Skip to main content

The Real Story Behind the Controversial 'Depression' Shirt Urban Outfitters Just Decided to Pull

But why did UO come to sell the shirt in the first place? That's something the retailer wants to explain, and they've reached out to us (which we think is pretty awesome of them) to tell their side of the story.
  • Author:
  • Updated:

No stranger to controversy, Urban Outfitters recently came under fire, yet again, for selling a shirt with a message many have found offensive.

That message? Depression. The insensitive item in question is literally a crop top with the word "Depression" printed all over it. People took to Twitter to express their disdain for the shirt and Urban Outfitters' apparent decision to profit from or glorify the life-threatening mental illness (see below). Someone even created a petition urging Urban Outfitters to halt production of the shirt.

Ultimately, their cries were heard: Urban Outfitters announced Sunday that it would be pulling the shirt from its shelves.

Of the company's decision to pull the shirt, Laura Johnson, executive director of women’s apparel and accessories at Urban, explained over email:

We did not create the Depression brand logo tee shirt and it most certainly was not a social statement of any kind. It was brought to our attention that customers were offended by the product. Though is was not intended to exploit mental illness, we respectfully removed the product as to not further upset anyone. We’re sorry to those offended by the tee. We were trying to support a small brand, not glamorize mental illness in any way.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

But why did UO come to sell the shirt in the first place? That's something the retailer wants to explain, and they've reached out to us (which we think is pretty awesome of them) to tell their side of the story.

First of all, Urban did not design the shirt. They commissioned it from a Singapore-based label called Depression. "It was the first and only time we have our logo printed across the shirt," explained designer Kenny Lim. "The logo t-shirt was originally a men's t-shirt that was sold in Singapore for our fans. It was sold out very quickly. Urban Outfitters had requested for the same style in a women's cropped top."

As for why they landed on the name "Depression" for a fashion line? Yes, we wondered that as well. We'll let Lim explain:

My partner and I met while we were working in advertising agencies, more than 10 years ago. I was a copywriter, and he was my Art director. After 5-6 years of toiling in the cutthroat and exhausting corporate environment, we felt depressed with our loves, our lifestyles and the quality of our work. We decided to call it quits, and left our jobs so that we could pursue our dreams. Out of honesty, we named our design company DEPRESSION, as a reminder that design should be honest. Asa reminder that we should be happy when we go to work, and we should enjoy what we do everyday. And also a reminder that if you are unhappy with your lives, you have the power to change it.

We started a small 180 sq ft retail shop in an old mall, and fortunately, we have had a small group of fans and supporters that has helped us grow into a bigger shop today.

Our designs do not make reference to illnesses. A quick check on our Facebook, and you will see that we aim to create entertaining pieces that are fun and humorous. That would put a smile on the shoppers faces. For example, a t-shirt in the shape of a sunny side up, or a rainbow shirt with clouds. A carousel print, a cat print and so on. Also, some avant garde pieces, that are monochromatic and basic.

It's absolutely an inspiring story -- the kind we love to hear. But, does the name still make light of a disease that frequently puts people in hospitals -- and worse? And one that many, particularly those who have battled with depression, tend to be very sensitive about? Perhaps.

Johnson, said she was "attracted to the clean, graphic aesthetic of the tee shirts they offered," and that she chose this particular logo tee "for the bold typeface design." She adds that, "although the brand has some celebrity following, it is not widely distributed in the U.S. We hoped to give these creatives an opportunity to grow their business."

While we doubt there was any ill-will on the part of the designers or Urban Outfitters, and commend the retailer for acknowledging those upset by the shirt, and pulling it, we also doubt that either of them thought the name "depression" wouldn't raise any eyebrows.