Urban Outfitter’s Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt Sparks Outrage

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The sweatshirt allegedly recalls the 1970 shooting in which four Kent University students, three of whom were Jewish, were shot and killed by the National Guard.

Clothing store chain Urban Outfitters is in the eye of a controversial storm after releasing what appears to be a vintage blood-splattered Kent University sweatshirt for sale on Sept. 14.

The sweatshirt serves as a nod toward the May 4, 1970 shooting at Kent University in Ohio, when members of the National Guard fired live ammunition into a crowd of unarmed anti-Vietnam war protesters. Four students were killed, three of whom were Jewish, and nine others injured in the incident.


After publicizing the faded, red paint-swathed sweatshirts for sale at $129 a pop, an angry backlash thundered social media platforms.

“We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit,” read a statement posted on Kent University's website. “This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.”

Urban Outfitters responded with a statement of apology via Twitter.

“Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offence our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused,” the statement read. “It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such. The one-of-a-kind item was purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection. There is no blood on this shirt nor has this item been altered in any way. The red stains are discoloration from the original shade of the shirt and the holes are from natural wear and fray. Again, we deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset.”

The item is currently listed as “sold out” on the company’s website.

It isn’t Urban Outfitters’ first tiptoe along the line of controversy, and not just with the Jewish community. Over the last decade, the Anti-Defamation League has been in touch with the clothing retailer regarding many offensive items, according to Nancy Baron-Baer, regional director of the ADL.

"It follows in the same form and in the same manner as any number of outlandish and offensive items that have been featured on their website in the last decade," said Baron-Baer. Urban Outfitters has "disparaged African-Americans, Jews, Catholics, Native Americans, Irish and Mexicans, and probably some others."

Examples of items the ADL has labeled as offensive in the past include a 2003 T-shirt bearing the slogan "everyone loves a Jewish girl" surrounded by dollar signs and hearts — an updated version of the shirt was later released sans the money symbols. A 2004 dress up Jesus doll with a devil uniform and Hawaiian dancer outfit as accessories caused its share of outrage. And in 2005, a T-shirt with the slogan "New Mexico, cleaner than regular Mexico," offended many groups.

But Urban Outfitters didn't stop there.

Three years later, in 2008, Urban Outfitters released T-shirts with the image of a Palestinian child holding an AK-47 rifle in front of an outline of the West Bank. Underneath it was the word "victimized." The T-shirt was discontinued shortly after a wave of protests against the design.

More recently, in April 2012, the clothing retailer launched a yellow T-shirt sporting what appeared to be a Jewish Star of David on the breast pocket, which was designed by the Denmark-based company Wood Wood.

At the time, the company refuted claims that the shirt’s imagery had ties to the Holocaust, during which European Jews were forced in many places to wear yellow stars identifying them as Jews.

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