the little fact no one mentioned in the latest urban outfitters scandal

by Valerie

in indie shopping,personal style

I could have titled this post “Why I don’t shop at Urban Outfitters,” but if I did it would be really, really, really short: because I want the real thing.

Let’s back up a bit, shall we? I’m sure you’ve read or heard about the recent brouhaha regarding Urban Outfitters and an artist who claimed they copied her jewelry design. The Consumerist (and many others) wrote stories about it. Twitter and Facebook exploded with outrage about it. There were reasoned rebuttals from Regretsy and others.

truche vs urban outfitters: from Regretsy

The discussions centered around the idea of copying and copyright and whether it’s possible for lots of designers/companies to come up with the same idea at the same time.

For the record, I completely agree that it is possible for lots of people to come up with the same idea at the same time. It is entirely possible there was no copying at all going on in this particular case.

But nobody mentioned what I think is much more important than whether Urban Outfitters is a soulless copycat or not (this time…because they have definitely been guilty in the past): that everything about Urban Outfitters (and its classier big sister, Anthropologie) is fake.

Urban Outfitters,  by The Consumerist via Flickr

Urban Outfitters, by The Consumerist via Flickr

I understand that they do in fact work with some independent designers (as noted in their rebuttal to this scandal), which I think is great! I will assume for the sake of argument that these arrangements are beneficial to the artists and designers in question. Fantastic!

But there are hundreds of Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie stores nationwide and in northern Europe. Their Facebook page says they are a “global retailer with a boutique approach.” Estimating generously, how much of their inventory could come from those relationships with independent designers? One percent? Five percent?

Georgetown Urban Outfitters store, by Fatty Tuna via Flickr

The Georgetown Urban Outfitters store, by Fatty Tuna via Flickr

The bottom line is that Urban Outfitters is not an “indie” retailer, and they go to great pains to appear to be so (see “boutique approach” assertion above). Their clothes and wares are not handmade or limited edition or locally (or even U.S.) made. Despite their carefully constructed aesthetic, there is nothing thrift-store unique or vintage or special about what they sell.

Why would I want something that only pretends to be those things, when I can easily find the real thing?

I LOVE to buy from indie designers and shops. I adore owning handmade things and one-of-a-kind goodies. But it’s not as if I have totally sworn off mass market retailers. I am wearing pajama pants from Target at this very moment (why yes, I blog in my pajamas, what of it?), my jeans are from Old Navy, and yesterday I wore adorable silver flats I bought at DSW.

blue tote from Urban

Urban Outfitters vs. Target: can you tell the difference?

The difference is that Old Navy, Target, and DSW have made no effort to make me think that my pajama pants, blue jeans, or silver flats are anything except what they are: mass produced consumer goods, all exactly the same, sold by the thousands at a discount price.

Are the goods sold at Urban Outfitters clever and anti-establishment and “different,” or do they just want you to think they are? Is there any real difference between what they sell and the mass produced fast fashion at places like H & M, except for the carefully constructed, hip-thrift-store look of the Urban Outfitters stores?

leopard bag from Urban Outfitters leopard bag from H & M

Urban Outfitters vs. H&M: can you tell the difference?

It’s funny because I am actually the ideal Anthropologie customer: I fall squarely within their demographic, and I obviously love the indie design “look”. I usually like most of what I see if I happen to wander into one of their stores (and when I was in the Urban Outfitters demographic – aka under 30 – the same was true).

But the faux-indie, faux-vintage, faux-thrift store vibe really rubs me the wrong way. I don’t put fake sugar in my coffee, and life is too short to eat fake cheese. I don’t believe in knockoff designer duds, and I’m not going to buy fake indie designer goods, either.

glasses case from Urban glasses case from Mod Cloth

Urban Outfitters vs. Mod Cloth: can you tell the difference?

Whether or not Urban Outfitters copied that jewelry designer is irrelevant to me. I stopped shopping at their family of stores years ago – when I discovered my love for independent design, and decided that handmade and locally made was better. Perhaps if they didn’t try so hard to pretend to be these things I’d feel differently…but no indie knockoffs for me (copied or not)…thanks.

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{ 3 comments }

elisa June 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Really well said, Valerie! I’ve really sworn off Anthropolgie and Banana Republic too, for that matter. If I’m going to buy mass produced fashion produced overseas, I’m not going to pay a huge premium for them. If want to spend money, I want the real stuff and I know where to go for that – the makers themselves.

As far as the knockoff comment goes – Target and H&M specialize in knocking off other designers. As do Nordstrom, etc. I used to work in fashion, and the Target buyers go to the Paris fashion shows just like everyone else and come back and make their own “versions”. And Target has had a few indie looking pieces lately – owl pillows, etc. BUT, they are no where close to the offenders that UO and Anthro are. They haven’t carefully cultivated a boutique environment, though, and that’s the difference.

With that said – Viva handmade 🙂

Sarah Cox June 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Argh, I don’t want to go so far as to say I hate Georgetown, but I will say the pretentiousness level spills out right into the brains of impressionable 20-somethings who will pay way too much for something to look “cool.” My crotchety 30-yr-old brain is always on the lookout for people to try to look like they’re not trying (some would call these simple folk “hipsters”), so that I can immediately mock them for falling for marketing ploys of places like Anthropologie.

If I’m going to pay, I want quality and no guilt associated with questionable factory practices overseas. Viva handmade indeed! Although part of me wants to come up with some hip trend that I can sell to these kids. Toilet paper belts?

Valerie June 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Elisa – your first paragraph is like right out of my brain. EXACTLY how I feel about this whole situation. Thank you so much!

Sarah – ah, the “trying to not look like you’re trying”…the hipster’s bane, for sure. I know what you mean though, these kids are obviously willing to part with lots of cash with only the tiniest bit of encouragement. Surely we can exploit this? 😉

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