Dry Clean Only: The world of fashion struggles to repair injustices

(Demetrius Freeman/HERALD)

Kae Holloway

On May 4, 1970, four Kent State students were killed, after the National Guard opened fire on a group of students protesting the Vietnam War. 

On Sept. 15, 2014, Urban Outfitters was put under fire for selling an article of clothing that appears to reference the tragedy. The blood stains seen across the internet.Red splatters were located on the upper corners of a “vintage” Kent State sweatshirt sold online.

The Internet took action, shaming the fast-fashion retailer. Tweets flooded in, urging others to boycott the store.

Kent State took their stance, too. In a statement released earlier that morning, they stated they “take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity.”

The store apologized by the day’s end and claimed they never meant to offend anyone. They claimed the “stains” on the sweatshirt were simply part of the “vintage” fading of the item. It’s no longer available to purchase.

So yes, the store apologized. But this adds to a growing laundry list of graphic T-shirt scandals from the “hipster” store.

Just a few months ago, they came under fire for a graphic crop top with the word ‘depression’ written in large black letters, repeated across the shirt. Months before, a gray graphic tee with “Eat Less”, written in cursive letters across the chest, sent the internet into a frenzy.

Urban isn’t the only retailer guilty in this chain of graphic tee scandals. Zara, Forever 21, Abercrombie & Fitch and JC Penney have also been forced to pull offensive materials from their shelves this year. 

It’s truly an emerging issue among retailers and poses some serious questions. Why are design teams giving offensive shirts the green light? Why does it take a social media hate storm for them to be taken down? What are they doing to prevent this issue in the future?

Consumers deserve an answer. They deserve retailers who show a little common sense when choosing what they’re trying to sell to their audiences. It isn’t difficult to hold up a shirt before you start selling it and contemplate if it will offend a consumer.

Simply run through a checklist, of sorts, to double check the clothing for offensive phrases, references to religions or blood stains. Stick to that and maybe you’ll be able to rebuild your customer base and improve declining sales averages.

Since this seems to be an issue, here’s a checklist to use the next time you, or any of your partner retailers, are going to put something on your shelves:

1. Are there any sort of expletives or slang words for racial slurs on the shirt?

2. Are there any symbols referencing any form of religion?

3. Are there any slogans or words that promote any kind of mental or physical disorder?

4. Can the shirt be seen as offensive to genders and belittle their intelligence? 

5. Are there blood stains anywhere on this piece of clothing?

Did you answer yes to any of the above? If so, scrap it. Don’t sell it. Honestly, probably burn every copy of it and hit the design books again.

Did you answer no to all of the above? Great. You’ve got a great, probably overpriced, graphic tee for your customers.

Stick to this checklist, retailers, and maybe you’ll be able to rebuild your customer base and improve your declining sales averages.