1. Urban Outfitters’ “Eat Less” shirt.
Urban Outfitters tried selling this eating disorder-encouraging shirt in 2010. The full description of the tee on the website read “Eat less or more or however much you’d like in this seriously soft knit tee cut long and topped with a v-neck,” but somehow all that copy didn’t make it to the actual shirt, ahem.
2. J.C. Penney’s “Homework” tee.
In 2011, J.C. Penney sold a totally tone-deaf shirt for girls, reminding them that being pretty meant not having to do homework. The copy that ran with the shirt was equally tasteful: “Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out? She’ll love this tee that’s just as cute and sassy as she is.” After public criticism, and an online petition, the department store removed the shirt from its shelves.
3. Forever 21’s “Allergic to Algebra” shirt.
In 2011, Forever 21 came under fire for releasing this anti-math shirt that helped perpetuate the notion that young women weren’t interested in math. The company eventually publicly apologized and pulled the shirt from its website.
4. Wood Wood “Jewish Star” tee.
In 2012, Urban Outfitters was called out by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League for selling a T-shirt by the brand Wood Wood that resembled the yellow badges Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. The company’s designers said they recognized the resemblance, “which is why we decided not to include the star patch on the final production T-shirt.” But, they claimed, Urban somehow managed to include the wrong images on its site. “I am sorry if anyone was offended seeing the shirt, it was of course never our intention to hurt any feelings with this.”
5. Zara’s Holocaust tee.
Earlier this year, Zara was selling what it labeled as a “Sherrif” children’s shirt in its Israeli, French, Albanian, and Swedish online stores, but what appeared to many as a shirt reminiscent of the uniforms Jews were forced wear during the Holocaust. The shirt was eventually pulled from the site and the store apologized.
6. H&M’s anti-Semitic shirt.
After Times of Israel blogger Eylon Aslan-Levy spotted and wrote about the shirt, H&M pulled the tee from its shelves and issued an apology.
7. Paul Frank’s “powwow” party.
In 2012, Paul Frank threw a “powwow” party to celebrate its latest collection, complete with headdresses and tomahawks. Not surprisingly, Native Americans weren’t thrilled with the event and demanded an apology and action. The company took down party pics from its Facebook page and issue the following statement: “Paul Frank celebrates diversity and is inspired by many rich cultures from around the world. The theme of our Fashion’s Night Out event was in no way meant to disrespect the Native American culture, however due to some comments we have received we are removing all photos from the event and would like to formally and sincerely apologize. Thank you everyone for your feedback and support.” Mmkay.
8. And Urban Outfitters gets in on the Navajo nation.
Urban Outfitters has made a small fortune from selling “Navajo”-themed products over the past several years, including flasks, sweaters, and jewelry. At one point, in 2011, the company had more than two dozen products labeled Navajo on its site, though there aren’t any Navajo-monikered products currently on the site.
9. Abercrombie & Fitch’s “Wok-N-Bowl” shirts
In 2002, Abercrombie & Fitch sold several T-shirts depicting Asian caricatures and slogans, including a tee that advertised “Wong Brothers Laundry — Two Wongs Can Make It White.” “We personally thought Asians would love this T-shirt,” said a rep from Abercrombie’s public relations firm. They did not.
10. H&M’s “native” headdress.
In 2013, H&M removed a faux headdress from its Canadian stores after Kim Wheeler, an Ojibwa-Mohawk woman, argued that the products were offensive. “My first instinct was to buy all of them and throw them in the garbage,” said Wheeler. “It’s not honouring us. It’s not flattering us. It’s making a mockery of our culture.”
11. Victoria’s Secret’s “Sexy Little Geisha” lingerie.
In 2012, Victoria’s Secret offered this “Sexy Little Geisha” costume, which came with its own tiny fan and obi belt. Worn here by a Caucasian model, the geisha-themed lingerie was taken to task for exoticizing Asian sexuality. Wrote Nina Jacinto on Racialicious, “It’s a narrative that says the culture can be completely stripped of its realness in order to fulfill our fantasies of a safe and non-threatening, mysterious East. It’s a troubling attempt to sidestep authentic representation and humanization of a culture and opt instead for racialized fetishizing against Asian women.”
12. Gap’s Manifest Destiny tee.
In 2012, Gap released a collaborative tee with designer Marc McNairy with the phrase “Manifest Destiny” on it. The phrase, though, raised the ire of Native American activists who said it recalled the violent westward expansion of Europeans across North America that resulted in the deaths of native peoples. As activist Renee Roman Nose wrote, “Manifest Destiny was the catch phrase which led to the genocide of millions of my people, millions of Indigenous people throughout this country. I am also inviting the more than 1700 people on my Facebook page to boycott your stores and inviting them to shop with their conscience.” The company pulled the shirt from its store.
13. Forever 21’s “Straight Outta Compton” tees.
The picture just says it all, doesn’t it? In 2013, after an outcry on Twitter, the retailer pulled the shirts off its shelves.
14. Abercrombie & Fitch appeals to women(’s boobs).
This classy shirt, along with shirts that read “Available for parties,” and “I had a nightmare I was a brunette,” were released by A&F in 2005. A “girlcott” of the store was organized in response, and Illinois State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger introduced a resolution on the Senate floor asking Abercrombie & Fitch to stop selling its tees in Illinois. The company finally relented and took those particular shirts off the market.
15. Urban Outfitters’ depression tee.
Earlier this year, Urban Outfitters got in trouble for mocking depression and making light of mental health issues with this “depression” tee. The retailer said the tee wasn’t actually their fault — they bought it from a Japanese label called Depression. Either way, the shirt was taken off of Urban’s shelves.
16. Urban Outfitters’ Kent State sweatshirt.
In May 1970, four students were killed on Kent State University’s campus after the Army National Guard fired on a group of anti-war protestors. The splatters on this sweatshirt closely resemble blood stains. Both the public and Kent State University took offense to the sweatshirt, which was actually sold out; the university released a statement saying that the sweatshirt was “beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.”
17. Topman’s double misogynist moment.
Topman released two rather tasteless shirts as part of its 2011 tee collection, the latter of which relates a list of excuses for domestic violence and/or rape. After a public outcry, the British chain removed the shirts from its site and issued a public apology. In case you missed it, the shirt on the right reads: I’m sorry but… You provoked me, I was drunk, I was having a bad day, I hate you, I didn’t mean it, I couldn’t help it.”