Urban Outfitters CEO Dick Hayne explained away the company's decision to sell what appeared to be a blood-splattered Kent State sweatshirt by saying that it was merely an honest mistake. Hayne maintained that position in an internal email sent to employees yesterday, but chose not to address any underlying problems that got UO into this mess in the first place.
Here is Hayne's email in full, which was sent to us by a tipster:
In the last 24 hours we have received a lot of negative publicity and many of you have received communication from friends, family members or those outside the URBN community regarding a Kent State sweatshirt for sale on urbanoutfitters.com that was mistakenly identified as 'bloody'. We wanted to address this with our community and provide some 'facts'.
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. Once the negative feedback was brought to our attention, we removed the item immediately from sale and sent an apology letter to Kent State University.
Vintage items are part of the heritage of the Urban brand and differentiate us from other retailers. We are proud of the Urban Renewal concept and believe that the vintage buyers have done an outstanding job in giving our customers what they want. Customer feedback on this type of product has been consistently positive. We will continue to offer these one-of-a-kind items and feel the recent confusion over the Kent State sweatshirt is an unfortunate occurrence.
I hope this adds some clarity to the 'stories' being promulgated by some in the news and on social media sites. Thank you for your understanding.
What Hanye leaves out of that statement to his employees is what, if anything, the company plans on doing to prevent something like this from happening again. This omission, at least in this email, leaves open the possibility that Urban Outfitters will continue to court controversy as a matter of branding.
According to our tipster, some managers in the company's corporate offices knew that the sweatshirt would be seen as offensive but decided to let it be sent out in email blasts anyway. The tipster also believes that various people involved in the transaction were too young to even realize the implications of selling a Kent State sweatshirt that looked like it was bloodstained:
They always know what they are doing with the "provocative" items & generally know when they will be sued. In this case however, since it truly was a one-off, and basically none of the merchants directly involved with the purchase even knew where Kent State was located or the events in the '70's. It wasn't until it blew up Tuesday morning that anyone internally gave a thought to, you know, maybe we should pull it.
Anyway, it is pretty much verboten to even speak of it on campus. They knew it was incendiary and let it be featured in an email blast to the vintage customers. But I also firmly believe that Mr. Hayne is completely out of touch with who he thinks his customer is and who he wants his customer to be. Also, his wife has been elevated to the position of Chief Creative Officer and is quite passionate about the vintage business; she must have seen it before it was photographed.
Urban Outfitters, under Hayne's leadership, clearly believes that no press is bad press—as our tipster points out, the company, which has been accused dozens of times of stealing ideas from independent designers, "generally know[s] when they will be sued." Despite the special kind of disgust that emerged from the Kent State sweatshirt debacle, only time will tell if Urban Outfitters will finally shift its marketing strategy.