I have always resented Urban Outfitters.
In high school, I used to call out Van's slip-shod J.A.P.'s (Jewish American Princesses) for wearing their "Jesus is My Homeboy" shirt, affectionately purchased at "Urban," for weeks on end. This lack of creativity in their selection and blatant copying of trends bothered me. Or perhaps my time spent as a salesmen at a skateboarding/snowboarding boutique watching tweens cycle through the Urban Outfitters across the street like commuters at subway turnstile. Or maybe it's because every time I go into the men's section, I see clothes very similar to ones i own selling at a fraction of the price. I rationalize this phenomena by saying, "Ohh the quality of this shit is miserable, my Paul Smith shirt will last forever, plus organic cotton makes me feel good about myself."
Recently my view of Urban Outfitters has evolved from disgust to respect.
Urban Outfitters is well positioned to exit this recession as prime youth retailer for multiple reasons.
First, many competing boutiques will shut down leaving the hipster field open for Urban Outfitters to capitalize.
Secondly, Urban Outfitter's Men's buyer, Dan Leraris, is doing a great job of picking brands. A recent article in the LA Times, "American Heritage Brands Make A Come Back" discusses Urban Outfitters role at the forefront of the revival of the American Heritage brand/work wear movement. Their awesome selection of LL Bean, Filson, Pendleton, Sperry, and Red Wing resonates extremely well with the direction of men's wear. By carrying these brands, Urban Outfitters will win over the demographic of men shoppers, like myself, that have avoided their merchandise due to quality issues and thus transfer Urban's brand image of that of cheap t-shirts to quality men's clothing.
In addition to carrying these quality driven brands, Urban Outfitters is doing a great job of launching more economically priced sub-brands for premium brands like Rogues Gallery and Patagonia. For Spring/Summer 2009, Urban will carry a line designed by Alex Carelton (head designer and founder of Rogues Gallery) called Never Sleep.
This Fall Urban Outfitters and Patagonia teamed up to offer a retro line of fleeces. By branding themselves as a viable distribution stream, premium brands, like Rogues Gallery and Patagonia, will use Urban Outfitters as a vehicle by which to launch mass market sub brands. This relationship will prove lucrative for both designers like Alex Carelton and Urban Outfitters while not compromising the image of their premium brands.
Maybe the pricing of this new merchandise will be out of reach for many Americans struck by these hard economic times, but I doubt it. These brands' image of classic quality are the essence of what men want in clothes and will "last." This perception bodes well consumers in a time when they are tightening their belts and focusing on the essentials. Wouldn't you rather have a pair of quality, leather Red Wing boots than two pairs of neon Dunks?