Saturday, November 11, 2017

Urban Outfitters Blood Stained Sweatshirt (2014)


Urban Outfitters is a famous clothing store that sells a variety of clothes and accessories but they have received backlash on multiple items over the years. From t-shits that say “Eat Less” to hypodermic heroin needle pens to stolen jewelry design and countless other controversial products. One major example of this was their vintage Kent State sweatshirt that had what appeared to be blood stains on it, this offended many because in the 70’s there was a massacre on campus. A little background of this devastating shooting states that on May 4, 1970, members from the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a crowd of people who were gathered to protest the Vietnam War. The shooting lasted around 13 seconds but over 70 shots were fired. Four people were left dead while nine were left injured. It’s easily understandable why this sweatshirt would receive that response that it did. They only had one available for purchase and it was $129 which is outrageous.

Their company is also under fire for selling offensive goods directed towards gays, Jewish, Irish, and other communities. President and CEO Richard Hayne gives money to Rick Santorum who is a known homophobe. This has been given reason to believe that Hayne is unsupportive of equality. UO profits on their highly overpriced items and offensive pieces. In their last quarter in 2015 they reached over $1 billion in sales which was a record high for them. How could a company with so much backlash associated with their name do so well? Young adults are willing to spend money on anything and everything they find value in and will continue to do so. Their reputation hasn't been the best over these years and if people aren't happy it is not easy to develop brand loyalty. Brand loyalty is when you develop a relationship with a customer that will make them continue to shop at your company. With the offensive and insensitive products they've put out they have lost many customers and have turned people away from the company entirely. To add to this they are also much pricer than most retailers so more people choose to shop elsewhere, such as Forever 21. You would think that if they continue to receive backlash all these years that they'd be more considerate. What's going on with corporate and why haven't these controversies stopped years ago? 


The stakeholders would be their customers, distributors, design team, investors, corporate, and employees. If customers are unhappy they will stop buying their products which will cause sales to decrease. If UO starts to go under it can affect the jobs of employees and those in the corporate office. They would have to start laying people off or firing them in order to not be completely bankrupt. The design team can also be affected because if they continue to come out with offensive goods those individuals can get fired. Whether they knew their ideas would cause such a stir or they failed to see how it could offensive it was their ideas in the first place.

Individualism follow the ethics that a “business actions should maximize profits for the owners of a business” (Salazar, The Case Manual, pg. 17). They also believe it should be done within the law. Many people love sweatshirts which would definitely help sales but once the item becomes crude it’s difficult for customers to want to purchase it. Urban Outfitters has the tendency to try to push boundaries and sell items you wouldn’t see in most other retailers. They use their creativity to maximize their profits and stand out from the rest of their competition. Whenever theres an Urban Outfitters I usually always go in to looks around because the atmosphere is different from most stores I shop at. I have seen t-shirts with sayings I could not believe were even put out on the shelves to be sold, greeting cards that mocked real world issues, and games that were done right offensive. Every company wants to be better than the rest and have advantages that others won’t have but once so much negativity is associated with the name it’ll drive consumers away. I very rarely shop there because they are overpriced and nothing catches my eye when I’m there. If I had seen that sweatshirt at the time it was sold as well as knowing about the violate past associated with Kent State I would be equally as mad as those who were voicing their anger years ago. Individualisms would say that they were trying to increase their profit but selling this vintage sweatshirt but failed to do it in an ethical way. The sweatshirt was later listed on Ebay by a seller who promised that 50% of the profits would go to benefit Southern Poverty Law Center.


Utilitarianism focuses on consequences of decisions in the long run. Their decision to still create and sell that product shows no morals or respect for the families and college for their loss. Twitter was buzzing with people’s opinions on the clothing store and the majority of comments were not good. Many people argue that UO is overly priced, for example they sell tanks for as much as $40 and it turns people away. So selling a sweatshirt for over $100 is a little extreme. They were also under fire awhile back when they sold a plain grayish colored shirt and they defined the color as “Obama/Black”. This description was extremely offensive and their customers complained. Barack Obama was the first African American president and while in office he faced discrimination and people making fun of his skin color. This color description comes off as insensitive to not only Obama but for the rest of the African American community. A rep for the company explained that the shirt had two colors the first being “Obama Blue” and the second being “Black”. The word blue was not listed which sparked the outrage over such a crude way to describe a shirt. They apologized for the error and have since kept a closer eye on how they market their color options. If a t shirt description upset customers than what makes a sweatshirt, with what perceives to be blood on it, be any better?


Kantianism is based on respecting others and Kantians would view all these controversies and believed that many people are uncomfortable and offended. UO failed to think of how disrespectful it is to sell an item that resembled such a sad event that took place.  A spokesman for the company stated that, “Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offense our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused. 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.” Still no one knows who created this sweatshirt or if they remained working for the company. Why was Kent State chosen to be red along with the reddish stains?  
Virtue Theory:
The virtue theory is based on “character traits that promote wellness or flourishing of individuals within a society," (Salazar, The Case Manual, pg. 17). They would view the creators of these items as unethical and insensitive. Whether they meant any harm from it or not it still left consumers upset and besides themselves that this was allowed. The company is known to poke fun and have poor taste in the items they sell. In 2012 they received backlash for a greeting card that joked about transvestism. Their company was viewed as anti-gay especially after removing a “I Support Same Sex Marriage” shirt back in 2008. The LGBT community are part of a minority group because many view their sexual orientation or gender choice to be wrong or disgusting. Pulling a shirt that allows individuals to voice their support on a serious everyday battle will make those in that community feel like they aren't supportive. The designers should be considerate of how individuals will take the message being portrayed to them. Emily Vincent who was a spokesman for Kent State stated, “We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit,” Vincent went on to say that, “this item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.” The virtue theory would state that they failed to promote Kent State in a positive light. It would have better for them to sell a regular university sweater instead of trying to be edgy and different.  

Carmon, I. (2010, February 03). Urban Outfitters Explains "Obama/Black". Retrieved October 10, 2017, from

Desjardins, Joseph, “Introduction to Business Ethics.” McGraw-Hill/Irwin. 2014.

Glenza, J. (2014, September 15). 'Bloodied' Kent State sweatshirt removed from Urban Outfitters website. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from

Here are 5 (of many) reasons I no longer shop at Urban Outfitters. Hopefully you'll join me. (2015, June 23). Retrieved October 12, 2017, from Staff. (2017). Kent State Shooting. Retrieved November 7, 2017, from
Ohlheiser, A. (2014, September 15). Urban Outfitters apologizes for its blood-red-stained Kent State sweatshirt. Retrieved October 12, 2017, from
The Most Offensive Urban Outfitters Products to Ever Exist. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2017, from
Salazar, Heather,  “The Business Ethics Case Manual

Suebsaeng, A. (2014, September 15). Who Designed Urban Outfitters's Bloody Kent State Shirt? They Won't Say. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from


  1. Alicia, I think you chose a very interesting topic, with a lot of information. The graphics you used were very helpful and added to your blog. However, I wish you had more images. In addition, I would challenge you to expand a bit more of all of your sections. I found that you really only tackled one concept from each ethical perspective. I would have like to seen you dive deeper into the content. In addition, I did notice some technical errors in your paper. Such as the word "now" in your Utilitarian section should have been "not." That is just something to check up on. Also your whole blog looks like it has been copy & pasted. I assume you go this information from youe essay. I would try playing around with the blogger setting, or retyping your blog to avoid this issue in the future. Overall, however, I really found your post quite fun to read. It makes me sad that such a popular clothing store would behave so unethically. The whole "Obama/Black" controversy you mentioned was mind blowing. I find it ridiculous the company did not question the labeling of their product.

  2. Your blog post was well thought-out and researched! I had no idea Urban Outfitters had such a pattern of offensive products; they truly seem inable to learn from their mistakes as they continue to repeat them. I liked how you questioned the company and included many examples of the shady ethics the company employs. Your graphics were helpful and related to your content which really added to the post! Overall you did a great job!