Thursday, June 11, 2009

An Open Letter to Urban Outfitters

Dear Representative of Urban Outfitters,

I wish to begin this letter by congratulating you on the terrific feat of selling more "Ramones" shirts to non-Ramones fans than the band ever did to people who actually listen to their music. I'm not sure if this is what you set out to accomplish, but I know you made tremendous profits and probably had to pay out very little to the band for manufacturing shirts with their logo. I'm also aware that CBGB's had to close its doors because of financial troubles despite the sizable but somewhat peculiar popularity of your "CBGB's" shirt line. To me, this is an indicator that Urban Outfitters didn't have to pay much of a percentage on those shirts either, but found a way to ensure that the money made from your CBGB's shirts didn't accidentally fall into the hands of CBGB's, but went straight into the pockets of Urban Outfitters where it belongs.  But on to the reason for my letter.

You may be aware that portions of several U.S. cities are undergoing a significant shift in demographics due to young, middle class and upper middle class whites moving in. Many of these people are priveledged and have disposable incomes due to trust funds or just overly generous, wealthy parents, but Urban Outfitters can just forget about considering them as a target group: you all simply aren't "alt" enough.  But that doesn't concern me, and it shouldn't concern you.  After all, your target group is "mainstream, man" in comparison, and vastly outnumbers this self-marginalized group of hip, young city dwellers. 

What concerns me is that the gentrification that results from these new communities of urban bohemians (or just "hipsters") has left a large number of people--mostly of color--unable to afford the skyrocketing rent prices, forcing many families to pack up and leave the neighborhoods they've lived in for years or even generations, and cursing the plethora of new coffee shops, bike shops, boutiques and art galleries on their way out.

Something must be done.

I've cooked up a little idea that I'd like to pitch to your marketing department. It involves manufacturing shirts in a way that is not unlike your Ramones and CBGB's, um, "campaign", in that the shirts I'm going to propose possess signifiers that have absolutely nothing to do with the tastes and lifestyles of those people who will buy them.  

I propose that Urban Outfitters put out a line of shirts with the names of various neighborhoods spelled across them (i.e. "Lower Bottoms" in Oakland, CA), or, better yet, branding gentrified neighborhoods as they're commonly called by the hipster community  ("Billyburg" for Williamsburg in Brooklyn, the epicenter of hipster "culture").  

My prediction is that your faithful customers will buy up these shirts by the thousands for no reason other than the fact that they're sold at Urban Outfitters, which will send shock waves of hysteria through the neighborhoods these "artists" and "taste makers" have called home for three years(!).  Imagine how ordinary a transplant resident to Bushwick will feel when he sees an Urban Outfitters customer--who is decidedly non-urban, as I'm sure your marketing analyses will show--wearing a v-neck shirt that declares "Bushwick" with zero cultural or regional awareness.  What will the fixie bike riders say when they see Chad Suburbia pull up in his SUV dawning a "Mission, SF" shirt?  

What will happen is that the hipster will get angry, slurp down a PBR, light up a p-funk (that's a Parliament cigarette.  I feel another t-shirt design coming on.) and then think about finding a neighborhood that hasn't sold out.  

Everybody wins.  You all make lots of money and help poor people find affordable housing without having to spend a dime on them.  In an attempt to remain "alt", hipsters will have to change their Pitchfork subscriptions to an address in Fargo, North Dakota.  Hopefully, there will be enough guns and ammunition in a town like that so that nobody has to be misplaced.  Think it over.

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