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4th November 2013

Urban Outfitters: high street hero?

Sean Gleeson looks into the questionable affiliations of CEO Richard Hayne

With a turnover of $1.83 billion and 25 stores in the UK alone, Urban Outfitters has established itself as one of the most recognisable names in fashion retail.  According to their website, their success is down to an ability to ‘connect with customers on an emotional level’, whilst these customers are also supposedly ‘the reason and inspiration for everything they do’.

So, what is controversial about Urban Outfitters I hear you asking?  Well, I won’t dispute the fact their ethos is one of the most heart warming I’ve read since I began studying Fashion Retail a couple years backhowever a little lesser known fact is that their CEO Richard Hayne is in fact, quite surprisingly, a supporter of the American right-wing Conservative Senator Rick Santorum, making donations to his political campaign to the tune of around $13,000.  Now, unless you’ve a vested interest in American politics, your knowledge of the Senator might not extend beyond the above introduction, however what I will tell you is he has some pretty strong opinions when it comes to gay rightsand unfortunately not the good kind.

He was once quoted as saying “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything,” to the Metro Weekly, Washington DC’s LGBT News Magazine, whilst another of his more insightful comments reads, “I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts” (because that makes loads of sense Rick).  In fact, it only takes a quick internet search to discover a whole back-catalogue of as equally shocking and narrow minded quotes from Santorum; not only has he compared homosexuality to incest and adultery, he goes as far to compare the molestation of minors by Catholic Priests to “a basic homosexual relationship”.  Still feeling emotionally connected to Richard Haynes’ fashion powerhouse? No, nor me.

Although you could say it’s unfair to tarnish a whole company due to the political stance of one CEO, these donations are not the sole instance in which homophobia has tainted the Urban Outfitters brand.  Back in 2008, the company withdrew a t-shirt supporting same sex marriage citing ‘bad press’, and apparent desire for the company to remain politically neutral. Which is funny because last time I checked a $13,000 donation to a Senators political campaign doesn’t necessarily scream ‘neautral’.

Now, I’m not by any means suggesting we all boycott Urban Outfitters, that would be silly, and I’m first to admit its one of my first ports of call come loan day.  I guess what I’m highlighting is that although when thinking of fashion, and the controversies that go with it, we’re often inclined to forget that homophobia is still an issue, even when it comes to the biggest companies who we’d least expect it from.

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