In Defence of Urban Outfitters (Sort Of...)

By Jen Evans

There’s a lot of hate for Urban Outfitters out there at the moment. Mainly surrounding their wrongful appropriation of the Navajo name and designs “inspired” by traditional Navajo crafts.

I get it, especially when considering that using the name Navajo to sell tacky pants is probably illegal. But in that case, every glossy woman’s magazine needs to be set straight about the finer points of Federal Indian Arts and Craft Act of 1990.

The open letter that started the furore, by Sasha Houston Brown, is eloquent and well argued. Here’s the thing: it isn’t just Urban Outfitters! It is a wider cultural issue that needs to be addressed to prevent the Navajo name becoming just another trendy fashion buzzword.

This isn’t the first time that the online hipster contingent has got its knickers in a twist of righteous indignation over Urban Outfitters. UO and America Apparel are the top two brands for hipsters to hate because they are, like, so annoyingly hipster. In fact, for some, bitching about these shops has become something of a hobby.

I find these take downs of a singled-out retailer to be somewhat misguided; pseudo-anti capitalist pitchfork mobs of trendy young things feeling antsy because they were wearing vintage before it was even vintage.

Urban Outfitters strikes me as a soft target – yes, the clothes are overpriced and a tad ridiculous at times. Yes, their marketing seems to revolve around knock-kneed young ladies wearing furry hats that look like bears. Yes, they have a habit of selling jewellery that looks suspiciously like pieces by independent designers. Welcome to the wonderful world of global fashion retail.

Most critiques of the store that I have encountered revolve around its "inauthenticity". Proof that a little bit of cultural theory is a dangerous thing, or it at least makes shopping a joyless experience. Some folk want everyone to spend their Saturdays trawling through racks of dusty vintage, or even better, the local charity shops. That way, their tweed blazer can be truly vintage and they can walk around with the satisfaction of being a better human being than that loser woman over there in a blazer from H&M.

This approach is shallow. Not everyone has the time or inclination to ensure that every single garment they own is “authentic”. Some simply don’t care! There are some people who just want to look nice. And anyway, what does authentic even mean? There are wonderful independent clothing stores and designers who specialise in “faux vintage” clothes.

The independent retailer will always be favoured over the high street store and, perhaps, rightly so. Yet these stores are one-offs and hard to find. The snobbish middle class “shop independent” refrain carries little weight with a twenty-something living in a non-descript small town away from the cosmopolitan hubbub of the big city. There are places without charming boutiques and vintage shops; places were Urban Outfitters counts as an exciting and new place to shop.

In short, if you want to whinge about Urban Outfitters and their “inauthenticity”, try going clothes shopping in Dudley first. And if you still want to whinge? Make sure it is over their commercial practices or these trousers.

Image via Villain Media, LLC's flickr

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 17:23 (GMT+01)
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