Way too often, retailers come up with products that have us all scratching our heads, thinking, “Who came up with this, and more importantly, who gave it the green light?”
From basically everything Urban Outfitters has ever sold to Abercrombie’s infamous sexy children’s thongs, complete with phrases like “Eye Candy” and “Wink Wink,” there has been no shortage of wildly inappropriate products that have inexplicably been produced and often even made it to market.
In light of another recent Urban Outfitters controversy, here are five of the most offensive retail products.
1. Urban Outfitters’ Prescription Bottle Shot Glasses
This is one of the only ill-advised products on this list that is still for sale (a set of three shot glasses costs $14 on the Urban Outfitters website). These glasses, along with other similarly themed products like pill bottle flasks, beer cozies and syringe “shooters,” are offensive in so many directions at once. For one, it makes light of the very serious problem of prescription drug abuse and addiction, which affected about 2.7% of the U.S. population as of 2010. In addition, the products allude to self-medication, which is a serious and sad issue that many people, including lots of alcoholics and other addicts, struggle with every day. These products are not cheeky or funny — they’re harmful and upsetting.
2. Urban Outfitters’ “Navajo” Clothing
Yes, Urban Outfitters makes it onto the list twice (honestly, they should be on it at least 10 times) for one of the most egregiously insulting lines of products ever to come from a major retailer. These clothes and accessories, marketed as “Navajo”-style, included a pair of “hipster panties.” In an open letter that went viral, Sasha Houston Brown, a member of the Santee Sioux Nation, called the line “distasteful and racially demeaning” and accused the retailer of “mak(ing) a mockery of our identity and unique cultures.” The Navajo Nation then sued Urban Outfitters for trademark infringement.
In another instance of what-were-they-thinking product design, Adidas was forced to pull a line of sneakers that came with attached shackles before they went to market in 2012, after intense backlash when the design was revealed. While the company denied any “link to slavery,” the invocation of the shoes is pretty clear. After initially defending the product, Adidas eventually pulled it from production; so luckily, this one never actually hit store shelves.
4. Ben & Jerry’s “Taste the Lin-Sanity” Ice Cream
Remember last year’s Lin-sanity, that period when former Harvard basketball player and then-New York Knick Jeremy Lin, who is Asian American, seemed unstoppable? Well, during that time, Ben & Jerry’s decided to capitalize on Lin’s instant fame with a limited-edition ice cream named after the sensation. Unfortunately, the ice cream contained fortune cookie bits and lychee honey swirls, both of which are stereotypically associated with Asia. It’s possible that Ben & Jerry’s, known for clever and evocative flavor names and ingredients, was trying to be funny here, but the outcome was racial stereotyping and insensitivity. Shortly after the backlash began, the ice cream maker replaced the fortune cookie pieces with waffle cookie and apologized.
5. An Oldie but a Goodie: Mattel’s “Teen Talk Barbie”
Ah, the 90s. A time when a major retailer thought it was a good idea to make a doll that said, “Math class is tough.” This one is almost too easy — Barbie is pretty offensive in all her forms — but the “math is hard” Barbie really puts the icing on the inappropriate-standards-of-female-beauty cake. Mattel didn’t recall the Barbie, but did offer a free trade-out for a doll that didn’t say the offending phrase. The company’s president also apologized.