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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.