A pop-up on the Urban Outfitters’ homepage confirms that local shoppers can now buy from their online store
We’re not sure when this started, but Urban Outfitters (UO) has announced it on their website that they now ship to our shores. That is probably good news for those who buy mainly online although it isn’t clear how popular this one-year-shy-of-fifty US store is among local shoppers. It is known that many women are extremely fond of their sister brand Anthropologie and, we hear, increasingly, Free People. Perhaps, as with many American consumers, UO may start to lose any vestige of appeal once you pass twenty five, which means people may just stick to Zalora.
Still, it’s always a joy to know that there are stores that we had visited in the US (actually we prefer UO in the UK) and had enjoyed now ships to our home address and without charge if we sign up for e-mail notification. After all, how often can you visit Lazada (now funded by China’s Alibaba) without wondering why you’re at it again. Still, we are a city of e-shoppers with, unsurprisingly, a voracious appetite. According to online shopping aggregator iPrice, ours is the “number one in ‘basket size’ at $91, and a huge lead on GDP among SEA countries”. According to a 2016 Gov.sg report, the local e-commerce market is projected to reach S$7.5 billion by 2026. Clearly Urban Outfitters knew that. Singapore’s business appeal is even stronger now that the American retailer just reported that their net income for Q2 skidded downwards by 35 percent.
Urban Outfitters’ homepage
UO opened in Philadelphia in 1970 (a year after Gap), the start of the flower power decade, opposite the University of Pennsylvania. Although they have since lost the hippy touch, their merchandising approach is as varied, and, dare we say, florid. Some time in the ’90s, there were even vintage-y merchandise. Moving with the times, they now focus mainly on streetwear, including, like most multi-brand stores—even Dover Street Market—a maddeningly large array of T-shirts with tasteless graphics and anti-social messages. The sum is a store that is difficult to pin and describe. It would be easier to say that they would appeal to your BTS-loving teenaged sister and Nintendo Switch-totting pre-NS brother.
As with many large American brands, UO has stores outside the US: in Canada and Europe—more than 200 of them. They call themselves a “lifestyle retailer” with a “well-curated mix of on-trend women’s and men’s clothes” that “targets young adults who are culturally sophisticated and self-expressive through a unique merchandise mix, compelling store environment, websites and mobile applications”. To be fair, UO’s physical stores are quite a fun place to visit even if you are no longer into torn-beyond-recognition denim shorts and tacky printed leggings.
It is also a store that is “dedicated to inspiring customers through a unique combination of product, creativity and cultural understanding”. Some people may find it hard to believe the “cultural understanding” part since UO are seen as a clothier with a lack of sensitivity to cultural issues such as the time in 2010 when they sold a woman’s V-neck T-shirt that read unambiguously across the chest, “Eat Less”. You can imagine the revulsion and repercussion.
Screen grab of the offensive merchandise then sold in UO’s e-store
Singapore’s first connection with Urban Outfitters is not as innocuous as e-commerce. It was to do with a T-shirt too. This time (2014), it was a top by local brand Depression, the brainchild of ex-admen, Kenny Lim and his chum Andrew Loh, both also operators of their own multi-label store Sects Shop. Ordinarily, selling a Singaporean label would not pose a problem. People would normally be thrilled that one of our own is sold by a popular overseas stockist. But when a hipster store tackles a Goth-leaning label with a sad, even if glib, name, the result may not be UT-cheerful.
Depression is not Fayth; they are not built on sunshine. Of all the depressing pieces that UO considered buying, they had to choose a crew-neck piece that had the brand’s bleak, mental-illness-evoking name repeated horizontally, in different font sizes, front to back. You can imagine how unkindly the “culturally sophisticated and self-expressive” took to that, and understandably so. Mental health was, by then (earlier, in fact), no longer an alien term. The T-shirt ruffled many, including columnists of mainstream media, such as The Guardian. The paper headlined an op-ed, “Don’t Shop at Urban Outfitters”.
Just to be sure, we checked: Depression is no longer stocked at UO, online too.