After my most recent trip to the mall where I scoured the aisles of the largest, mainly female-targeted fashion brands like H&M, Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters, there seems to be a common trend. Major controversies within the fashion industry involving racism, distasteful messages and unethical slogans have all been featured in their clothing.
In 2014, Urban Outfitters posted an extremely distasteful “vintage” Kent State University sweatshirt featuring poorly-chosen red splatter resembling blood — incredibly disturbing given four Kent State students were killed and nine were injured in a mass shooting in 1970. In early January, H&M was accused of racism when a hoodie with the slogan “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” was modeled by a young black boy. Forever 21 received some bad press this past year when the company launched a line of graphic T-shirts which seemingly encouraged young girls to lower their self-confidence by wearing sexualized sayings like “Risque,” “Gross,” “I only did this to get likes” and “I’m actually really smart.”
One would think after these controversies that these companies would put in extra effort to make sure these issues never happen again. But as the controversies pile up, it seems the opposite has happened and, if anything, it’s increasing. This past summer H&M sold Native-American-styled headdresses, and in March they petitioned to use an artist’s graffiti, without compensating said artist, on their merchandise. In 2016, Urban Outfitters sold shampoo for “suicidal hair” and in 2015 sold a tapestry reminiscent of the symbol that gay, Jewish people were forced to wear during the Holocaust to identify themselves. Finally, let’s not forget Forever 21’s obsession with putting weird slogans on clothing that would be perfectly fine plain.
It begs the question, “But, why?” The simplest answer: Shock marketing and advertising. This clever form of improving sales is a large part of the fashion industry and other advertising platforms. By creating products that encourage a response — negative or positive — they can create a buzz to potentially rake in more consumers who might venture into these stores to do some investigating of their own. Even though these visitors might be there to rant or find something wrong with their clothing, according Salesforce.com, they have a higher chance of making a purchase. So, if they can encourage a customer to visit, even if that’s only to trash their branding or look for a mistake, the customer might find an item they do like in the process.
Customers can also get sucked into the world of “point of purchase” and merchant products that will attract a customer’s natural inclination to make impulse buys. An article on Shopify.com explained the retailers use these tactics to increase “impulse purchases” sales like the all-too-prevalent $1 hand sanitizer found in the check out aisle.
So why are brands pushing such negative press on themselves? The New York Times found that H&M has racked up $4.3 billion in unsold products, according to their most recent quarterly report. With that much product left on the cutting room floor, so to speak, it can’t be good. This may be why the company is desperately trying to create some buzz and sell some product with a scandal. As the adage says, “Any press is good press.”
The fast-fashion industry is already in a lot of hot water and now, with this seemingly-framed marketing campaign, it seems like they are trying to solve this situation with bad press. If these controversies are generated on purpose, that is just sick and sad.