20-Something, Fashion/Design, Pop Culture

Urban Outfitters vs. American Apparel: Which Hipster Brand Is Most Ethical?


I’ve had this blog for years and every month I get an itch to make it more streamlined. Thoughts of starting an editorial calendar dance in my head, but who am I kidding? My brain is about as organized as the basement of some sad sack on A&E’s Hoarders.

If I was more organized, I would make Friday my designated fashion and design day. In an attempt to accomplish that goal, I’m going to write about the most ridiculously hipster fashion topic I can think of:

Urban Outfitters


American Apparel.

Two clothing companies that the hip teen-through-thirty-somethings who think they are still teens love to shop at.

Full disclosure: I used to shop at both AND off and on worked at the latter (judge away!)

I no longer shop at Urban Outfitters for ethical reasons, however, I continue to support American Apparel, not because of some Kool-Aid allegiance I formed while working there (believe me, it’s NOT a perfect company), but because side-by-side, American Apparel is a more stand-up company than many give it credit for.

I often find it humorous when a man or woman tells me they will not shop at American Apparel because the “advertisements are creepy“, “the owner is creepy” and the company only designs and sells clothing for tiny people (not midgets). However, they will shop at Urban Outfitters completely ignorant to, by choice or not, the CEO’s contributions to conservative causes (such as the anti-gay candidate Rick Santorum), their stealing designs of independent designers, their trademark infringement of the Navajo Nation, their sweatshop conditions and a slew of other gestures that have offended women’s rights groups, the Irish, Jews, Mexicans and the Transgender community.

Now let’s dive into this a little deeper. Yes, American Apparel’s owner and advertisements are creepy. He nor the company shy away from the accusations and, yes, there have been some allegations that the owner has abused his 70s child molester looks and charm with some of his very young female employees and, yes, the company makes teeny tiny clothing, which is a complaint that can be said for most American-based youth fashion lines. Outside of that, American Apparel is probably one of the most progressive clothing manufacturers out there. They’ve supported gay rights for years and created a t-shirt line called “Legalize Gay”, they have supported immigrant rights for years and created a t-shirt line called “Legalize LA”, they are the only clothing manufacturer of its size that is 100% American, they were selling organic clothing for cheap way before other common brands were and they offer a fair wage, fair hours and other perks to their employees in the factory. American Apparel is doing everything that most mainstream clothing lines should be doing, but are not. However, most seem not to care and only focus on the owner’s antics and advertisements. Though the owner’s actions should not be minimized, I would like to point out that he is one of the few CEOs out there with complete transparency of his actions.

Now, you might think I’m talking crazy talk, right? Lauren, how can you support a company where the owner creeps on his young female employees and takes pictures of them for advertisements? Truthfully, I would much rather spend my dollars at a company that supports same-sex marriage, rights for immigrants, treats their employees well and continues to stay 100% American (though one could argue this point since many of their factory workers are undocumented). Supporting a company that indiscriminately steals others’ designs (no wonder why the clothing is so cute at Urban Outfitters), creates offensive designs (seriously, haven’t Natives been shat on enough?), doesn’t care about the working conditions of its factory workers and where the CEO supports conservative causes is not my bag (with an ironic hipster design printed on it).

Which company do you shop at more? American Apparel or Urban Outfitters?





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  • Reply Shawna miller April 12, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    I stopped shopping at UO several years ago when I realized they were knocking off indie artists. My husband and I prefer AA mostly for the fit and longevity of the products we do own. My husband is in a band and we only screen print on AA t’s. On the road, we ran out of T’s and we called a factory in LA and were able to stop by and pick up a box. How many companies would do that on short notice?

    • Reply hipstercrite April 13, 2013 at 2:56 pm

      Yeah, American Apparel shirts are great for bulk! I also love Alternative Apparel and though not American-made, they follow fair trade practices.

  • Reply grace b April 12, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    Since moving here I have shopped at loads of vintage places: Blue Velvet, Vacancy Road, Thrift Town, Thrift Land, Goodwill, Salvation Army, New Bohemia, etc. I love supporting the local stores especially.

    But I will totally admit to drinking the Urban Outfitters kook-aid–as in I definitely window shop there. But I’ve actually never purchased anything there aside from records. My boyfriend has caved and bought jeans though (to add to his ridiculous collection).

    For my money thought, my favorite store in Austin is Buffalo Exchange on The Drag. I may have to take the #3 bus for an hour to shop there but it is well-worth it. 80% of my closet is from there currently.

    I’d also like to mention Piper Sandal Co (in San Antonio) if you are looking for sandals! Texas-made. I’m asking for them as a birthday gift.

    And it would be awesome if you did a fashion/design post each Friday!

    • Reply hipstercrite April 13, 2013 at 2:55 pm

      Hey, Grace!
      I probably shop at vintage/thrift stores way more than AA. My faves are Thrift Town, Buffalo Exchange, Room Service, Ermine and St. Vincent’s (sometimes). We have great vintage stores here! Nice to know about Piper Sandal. I might be heading to SA this week, so I will check it out! Thanks!

  • Reply Elizabeth April 12, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    I shop at UP very rarely and never buy things that are racially charged in any way, but I CAN’T shop at AA because I don’t fit in any of their clothes. I wear a size 8 pants. That is a PERFECTLY AVERAGE AND HEALTHY size. But I need to lose about 4 pounds to fit in their size large. That’s obscene. Also, the clothing may be made in the USA, but the fabrics aren’t.

    • Reply hipstercrite April 13, 2013 at 2:53 pm

      Hey, Elizabeth! I think the majority of their fabrics are made in the USA. You can see a breakdown here! http://www.americanapparel.net/wholesaleresources/fabrics.asp
      I hear ya on the sizes. Before I worked there, I hated going in. I felt like a fatass every time I tried on clothing. Because I worked there, I got to try on a lot of clothing and found which styles worked best for me (they were usually the less common styles). I also wore a lot of their unisex clothing.

    • Reply Mary May 9, 2013 at 1:00 pm

      Size 8 is absolutely NOT a PERFECTLY AVERAGE AND HEALTHY size!!!

      • Reply Hmm... May 15, 2013 at 8:57 am

        I agree, its not. Unless you’re talking about a UK 8, which is a US 4 – in which case, apologies!

        But a US 8 is not healthy or average! I’m not calling you ‘fat’ – I’m sure you look great, but please be aware of the damage you can do do your body – not just weight – through unhealthy living.

        • Reply Shirly YouMustBeJoking June 29, 2013 at 3:00 pm

          To the two dolts above (Mary & Hmm…): you do not know anything about this girl’s (Elizabeth’s) health based on the fact that she’s a size 8. You don’t know her height or her weight. And YES, in many cases, a US size 8 fits a healthy female.

          And ‘Hmm…’, please be aware of the damage that education deficiency can do to your brain.

      • Reply Beatrice February 12, 2014 at 5:28 am

        I’m 5’7″ which is pretty much average and a size 8 in jeans and dresses despite my 27 inch waist. I’m extremely healthy and have no weight related problems. I have low cholesterol, low blood pressure and a healthy metabolism. You clearly don’t know shit, but would like to pretend that you do. Your body snarking is unhealthy and unwanted everywhere.

  • Reply Natali April 12, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Yes! After finding about the great lengths urbie outties goes through to seem “cool” I was disgusted. I’ve been boycotting it for sometime now and I feel it is my duty to inform everyone how unethical they are. I’m with you on siding with AA.

  • Reply Tara April 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    I’m old so none of the above. 😉 Even when I was young, neither of their aesthetics appealed to me. That being said, I have many friends who are indie artists & I despise companies who are not original enough to come up with their own designs & have to rip off other artists & entire groups of people. Uncool UO. Uncool.

  • Reply Benny April 23, 2013 at 10:25 am

    I even have a personal bias against UO because they introduced a good deal more bed bugs into NYC.

    I hadn’t thought about this in a while, but I used to see people’s opinion of Charney as a sort of litmus test. If someone would get up in arms about him and refuse to buy from AA, that was usually a sign that they were either super naive for thinking that he was the only asshole CEO out there, or, worse, that they didn’t give a damn about any of the good things the company has done.

  • Reply JamieeTheGreat April 24, 2013 at 7:26 am

    Wowzers! I had no idea UO were so un-ethical… I read this on my lunch break and was debating whether or not to get a top from there….decided against it. We don’t have an AA here, they’re few and far between in the UK so it’s back to the thrift shop, which we have plenty of!

  • Reply Toyosi May 5, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    I don’t really see the appeal for UO. High prices for items that look like you’re trying too hard to be a hipster. I Prefer AA despite their high prices because I can get all the basics in a range of colors that fit well and will last.

  • Reply Americans don’t think hipsters are that hip at all May 13, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    […] are even less enamored by the Urban Outfitters-wearing, progressive-thinking subculture, with a mere eight percent of them having a favorable opinion of […]

  • Reply Sarah B January 16, 2014 at 5:56 am

    Hey, I just read this and find areas of it a little problematic… When people deplore the advertising campaigns, I think its less about creepiness and more about the objectification of women (which both their campaigns and Charney seem to advocate). As for supporting Gay Rights, they may have made a few t-shirts but (unlike Legalize LA) none of the proceeds from them go towards a relevant cause or charity. They have essentially commodified the LGBT movement for their own profit. I’m not saying that AA isn’t more progressive than UO, however, ethically speaking, it is not a beacon of light to which all companies should follow either. [BTW I don’t shop at either]

  • Reply Joy June 18, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    AA for tiny people!? So weird it’s one of the few brands where I get into a size S while normally wearing M!

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