Obama almost-controversy at Urban Outfitters

Seen anything a little odd on the Urban Outfitters website lately?

Anna North, editor at Jezebel.com, noticed something not just a bit disturbing on UrbanOutfitters.com last week: a BDG henley tee-shirt on sale available in two different colors combos, “White/Charcoal” and “Obama/Black.”

Dude, really?

Well, no, not really. Before you can file Urban Outfitters in the same category as Chris Matthews and Harry Reid for utterly offensive tactlessness, a representative for Urban put out this statement:

“Many customers have brought to our attention one of the color names listed for our BDG Burnout Henley, and rightfully so. We screwed up, and are sincerely sorry. The burnout pattern on this shirt is comprised of two colors – one is an internally developed color we called “Obama Blue” and the other is “Black”. Unfortunately our website database truncated this combination to read “Obama/Black.” We should have caught the error, and apologize for offending anyone.”

Fine, Urban Outfitters: you’re not racist, just careless. But you can’t blame anyone for assuming, considering UO’s history of controversy. The company had tongues wagging and bloggers typing when they sold a “Ghettopoly” board game in stores, when they stopped selling “I Support Same-Sex Marriage” tee-shirts in California, and when they stocked tee-shirts featuring young Palestinians holding guns with the caption “Victimized.”

To say the least, UO doesn’t seem to mind making political statements. That might have to do with its wealthy founder and owner Richard Hayne, a former anti-Vietnam hippie turned republic corporate capitalist. A staunch conservative, Hayne has been called out for his large donations to Senator Rick Santorum, the über right-wing Republic senator from Pennsylvania who is a vocal opponent of gay rights (he has been quoted equating homosexuality to polygamy, incest, adultery, and other such pleasant things.) Richard Hayne and his ex-wife have contributed about $13,150 to Senator Santorum’s Political Action Committee.

With such information, Gawker.com concluded, “Urban Outfitters founder and chairman Richard Hayne is, of course, an ultra-conservative billionaire who hates the gays and funnels millions to Republicans.” A tad hyperbolic, perhaps. But with a highly political owner and a tendency for politically polarizing products, is Urban Outfitters toeing a precarious line? Moreover, do such controversies affect whether you will shop at Urban?

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