Urban Outfitters: A Hipster Haven or an Immoral Manifestation?
Leanne Cunningham looks at the issue of high-street plagiarism of independent fashion and asks what can be done.
Clothing giant Urban Outfitters started off in Pennsylvania, United States and is essentially, a little company that got big. They stock a wide selection of clothing, as well as their expansion into the sales of music, book, and gifts. They now operate six retail brands: Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain, a luxury brand Leifsdottir, and wedding gown designer BHLDN (which is ‘kookily’ pronounced Beholden), and have 140 locations throughout the world. Within Ireland, they operate from Dundrum and Temple Bar. Many people will be familiar with the Temple Bar store, which was originally the principal theater of Dublin in the 1700’s and was later used as a medical school for University College Dublin. While the building may represent a historic time within Ireland it is usually filled with many modern and ‘cutting edge’ designs.
With these cutting edge designs and a desire to be current comes the power of social networking and the Internet. With the economic downturn occurring many find themselves turning to crafting abilities and monetizing their hobbies to make a living. Websites such as Etsy and Ebay allow many to sell these items and also give a sense of purpose and honing entrepreneurial skills. However, the bad news is that retailers such as Urban Outfitters are using these sites to allegedly steal from these independent designers.
The ‘A World Of Love’ jewelry line was the idea of Stephanie Kroner which allowed her to quit her day job and follow the career of jewelry making full time. In May of this year Kroner received bad news, that her idea has been stolen by Urban Outfitters. This led to many bloggers, designers, and Urban Outfitters customers to take to Twitter and announce their boycotting of the store. As a result of this outrage the hash tag ‘UrbanOutfitters’ became an International trending topic and the original tweet by Amber Karne was clicked on 260,000 times which allowed users to see original necklace and the version by Urban Outfitters. Six hours later Urban Outfitters responded by stating that ‘the accessories department would be looking into it.’
The question must be asked: which part of the design is unique? A shape of a country or state isn’t something which one can claim can be trademarked. However, the shape of the heart which both included is what makes the design questionable. In 2009 another independent designer Truche sold a similar state pendant, which makes the situation became highly complicated.
As can be seen from these images many independent designers have produced similar pieces in the past few years. Does this mean that these designers are stealing from one another? Or is the idea merely generic and derived from the iconic ‘I Heart NY’ design? Can one start to argue that both Etsy and Urban Outfitters depend on the indie scene, for both designs and consumers? Twitter and social networking has allowed for people to have many more public ways to fight retail giants. Previously such an issue may have been written about in a local newspaper, thus reaching fewer people, or if financially able a designer might wish to take a designer infringement case.
The easiest option for the public is to state that they will boycott the billion dollar retail giant and stand for the individual, but it must be accepted that influences and copying exists throughout the world of fashion, art, and music. Many retailers are currently ‘copying’ the style of Kate Middleton’s Sarah Burton designed lace wedding gown, does this mean that Sarah Burton will now choose to create uproar or is imitation truly the sincerest form of flattery? It will be interesting to see if Urban Outfitters will continue to make similar moves or if they truly will offer unique designs in future.