood on it, and we certainly never promoted it as such. The discoloration that some mistook for blood is from natural fading and bleaching.
Hayne goes on to defend Urban Outfitters’ vintage line, arguing the controversy over the Kent State sweatshirt was merely a misunderstanding.
A note from the unnamed tipster who sent Hayne’s email to Gawker says many involved in buying the Kent State shirt were not aware of the shootings. However, he argues that top executives always know about “provocative” items and allowed this particular sweatshirt to be featured in an email to customers.
Whether or not Urban Outfitters deliberately provoked public emotion—as it has done previously—Hayne’s taking a defensive stance rather than suggesting to his staff how it might avoid future PR crises isn’t doing the brand any favors, especially now that his internal email has gone public.
What do you think? Should this incident have spurred Urban Outfitters to change its controversy-courting ways?