From the catwalk to your local mall, here are 10 of the most controversial shirts designed by some of the world’s biggest “fast fashion” retailers.
In a recent interview, storied Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto was quoted saying, “…fast fashion ruined everything. People waste clothing. They buy and buy, sometimes without even wearing it, and ultimately end up swinging it in the trash. It is pollution.” For those unfamiliar with the term, “fast fashion” is a popular practice among retailers who quickly turnaround clothing styles which premiere on the catwalk in order to capture current fashion trends and make them affordable to mainstream consumers. The controversy surrounding the practice has existed for years; some praising its efforts of “democratizing” fashion by making trends accessible to those who lack the capital for designer garbs, others condemning its philosophy of quick manufacturing which oftentimes result in poor working conditions, jerry-built workmanship and, as Yohji mentioned, pollution and waste.
To the fast fashion audience, clothing (or even taste for that matter) isn’t sufficient. The desire to keep up with with what’s en vogue and don our favorite celebrities’ looks has reached an all-time high; pushing retailers to churn out goods faster, cheaper and “edgier” than ever.
While it may be arduous to keep up with everything fast-fashion retailers have dished out over the years, we’ve trawled the depths of cyberspace to uncover 10 pieces which demonstrate moments where these vendors went a little too far in their attempts at being fashionable.
Forever 21 Straight Outta Compton Rip-off Shirts
A suburban mall kid’s go-to for trendy, wallet-friendly garb, Forever 21’s venture into rap culture proved all but amusing to the Twitter community. Last September, the company introduced a Straight Outta Compton-inspired line of tees with the tweet “New arrivals… straight outta Compton,” accompanied by a photo of thin caucasian models wearing the shirts which donned logos that read, “Ice Cube,” “City Of Compton” and “N.W.A.: The World’s Most Dangerous Group.” Adverse reaction to the shirts’ cultural appropriation of the ’80s rap group was immediate, and the company swiftly deleted the tweet and yanked the tees from their website.
Urban Outfitters Faux-Bloodstained “Vintage” Kent University Sweatshirt
In September 2014, Urban Outfitters received a particularly nasty surge of outrage when they offered this one-of-a-kind Kent State University “vintage” sweatshirt splattered with what seemed to be faux blood – for $129. The sweatshirt was widely interpreted as a reference to the 1970 Kent State massacre, in which four unarmed students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard during a Vietnam War protest.
After the piece was removed from the company’s website, UO tweeted to apologize for any distress caused, which was soon followed by a statement issued by an official at Kent University: “We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit. This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.”
Topshop “Nice New Girlfriend” Shirt
Feminists quickly rallied together on the blogosphere in 2011 to protest this cheeky slogan-bearing tee, which angered many by comparing women to animals. While the popular British high street retailer claimed that the shirt was “meant to be lighthearted and carried no serious meaning,” campaigns and Facebook groups calling to ban the tee prompted Topshop to pull it from the shelves and issue a formal apology.
Nike “Gold Digging” Shirt
Though meant to acknowledge the 46 gold medals won by American women at the 2012 Olympics in London, Nike made it apparent that they were potentially wading through dangerous waters with this “Gold Digging”-emblazoned design when they issued the following description on the World Soccer Shop: “We aren’t saying they’re gold diggers – we’re just saying they’re out for the gold! What’s wrong with that?”
Bloggers and Twitter users took some serious umbrage against the shirt, claiming that its ironic nature was sexist, classless and “disgusting.” The company defended the design, however, stating: “Nike has consistently supported female athletes and the position they enjoy as positive role models. The T-shirt uses a phrase in an ironic way that is relevant given it was released just as the world focused on the success of female athletes.”
ZARA Holocaust-Reminiscent Shirt
In 2014, Spanish retailer Zara received a flurry of backlash for this yellow-star bearing striped tee, which many interpreted as a sobering reminder of the uniforms worn by Jewish concentration camp inmates. Though the company stated that the shirt was inspired by the stars worn by sheriffs from classic Western films, the piece proved so controversial that it was pulled from sale just a few hours after being released, with Zara’s parent company, Inditex, issuing the following statement: “Inditex would like to reiterate its utmost respect for all cultures and religions…Inditex is proud of its cultural diversity…The Group condemns and rejects any form of discrimination.”
Abercrombie & Fitch Asian-Themed Shirts
“Popular kid” label Abercrombie & Fitch – a company with a well-reputed history of controversial doings – was forced to recall a number of men’s T-shirts in 2002 after the company received hundreds upon hundreds of complaints on the shirts’ racist depiction of members within the Asian community. The tees donned a number of Asian stereotypes to drive sales, including slanted eyes and conical hats, and featured slogans such as “Wong Brother’s Laundry Service: Two Wongs Will Make It White” and “Get Your Buddha on the Floor.”
GAP “Manifest Destiny” Shirt
This piece called attention to a rather dark moment from the Land of the Free’s 230+ year history. Released as a part of GAP’s GQ collection, the shirt donned the phrase “Manifest Destriny,” which was first used in 1845 to justify U.S. expansion by Western settlers during the 19th century, resulting in the mass genocide of Native Americans throughout the country. After causing a significant outcry on social media, along with a Change.org petition created in 2012 that amassed over 5,000 followers, the company stated, “Based on customer feedback, we will no longer offer the t-shirt in our stores or online.”
Urban Outfitters “Eat Less” Shirt
Hipster-ific retail chain Urban Outfitters caused quite a furor when they launched this “Eat Less” gray V-neck tee back in June 2010. Modeled by an ultra-svelte brunette model, the shirt was widely criticized for its perceived pro-anorexia message, causing the retailer to pull the item from its online store. UO continued to sell the shirt in-store, however.
American Apparel “Period Power” Shirt
A company with a grade-A flair for raising eyebrows and stirring up controversy, American Apparel shook things up in 2013 when they commissioned Canadian artist Petra Collins to design this (very) graphic tee. The NSFW shirt mustered up some serious debate, some claiming it powerful and assertive, others disgusted by its vulgarity and shocking nature. Needless to say, the shirt proved popular among consumers and sold out quickly on AA’s online shop.
Kanye’s Confederate Flag Yeezus Tour Merch
Though not quite fast fashion, this controversial trend shirt that’s been seen on everyone from middle school mall rats to fashion week street style regulars is certainly one worth noting.
Never one to shy away from provocation, Kanye recalled another bleak moment in U.S. history when he slapped the Confederate flag on a number of pieces from his “Yeezus” tour merchandise. Symbolic of a time in pre-Civil War America when African Americans were enslaved in the South, the items caused quite an uproar among black social justice activists, including Reverend Al Sharpton, who ignited a petition to ban the apparel.
Kanye, however, seem unfazed in the whole debacle, saying, “React how you want. Any energy you got is good energy. You know the confederate flag represented slavery in a way…that’s my abstract take on what I know about it. So I made the song ‘New Slaves.’ So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It’s my flag now. Now what are you going to do?” Nothing, evidently, being that Yeezy rules the world and all.
For more from our Most Controversial series, check out the following:
20 of the Most Controversial American Apparel Ads Ever (NSFW)
10 of the Most Controversial Fashion Photographers Ever (NSFW)
10 of the Most Controversial Film Directors (NSFW)
15 of the Most Controversial Movie Posters of All Time (NSFW)
8 of the Most Controversial Hip-Hop Album Covers of All Time (NSFW)
10 of the Most Controversial Fashion Ads of All Time (NSFW)