Project Wonderful

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Advocate from Where You Stand: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

To wit. Can you believe this just came up when I google imaged Urban Outfitters?

Recently one of my soon to be classmates posted a "helpful" article about places to buy inexpensive, student friendly furniture in New York City. First on the list? Urban Outfitters. Ignoring for the moment that Urban Outfitters is not what I would describe as inexpensive, my brain exploded a little bit. I want to be clear that I don't blame my future friend for posting this article. Urban Outfitters was only one of many stores mentioned therein and many of the students entering school with me are international. There is no reason for them to know about the hypocritical political leanings of American companies. To be fair, I don't know for certain that they would object even if they did. I would LOVE if some of my future classmates were conservative, it would take some of the pressure off me not being a hippie, but I suspect that's largely not the case. I began composing a diatribe explaining why SIPA students should think twice before shopping at Urban Outfitters...and then immediately deleted it because I don't want to be that girl. Besides, I have a blog for that.

Far be it for me to tell you not to shop in chain stores based on political contributions. In the last 48 hours I have been to Target, Sears and Radio Shack. For the sake of convenience or staying within a budget, it's almost unavoidable. Furthermore, I don't blame CEOs for donating to Republican candidates. How often have we derisively accused Republicans of being pro-big business? As long as we're agreeing that money is free speech, it would be almost irresponsible of CEOs (regardless of their personal political leanings) not to try to secure the election of candidates whose policies would be favorable to business interests.

However, if there are two groups of people without whom my life would be markedly better it's hipsters and Republicans, and so of all corporations Urban Outfitters in particular incurs my wrath. There is something almost Dr.Claw malevolent about a company that sells t-shirts saying "I survived The Bush Administration" and "Obama for Yo Mama" and markets itself to a young, often gay, even more often liberal demographic, while its President donates thousands of dollars to right wing candidates. I am by no means a conspiracy theorist, but I can just imagine Urban Outfitters founder and president, Richard Hayne, watching droves of institution hating 22-30 year olds lining up to shop at his overpriced thrift stores. "Haha," he cackles "they're playing right into my evil plan!"

An excellent 2003 article from the Philadelphia Weekly sums it up nicely. "Despite its slacker aura and carefully calibrated antiestablishmentarian cachet, Urban Outfitters Inc. is in fact a very Establishment, hypercapitalist multinational retail concern...But the difference between stage-crafted storefront image and corporate reality doesn't end there. While the typical Urban Outfitters shopper is likely to be liberal-minded...Hayne himself is an ardent Republican. He is a financial supporter of arch conservative Sen. Rick Santorum, whose recent comments about homosexuals equated gay sex with incest and bestiality." The article also depicts Hayne's journey from genuinely liberal beginnings to seemingly conflicted Republican.

Liberal t-shirts and conservative donations not withstanding, Hayne claims that Urban Outfitters, which by the way also owns Anthropologie, is apolitical. "As a company, we don’t contribute to any cause except non-controversial things like a breast cancer walk. I don’t know anyone who is for breast cancer...our job as a business is not to promote a political agenda. That's not what we do. There are all kinds of political views held by my employees. Some would be horrified to learn that we contributed to Santorum's campaign, and others would be fine with it. We openly discuss and joke about our political differences." To me this is almost worse. He's not making political donations because it's in the interest of his stock holders, he just really wanted to see Rick Santorum's homophobic face in office. Though the distinction is certainly worth making, at the end of the day, money you spend at UO is eventually making its way to Republican coffers.

Still Hayne is not totally at fault for the success of his hypocrisy. Democratic and Republican alike, people will do what they can get away with. I blame the hipsters and liberals who still shop at Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. As I said before, I do knowingly shop at stores owned and operated by high rolling Republicans, but I make a conscious decision when I do so. If you're going to damn the man, you should at least know when you're giving him money. I don't think its too much to ask that people who actively purchase politically themed tshirts be as informed as Miley Cyrus.

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