On Sunday evening, Urban Outfitters started selling a “vintage” Kent State University sweatshirt—that appeared to be splattered with fake blood. Many people reasonably interpreted this to be a reference to the 1970 Kent State massacre, in which the Ohio National Guard gunned down four unarmed college students during a protest of the Nixon administration’s bombing of Cambodia.
Here is a screenshot of the sweatshirt:
Beyond the standard Twitter-based outrage over Urban Outfitters’ latest offering, Kent State University released a statement on Monday expressing their objections. “We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit,” the statement reads. “This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.”
On Monday, Urban Outfitters “sincerely” apologized to those offended—but claimed that the spots on the sweatshirt that really, really looked like gunshot-wound-related bloodstains weren’t at all gunshot-wound-related bloodstains.
“Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offence our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused,” a company spokesperson wrote in a statement. “It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such. The one-of-a-kind item was purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection. There is no blood on this shirt nor has this item been altered in any way. The red stains are discoloration from the original shade of the shirt and the holes are from natural wear and fray. Again, we deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset.”
If we’re to take the clothing company at their word, then that’s one hell of an unforced error. The Daily Beast also reached out to Urban Outfitters to ask who designed the “sun-faded vintage collection” shirt. We will update this if we get a response.
Urban Outfitters has a track record of putting out products that veer into attention-grabbing, supposedly edgy territory. These items often offend enough people and organizations to generate at least a couple days’ worth of publicity. The Monopoly-style “Ghettopoly” board game was drenched in racial stereotypes, and angered the NAACP. Navajo Nation once took Urban Outfitters to court for trademark infringement. And the Anti-Defamation League condemned the fashion chain for selling a shirt that resembled what Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.
And the list goes on and on.