URBN is a parent company that owns Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People: three smaller child companies that are very popular in today’s fashion world. We aren’t talking runway fashion, but more middle class, higher-end fashion.
It is both interesting and important to look at high-end fashion’s labor ethics. We seem to believe that because a company makes expensive, high quality, unique, detailed clothing, they are somehow better than cheaper brands. However, this is the trap of our definition of quality in the clothing market. In reality, the physical quality of the clothing has nothing to do with the quality of the company’s labor ethics.
In addition, the nature of URBN’s brands (Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, and Free People) is bohemian, whimsical, and earthy. With this in mind, we can fall into the mindset that because the style feels very “grassroots,” so must the company be as a whole. URBN is outspoken about their commitment to sustainability, but only in relation to the environment. Their website has extensive information of their use of building renewal, recycling, and alternative energy in production. All of this is wonderful, but what about the human aspect of their ethics? It is both beautiful and crucial to care for our earth, but we must not let the allure of environmental sustainability charm us more than human sustainability.
URBN’s ethics are listed under “global community initiatives,” where they also include information about charitable projects they initiate in the US as well as information about global collaborations. The charity projects in the US are a silver lining for URBN, but unfortunately it does not connect at all to their supply chain ethics. As for their global collaborations, URBN claims to collaborate with fashion designers all around the world to incorporate into their clothing lines, which is a nice side note. But once again, it does not connect to or make up for supply chain issues.
URBN, concerning labor and supply chain ethics, has zero transparency. They do not disclose the location of any of their sourcing factories, or note anything about their conditions. They have a published response of compliance to the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, but it is unclear whether or not they are monitoring or auditing said compliance. What is more, they do not have any outspoken information available to the public about any initiatives they are taking in corporate social responsibility and how they are improving any responsibly they are undertaking (which very well could be none).
It is always disappointing to find a company that is falling majorly short on just, ethical labor practices. Especially when they are completely hiding everything about where and how their clothing is made. It leaves a lot of doors open to ask questions we can rightly assume will go unanswered. Who is making the clothing? What ages? How are they trained, treated, paid, and protected? On top of it all, URBN’s brands, primarily Urban Outfitters, have also had stints of attention for cultural insensitivity in their fashions as well as rumors of child labor in cotton production overseas. It is even more disappointing as many of us would like to think such high-quality, delicate, and original clothing would be made well. But as we know, quality in clothing means more than how long it lasts or how many of its kind are made. Really, we have no idea how to judge the quality of URBN’s clothing because they are hiding the information. It is this sly labor “practice” in which the problem lies.
Written By : Madeleine Williams