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These 25+ Clothing Brands Landed Themselves in Hot Water

American Apparel

American Apparel

American Apparel consistently makes the news. They hire employees based on their “hotness,” and their advertisements are frequently banned because they're not for "prime time," if you know what I mean. It all started in 2000 when they released an ad with a woman in her underwear. At the time, it was a risky move that started the slippery slope of news-worthy American Apparel ads. Over the years, some of them have been worse than others, and some have sparked questions in the advertising industry.

For example, one of their ads featured a woman named with the line "Made in Bangladesh" on her chest. They weren't referring to her clothing, but rather the model herself. American Apparel was attempting to show their fair labor practices, but it crossed the line in more ways than one. Somehow, the more they get in trouble, the more they embrace that rebellious image.  American Apparel makes it work for them and their sales have to be good to continue this type of advertising.

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Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters loves to push the envelope. Their clothing designs have been in the news due to suggestive messages, such as “Eat Less” on a T-shirt. A lot of their other merchandise contains innuendos and substance references, which is what has arguably made them so popular with their teenage demographic. But luckily for Urban Outfitters, that's just the kind of stuff teenagers love.

Parents, on the other hand, are not so on board with it all. While those references are certainly there to some extent, at least tongue-in-cheek, much of what Urban Outfitters sells depicts music artists, movies, television shows, video games, and various brands. So, while you may certainly be able to find something eye-catching to wear, you really got to out of your way to look for it.

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UNIF

UNIF

UNIF is a clothing brand that's frequently in hot water because of its clothing designs. They don’t shy away from any types of edgy designs, and some of their most talked-about clothes have featured satanic references and other religious symbols. Clothing items have featured upside-down crosses, "666" and even satirical references to religious figures that have crossed certain groups of people. For having this reputation, it has been deemed a not-so-great brand, even if they aren't the only ones to do it.

The company was established in 2004 in Los Angeles by Eric Espinoza and Christine Lai. The company uses eco-friendly fabrics for making clothing and recycled paper for packaging. That certainly doesn't seem too bad unless you have something against sustainability. Regardless, the past headlines have turned many off from the brand while at the same time attracting many to it. Whether you are looking for something unique, gothic, or see-through, UNIF has a ton of options available, but evidently, their stuff is not for everyone.

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Adidas

Adidas

The German clothing brand Adidas is well known around the world for its sportswear, and in particular, shoes. It's the second-largest company of its kind, behind only Nike. But even a company that big is not immune to bad PR. One ongoing thing involves Adidas's operation of sweatshops, particularly in Indonesia. In 2018, there were headlines involving the promotion of Soviet-themed items but they were quickly taken off the market.

Adidas is well-known for coming up with innovative designs, but another issue happened when Adidas took one of their shoe designs too far. They added orange “shackles” to a pair of poorly designed sneakers, and the whole shoe ended up being critiqued as a r*cist image of sl*very. At least they canceled the production of the shoes after some public outcry.

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Marc Jacobs

Marc Jacobs

A Marc Jacobs “Lola” perfume ad was banned in the UK because the ad featured a risque-looking, 17-year-old Dakota Fanning. She was wearing a short dress, and the perfume was placed on her lap very suggestively, prompting the UK government to decide it was inappropriate for the public eye. Both Marc Jacobs and Dakota fanning never saw it that way and are of the belief that it says more about the people looking at the ad that way than it did about them.

Another Marc Jacobs controversy occurred in 2017, when models at the Marc Jacobs SS18 Show were wearing head wraps. The designers were accused of cultural appropriation of black culture. Kendall Jenner was one of the models seen wearing a head wrap on the runway. Marc Jacobs has since declined in popularity but is still very much around.

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Forever 21

Forever 21

Forever 21 hasn’t really had any scandals involving objectified models or offensive clothing, but they have been sued by designers more times than we can count. Many designers claim that Forever 21 copied their designs and sold them at extremely cheap prices, and if you’ve ever been inside an XXI, you know this is the cold, hard truth.

Forever 21, headquartered in Los Angeles, is a trendy clothing retailer that offers affordable fashion to young people and people just looking to stay young. Over the years, notable designers like Gwen Stefani, Anna Sui and Trovata have all sued Forever 21 with a total of 50 lawsuits altogether. Most recently, Ariana Grande sued the retailer for $10 million for copying her style.

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United Colors of Benetton

United Colors of Benetton

United Colors of Benetton has made a point of producing advertisements that are very offensive to certain groups of people. Some of their advertisements include outrageous stereotypes about multiracial children and even photographs of human hearts on their billboards, but the company claims that they only want to start a conversation, not spark controversy. Altogether, their ads aim to pretty much offend everyone for the sake of "conversation."

The Benetton Group based in Ponzano Veneto, Italy was founded in 1965. They are known for their sports sponsorships as part of the United Colors advertising campaign. Past campaigns included a depiction of a man dying from AIDS on his deathbed, two horses copulating and a bloodied newborn baby with an umbilical cord still attached. 

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Saint Laurent

Saint Laurent

After the founder of Yves Saint Laurent passed away, the company decided to remove the “Yves” from its name, making it just “Saint Laurent.” This was highly frowned upon in the fashion world because many people viewed it as disrespectful to the brand's founder. And besides that, nobody really likes change.

Yves Saint Laurent established his brand back in 1961. He was one of the biggest fashion designers of the century and gave ready-to-wear fashion a reputation it never had before. In 1983, he became the first fashion designer to ever be honored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a solo exhibition. And in 2001, he was granted the rank of Commander of the Légion d'Honneur by President Jacques Chirac of France.

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Zara

Zara

Zara is almost universally beloved by style influencers and celebrities for their affordable, fashion-forward styles, but they recently came under fire for featuring an ad with two very thin models that said, “Love Your Curves.” How hard is it to find models with curves for this type of ad? Because wasn't quite the body positivity we've been looking for.

And while Zara had done its part in 2020 to produce medical supplies for Spain to help healthcare workers during COVID that doesn't cancel out the "bad" they've done. Zara still has numerous factories around the globe, including Myanmar, Bangladesh and Turkey, where workers are exploited for cheap labor. On top of that, its own workers were not even given any of the medical supplies that Zara was making, according to WION.

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Dolce & Gabbana

Dolce & Gabbana

Dolce & Gabbana has been a brand with a lot of controversy behind it over the years. One controversy started when Dolce & Gabbana revealed a pair of earrings that resembled an African American slave woman caricature. In 2015, the (openly gay) Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana told the world that they do not support gay parents adopting children and that they think LGBTQ families are superficial. They criticized both surrogacy and Vitro fertilization. Many took to social media to condemn these views and called for a boycott.

In November 2018, there was another controversy surrounding a D&G ad that featured a Chinese model with her eyes intentionally narrowed. In the ad, the woman uses sloppily uses chopsticks to eat Italian food. The ads were deemed offensive and immediately called out for racism. Some e-commerce sites from China responded by removing D&G products from their websites. While they were initially defensive, Dolce and & Gabbana eventually apologized.

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Abercrombie & Fitch

Abercrombie & Fitch

Oh, Abercrombie & Fitch. This company actually loves being talked about negatively.  They are the epitome of edgy. Their CEO has literally said that he doesn’t want unattractive people wearing his clothes and admitted that they are exclusionary. Some of AF's other transgressions include advertising that promotes unrealistic body standards and inappropriate advertisements. Somewhere along the line, they forgot that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the only thing that's unattractive is their attitude.

The CEO has gone as far as to say that overweight and "ugly" people should not be buying their clothes. The retailer says that it designs clothes for the "cool kids" and popular kids in school and not the "not-so-cool kids," according to a Mike Jeffries interview with Salon. However, since 2014, he is no longer the CEO of the company. Yet, A&B still uses only "attractive" models for their clothing brand, so nothing has really changed.

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Victoria's Secret

Victoria's Secret

Victoria’s Secret has always been the place for pretty blondes (and the occasional variation of that) to gain fame, but they are now facing criticism for not being more inclusive. Their annual runway show and their advertisements still only feature stick-thin women and no one else. In an interview with Vogue, Victoria's Secret was asked about this in 2018.

When asked why there were not any plus-size women or transgender models in their fashion shows, Chief marketing officer Ed Razek told Vogue that the show was a "fantasy" and that is what the leaders of the industry are looking for. Social media was obviously in an uproar and Ed Razek backpedaled on his statements clarifying that they absolutely would cast a transgender person as a model but that they just never have. 

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Sisley Fashion

Sisley Fashion

This French clothing brand had to pull one of their advertisements because they had what looked like two models “snorting” a white dress, with the tagline “fashion junkie.” Customers did not appreciate the glamorization of drug use, and the ad was pulled. The negative feedback from consumers has inflicted permanent damage on the brand.

The ad from 2007 has not put the company out of business. Sisley is the sister the Benetton Group, the same people behind the United Colors of Benetton ad campaigns. So, it seems the companies' advertisers are all about the edge. Of course, lately, they've been playing it safe and sales have certainly improved over the years.

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Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein is an American fashion house established back in 1968. Its one of the most recognizable names in American fashion and has a substantial market share. And despite its long history in the world of fashion, just like the others on this list, it has not been without its advertising controversies. And these first two are definitely problematic.

The first ad in question was from 1995 and featured a topless 17-year-old Kate Moss straddling Mark Wahlberg. The ad was pulled as soon as child welfare authorities saw it. Another ad from 2010, showed a partially naked Lara Stone on the ground and it looked like a depiction of sexual assault. Their latest controversy is somewhat minor by comparison but it Justin Bieber in a very heavily photoshopped manner, as are most of their ads, but customers voiced that they are no longer into the airbrushed look.

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Nike

Nike

For years, there were rumors that Nike was using sweatshops that employed unfair labor practices, and only recently has Nike admitted that they hadn’t been as watchful as they should have been. Nike had contracted over 700 shops around the world and most of them overseas in Asia. The controversy started in the 1990s over its use of sweatshops where employees are exploited for cheap labor. In Cambodia and Pakistan, Nike was caught using child labor to make soccer balls, although they claimed they were not aware and took actions to prevent it.

A separate controversy arose in late 2018 when Colin Kaepernick was signed to their advertising campaigns. The controversy, in case you forgot, was due to Kaepernick not kneeling for the US national anthem at a football game as a protest against police brutality. While stock prices dropped, sale increased, so perhaps it wasn't as huge of a controversy for consumers, as it was for the media.

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Topshop

Topshop

Topshop has been laughed at for their jeans with the clear plastic knees, but no one was laughing when they used a photo of an extremely thin girl in their advertisements. Because of the criticism, they eventually replaced the photo. The company already had a long history of using mannequins that were too skinny.

The UK fast fashion company has also been under fire due to the controversy surrounding the man behind it. During the #MeToo movement, Phillip Green was accused of "sexual harassment, racist abuse and bullying" by MP Hain. The company would take a hit, of course, with many shoppers calling for a boycott. He has since disappeared from the public eye but his company remains intact.

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H&M

H&M

H&M released a green jumpsuit a couple years ago, not realizing that it was incredibly similar to the uniform of the female Kurdish soldiers who were fighting ISIS. However, they did immediately release a statement saying they did not intend to offend. But that's not even the worst of it.

 

In 2018, they caused more controversy with an ad featuring a black child with the slogan "The Coolest Monkey in the Jungle."  The racist trope undoubtedly offends people, so what on Earth H&M was thinking, we could not possibly fathom. H&M apologize, pulling both the ad and the product but that doesn't erase the lasting impression of racism.

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Skechers

Skechers

In 2011, Skechers collaborated on an advertisement with Kim Kardashian to promote the ‘health benefits’ of wearing their shoes. Soon, the Federal Trade Commission found that Skechers completely fabricated those benefits and actually sued the brand. Skechers was ordered to pay $40 million to the people that bought the shoes. There were over 520,000 claims, which meant that people received between $40 and $84.

In 2019, Nike accused Skechers of stealing their intellectual property by manufacturing shoes that looked remarkably similar to Nike's own designs. Skechers denied this and went as far as to call Nike a bully. On top of that, Nike also claimed that Skechers stole two of its design patents. Additionally, Nike-owned Converse accused them of stealing their Chuck Taylor design but that lawsuit was not won.

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The Kylie Shop

The Kylie Shop

Kylie Jenner’s clothing line, The Kylie Shop, has been the subject of recent controversy. She has been accused of copyright infringement, and more recently, she and Kendall faced a lot of backlash for putting their faces on t-shirts with the names of legendary rock bands above them. The products themselves have also been a subject of controversy. 

One controversy surrounded her skin concealer which received negative feedback from customers for "copying" Rihanna's Fenty Beauty makeup line. In 2018, provocative names like "Barely Legal", "Virginity",  "Hot and Bothered"  and "X Rated" were used for her blush products, which upset many due to Kylie being a role model for young girls. 

(image via Facebook)

FCUK

FCUK

The edge of this company is all in the name and they aren't fooling anyone. This company claims that their name is short for “French Connection UK,” but when they release t-shirts with slogans like “FCUK Me” and “Hot as FCUK,” we beg to differ. Parents did not want their children exposed to these clothing items, so they complained in full force, but the brand lives on!

The "FCUK" branding has been used since 1991. It immediately brought attention to the brand and made it the success that it is today. And while this controversial branding may be problematic to some, in the end, the company can do what it wants – its just disingenuous to suggest that its not supposed to be the anagram we all know it is.

(image via Facebook)

Target

Target

Target is usually known for being pretty socially conscious, but they did make a blunder when they released a line of bridal-themed, graphic tops with phrases like, “Mrs.”, “Bride”, and “Trophy” on them. Customers were not too happy about the last one because they did not want to be referred to as an object.

In 2016, Target caused controversy over allowing transgender customers and employees access to bathrooms that correspond with the gender they identify, except for places where that practice is not legal. Target came out in support of the Federal Equality Act and many people were offended. According to Yahoo! Finance, the policy change cost Target around $20 million.

(image via Target)

PacSun

PacSun

PacSun is a clothing retailer based in California for those that don't know. Their main focus is on clothing for youth and they've recruited people like Kendall and Kylie Jenner to represent their brand. in recent years they've had financial trouble, having gone bankrupt in 2016. The company is now owned by Golden Gate Capital. On top of financial troubles, they've also a controversy revolving around a t-shirt.

PacSun attempted to create a patriotic t-shirt around Memorial Day in 2015, but it went disastrously wrong. They featured a shirt with an upside-down American flag, which, as the symbol of extreme distress, did not sit well with shoppers. However, PacSun clarified that it was merely meant to honor the men and women in uniform. 

(image via Facebook)

Sears

Sears

Sears still exists? Yes, sort of. A couple years ago, they started selling a swastika ring on their website, and because they had so much inventory, they did not even notice it for a couple months until the complaints starting filing in.

In the '80s, Sears was once the largest department store chain but its popularity has dwindled over the years. By 2018, it was only the 31st largest retailer and filed for Chapter 11 in October of that year. By 2019, the company shrunk and only 223 Sears stores now remain. Will it make a comeback? Probably not. But you never know! Only time can tell.

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Yandy

Yandy

Yandy is known for selling lingerie and sexy costumes, but some people think they take it too far when they turn beloved children’s characters into sexy Halloween costumes. Customers began complaining after they realized a sexy “Olaf,” who is the snowman from Frozen. But this certainly wasn't their only controversial costume.

Again, Yandy.com generated buzz with its Brave Red Maiden costume in 2018. This was a sexy knockoff of the handmaids' attire in Hulu's Handmaid's Tale series. And given the nature of the show, this was seen as disrespectful and insensitive. Will this be the last of their offensive costumes? Probably not. After all, it probably helps their business, attracting attention to their website.

(image via Yandy)

Alexander Wang

Alexander Wang

Wang released an extremely provocative denim ad in 2014 that sparked all kinds of controversy. This ad featured a mostly nude woman with her hands barely covering up her nether regions, and customers did not approve. The ad, of course, brought a ton of publicity to the company which in the end could only help the fashion designer as the only bad publicity is no publicity.

As with other fashion retailers on this list, Alexander Wang has also been in trouble for exploiting workers back in 2012. One lawsuit alleged that his company was violating New York State labor laws by mistreating employees. The 31 plaintiffs together sought $450 million total. The lawsuit was dismissed, however. Now in 2021, sexual assault allegations have been piling up with several women coming forward.

(image via Facebook)

MSCH

MSCH

In recent news, Lil Nas X has partnered with MSCH to sell Satan Shoes. This product, limited to 666 pairs coincides with the release of Lil Nas X's "Montero" and its music video. Like the video, the shoes feature satanic images including a pentagram. The customized Nike's Air Max 97 sneakers most notably feature a drop of real human blood. They cost $1,018.

The shoes have caused much controversy and have garnered plenty of media attention, and Nike is not happy to be a part of it. Nike has denied any involvement with the shoes and has filed a trademark infringement and dilution complaint against MSCHF. However, given that the company is not creating knockoffs of Nike shoes, but rather using real Nike shoes, it is difficult to say whether the effort will pay off for Nike.

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