Urban Outfitters chose depression for their T-shirt line, but the fashion retail company appeared to be sending the wrong message to its customers. Shortly after the company released the “Depression” T-shirt for sale, the backlash started immediately on social media, forcing Urban Outfitters to withdraw the T-shirts from its shelves Sunday.
Although this is not the first time Urban Outfitters has been in hot water with customers, the company was not prepared for the strong negative response to the T-shirt, as it reportedly did not create the T-shirt design. In fact, the retailer commissioned fashion designers Kenny Lim and Andrew Loh to design a “Depression” T-shirt for women, after seeing that Lim and Loh’s “Depression” T-shirt line for men was selling like hotcakes in their country.
As Lim explained to several media outlets, the word “depression” is actually the name of his design label. On his Facebook page for his company, the bio says, “Because living life the conventional way is depressing.” He was apparently surprised that shoppers did not investigate the story behind the “Depression” T-shirt before responding so negatively.
“Out of honesty, we named our design company Depression, as a reminder that design should be honest,” Lim said. “As a reminder that we should be happy when we go to work, and we should enjoy what we do every day.” Lim’s statement that he and business partner Loh make “happy clothes” was overlooked because the “Depression” T-shirt, aside from the word itself, is in black and white, with the word “depression” in thick black font. Unfortunately for Lim, the intended message behind his T-shirt was completely missed among Urban Outfitter shoppers. But his T-shirt line, interestingly enough, sold out in Singapore. Although Urban Outfitters chose depression as the word to display on their T-shirts, this was not Lim’s intention.
It’s not difficult to see how seeing the word “depression” on a T-shirt would elicit such a visceral reaction. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2007 and 2010, eight percent of the U.S. population over age 12 reported current depression, with women suffering a higher rate of depression than men in all age groups. Between the years 2009 and 2010, approximately eight million patients sought treatment for depression through doctor visits, outpatient care and emergency room visits. A 2010 National Hospital Discharge Survey showed the average length of stay for major depressive disorder was 6.5 days, with the number of discharges amounting to 395,000 for patients with first-time diagnoses of major depressive disorder.
Urban Outfitters is a clothing and lifestyle retailer geared toward the young adult crowd (18 through 30 years old, according to the company website) living in urban areas. This is an age group with significant rate of depression, although this group (ages 18-39) rates lower than the 40-59 age group, with females rating higher in depression in both age groups than males.
In a chat with Sarah, a customer service representative for Urban Outfitters, she said the “Depression” T-shirt might have been both hit and miss with customers: “I think it’s kind of like a double-edged sword. For one, I think it can raise awareness, but for another, it could cause some people who have it [depression] to feel like an outcast.”
The fact that Urban Outfitters chose depression as a T-shirt message shows it has a long way to go with demonstrating cultural sensitivity toward its customers. The company’s history of offending various groups of people most likely won’t stop with “Depression.”
By Juana Poareo