When scrolling through the countless pages of women’s clothing, home goods, and beauty products on Urban Outfitters’ website, I used to get sucked in for hours, looking for new arrivals in a sea of endless options. Currently, if looking for a new women’s top online, Urban Outfitters offers you 966 options. Or if you’re looking for a pair of pants or shorts, you’ll have 746 results. It’s easy to look at the numbers and feel overwhelmed, or question if they can be sustainable with that many products. A small portion of their products are from partnered brands such as Nike, Champion, and Patagonia, however the majority comes from the brand itself. I want to point out that the image above is taken directly from the product listing on Urban’s website, and if you look closely, visible photoshop errors are present in one of the bottom folds of the shirt (distortion), and around the model’s armpit (discoloration). I am mentioning this because I find it unnecessary for Urban to photoshop the model and present to young adults an altered image of reality. Urban Outfitters markets to the young adult, and they share little to no information about how the make their products across all departments with the consumer. Many of their products, like the top pictured above, are extremely similar with minor differences to convince consumers that they are constantly keeping up with the current fashion trends.
Like most of Urban Outfitters’ products, the lack of detailed information regarding materials and production is severely disappointing. On the product listing page, the materials listed are polyamide and elastane, but there is no other information regarding where they source their materials other than a note that says “imported". In general, polyamide fabric is not environmentally friendly, as it requires high amounts of energy and natural resources to produce it. Due to the lack of transparency, it is unlikely that Urban Outfitters is not using recycled materials or sustainable methods of production. Elastane is also an entirely synthetic material, and requires a high amount of energy to produce if it is not from recycled material. Both these materials are produced in both inside and outside the United States, but it is cheaper to source them from international manufacturers. Because the product description says "imported," it is likely that this correlates to where they source the virgin materials—outside the U.S., which leads to additional environmental impacts due to shipping and international transportation.
Urban Outfitters provides no manufacturing information and no evidence of tracking their supply chain. However, the process of production can be inferred from the listed materials. Polyamide fabric is a synthetic, petroleum-based material, and thus it requires the use of non-renewable resources. To make polyamide fabric, heat and pressure are applied to coal or petroleum to cause a chemical reaction and produce the resulting material into large ribbons and sheets. Then, the material is melted down into chips and spun through a machine to make fibers. The process consumes high amounts of heat, energy, and resources, and is not sustainable. Additionally, the resulting fabric is not biodegradable, and its overall production releases greenhouse gases. Workers producing the material are also exposed to dust and fumes that can negatively impact their health. Urban Outfitters does not share where or how they manufacture their products, so there is no guarantee of environmentally friendly protocols. Because Urban does not share information regarding where they source their material, I have to give them a low rating in this category.
Urban Outfitters has little to no proof of them implementing sustainability practices into their brand or products. They market to young adults and produce new collections much more rapidly than other stores, making them a fast fashion brand. Their website is heavily green-washed, and I was surprised to see that they consider themselves “a brand founded on the creative reuse and renewal of materials” because in my research of their products, I found the complete opposite to be true. On their website, under their vague “Community Cares” page, they share their minimal efforts to be more sustainable, such as their use of LED-lighting in stores to reduce energy use. They show that they “work with brands” who value sustainable practices such as Hydroflask and Patagonia, but selling a few sustainable products within Urban’s massive pool of unsustainable products does little to prove that they are a “sustainable” company. Additionally, their overall lack of transparency indicates that they do not want consumers to know the details of how their products are made. Urban Outfitters is owned by URBN, the larger parent company that also owns Free People and Anthropologie. Looking at URBN’s website, there is evidence of increased sustainability awareness, and they do have several pages dedicated to sharing their commitments and goals, however there is no specific information as to how they are planning to reach these goals. Additionally, the actual details present on their webpages were lacking compared to the number of sections they had for packaging, materials, and energy consumption. There is no direct correlation between the goals that they list and the practices present at each of their brands. I highly encourage anyone shopping at Urban Outfitters to find more sustainable alternatives, or take a look at the sources below for more information.