Aside from perhaps American Apparel, there might not be any clothing retailer that people love to hate more than Urban Outfitters.
This time, UO has angered the Jewish community by selling a t-shirt that seems made to resemble the patches that Jews were forced to wear on their clothes during the Holocaust:
The Anti-Defamation League wrote a letter to CEO of Urban Outfitters explaining the uncanny similarity to Holocaust symbolism. Although UO itself hasn’t issued any sort of statement, the company that makes the shirt, Wood Wood, has. They replaced this shirt with a plain yellow one and explained that they had never intended to make a Holocaust reference:
As some of you are aware, several news sites have been writing about our “‘Kellog’ T-shirt, which features an image of a six-pointed star, allegedly similar to the yellow badge Jews were ordered to wear by the German nazis. First of all the graphic is not the Star of David, and I can assure you that this is in no way a reference to judaism, nazism or the holocaust.
While I’m obviously glad that they apologized to anyone who may have been offended and changed the shirt, I’m a bit confused as to how this happened to begin with.
Because here’s the thing–Wood Wood is a Danish company. That’s right, from Denmark. This is the same country that made an extraordinary effort to rescue its Jewish citizens from the Holocaust. Ordinary Danish citizens helped 8,000 Jews escape to Sweden after the Nazis invaded, and over 99% of Danish Jews ended up surviving.
This is particularly poignant if you think about how differently things went in many other European countries. Only 10% of Polish Jews, 12% of German Jews, and 25% of Dutch Jews survived the Holocaust.
Anyway, the point of this brief foray in Holocaust history is to show that the people of Denmark were once willing to put their own lives in danger to save their Jewish friends and neighbors. Today, meanwhile, a Danish company is apparently unaware of the symbolism in its design and mocks the Holocaust with a $100 cotton t-shirt.
I do understand that it’s completely possible–perhaps even likely–that this was completely unintentional. After all, not everyone sees a six-pointed star and immediately thinks “Star of David,” not everybody sees a yellow color and a patch on the chest and thinks “Jude.”
And that possibility brings up some difficult questions. How far should people go to avoid accidentally using Holocaust imagery and offending a ton of Jews? Are we being “too sensitive?” (And I should point out that Jews by no means agree on this. Granted, Jews never agree on anything.)
I can’t really answer those questions. However, I will say that based on UO’s history of culturally insensitive merchandise, I’m not necessarily as willing to give them the benefit of the doubt as I might be with another retailer. Come on, “Navajo Hipster Panty”? Who signed off on that?
Furthermore, it should be noted that the decision to take the six-pointed star off of the shirt was made not by UO, but by Wood Wood. UO seems intent not to learn from any of its mistakes and to continue producing merchandise that offends people, waiting until the inevitable uproar begins to remove said merchandise from the shelves. When will this stop? And, incidentally, when will UO also stop stealing indie artists’ designs, promoting anorexia, and denying collective bargaining rights to employees?
As I mentioned, this particular story does have a happy ending. The shirt is now being sold sans Holocaust-style patch, so it’s just a plain yellow shirt. Yours for only $100 at Urban Outfitters.
With another company (Apart from American Apparel that is) I’d offer the benefit of the doubt, but I agree that UO has stretched any credibility of good intent to the breaking point.
Also: $100 for something that’s, no doubt, tissue-thin and in the ugliest shade of orange imaginable? Huh?
I dislike Urban Outfitters on any number of levels, and give them the benefit of no doubts. But I think Wood Wood deserves that benefit, and that would put that matter to rest for me. Is it a Star of David? I don’t know. It looks like one, but the history of graphic art is full of six pointed figures and representations that end up (often rather ridiculously) looking quite unlike what their creator intended, especially if the design brief was no more focused than “edgy and cool.” In close cases I tend to apply the rule: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”
Ray Vasvari from Somewhere Becoming Rain
That’s a good rule. 🙂
Why I am I not surprised?
Oh. Urban Outfitters. That’s why…
Oh Urban Outfitters… even if I could afford to shop there I wouldn’t.