by Steph Martoccia
Social media and online news outlets are buzzing about the Urban Outfitters sweatshirt that features the Kent State University logo and what appears to be splattered blood, alluding to the May 4, 1970, shooting on campus where four individuals were killed.
Thousands of people are tweeting their outrage, making both “Kent State” and “Urban Outfitters” trending topics on Twitter. The worst part about this whole situation is Urban Outfitters has either lied to the public about the motive behind its sweatshirt, or its designers are very ill-informed about historic events.
Urban Outfitters apologized for the outrage the sweatshirt caused. The company released this statement on the morning of Sept. 15:
"Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offense our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused. 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…"
From a public relations standpoint, this statement is not good. There are hundreds of universities in the nation Urban Outfitters could have placed on this sweatshirt, yet the company wants its publics to believe it was an accident Kent State was featured on a faux-bloodstained sweatshirt. Kent State colors are blue and gold; why would Urban Outfitters choose red for this sweatshirt?
Urban Outfitters should not try to cover up its mistake; it makes for a shallow apology. It should be telling the truth behind the motive of this shirt instead of saying the “sun-faded” discoloration has led to the appearance of blood splatter. The validity of the statement is hard to believe, making this a public relations catastrophe.
Kent State released a statement as well, stating:
"We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit. This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today. We invite the leaders of this company as well as anyone who invested in this item to tour our May 4 Visitors Center, which opened two year ago, to gain perspective on what happened 44 years ago and apply its meaning to the future."
The Urban Outfitters spokespeople could learn a thing or two from Kent State media relations pros. This statement not only demonstrates a clear, concise reaction to the event, it also promotes the May 4 Visitors Center, something that may not have gained any national media attention otherwise.
The release of this sweatshirt is truly offensive to the Kent State community, and the way Urban Outfitters has chosen to handle this dilemma is testing the loyalty of its remaining customers. Many people have declared via social media they will never shop at this store, again. Whether their statements are true or not, it is clear this company has to work on its communications before it is able to regain public trust.