Urban Outfitters, also known as the hipster fashion store, has a clothing line called Urban Renewal, marked with the all-too-familiar recycling symbol. The intent of this fashion line seems sincere – the department store claims it to be “vintage,” “recycled,” and “remade.”
However, not only does ‘urban renewal’ as a concept have hardly anything to do with recycling, but it is also laced with controversy. At its heart, ‘urban renewal’ sought to bring ideals of suburbia into the decaying urban cores with a hope to reignite economic activities. Many low-income neighborhoods, or slums, were outright removed to bring in highways and expressways into the city. Many things that Urban Outfitters’s target customers cherish, including the luxury to walk instead of driving around, would hardly be available if urban renewal projects had taken over. To see a flashy, sustainable-looking “Urban Renewal” banner off of a downtown Manhattan department store seems rather messed up, or just how the world should be, depending on your world view.
People need to buy clothes and love fashion aesthetics. Businesses like Urban Outfitters fulfill that role, including their brand management department, which bridges customers and the right products. This is how markets work and marketing is a great communication method. That’s why when there is the retro buzz in the fashion world, many stores have jumped in to add vintage-inspired clothing lines. Even Forever 21, which changes their merchandise swiftly and generously, has added Heritage 21, the section in the store with lights intentionally dimmed. Part of the marketing effort is to create an ambiance around an item for people don’t just buy products, they also want to buy the ‘lifestyle.’
Many customers of Urban Outfitters, me included, feel the same way when we buy their nature-inspired quilt or an old-looking wallet even though we also know that the products are brand new and perhaps made in some sweatshop in India (or sometimes even after hearing some fishy stories like this). I may have gone with the flow with other marketing campaigns, but the store should know better that these aren’t just a bunch of air-headed consumers. In the business of persuasion, the play of seemingly similar concepts may in fact cause confusion, which is already the case with ecological products with so many labels and certifications to sort through. I am all for business and establishment, but I may finally stop supporting Urban Outfitters after all.