Monday, December 29, 2008

Urban Deceit

Urban Outfitters: a haven of the "alternative." Known especially for their artistic t-shirts, this international company flaunts the style that almost all teens and twenty-somethings long for. Even I have gazed longingly through the window at the new and interesting styles that I can only dream of creating myself.

Last night I was at the reunion concert of an awesome local band, Uncommon Knowledge. After the show, my friend went up and complimented the singer/guitarist's shirt. After thanking her, he mentioned that it was from Urban Outfitters.

This reminded me of a few months ago, when I was glancing at an article online and was scandalized by what I read. Not only does the owner of Urban Outfitters contribute to some politicians I find personally objectionable, he holds the classic defeatist attitude toward where he gets his products. The complete article can be found at The Philadelphia Weekly, but here's some pertinent information:

"Yes, says Hayne, nearly all of Urban Outfitters' apparel is manufactured in Third World sewing shops--just like nearly all of the clothing sold in this country. If Urban Outfitters relied on domestic union labor, says Hayne, most of his customers could not afford the price he would have to charge to turn a profit. All things being relative, he says, Urban Outfitters does not contract with any sewing shops that are overtly inhumane or exploitive.

'Years ago I visited one of the factories we work with in India, and there was 500 people standing in a line three people deep stretching around the building,' he recalls. 'I said to the foreman, "What's going on?" He told me they were all applicants for the four positions they had open. I toured that facility and it was reasonably clean--for India. And it was reasonably well-lit--again, for India. And yes, it was mostly young women working there. But it is my understanding that the only other option those women had to feed their families was selling their bodies. So I don't want to hear people from the suburbs with their fat American stomachs telling people in other countries how to run their societies.' "

While I find this funnily ironic, I am also slightly disturbed. Many people I know, including friends and relatives, shop at this store. Do they know where those products are coming from, and do they know how the company spends its profits?

Let this serve as a reminder for us all. When we buy new, we are perpetuating a cycle that we may not want to actually be a part of. Purchase with intention!

1 comment:

That thing I sent you... said...

Wow! As someone responsible for production in "Third World" countries (it is arguable that China and India fall into that category in many respects), I find the comments by the Urban Outfitters owner not only appalling, but plain bad business. Nearly every industry I know actually works to maintain safety (and even dignity) in the workplace of their partners. There are legal guidelines in every industry, and auditors that can (and do) certify that factories adhere to them. It is easy enough to get an audit before you decide to do business with a particular partner, and most do at least an annual audit. I should have thought that after the "Cathy Lee Gifford" type incidents that people in the clothing industry would have gotten a clue. I know that "Thomas the Train" troubles have taken audits to a whole new level in toys. In both, companies have shown that good PR (and lack of bad PR) about product manufacturing goes a long way. I guess that Urban Outfitters will learn the hard way when some Gen X or Y group gets up in arms about the human cost of their favorite clothing. Here's hoping!