Clothes Make the Man

Like Jack and his magic beanstalk, Urban Outfitters President Richard Hayne turned a few hippie beans into a hip $700 million retail empire.

By Jonathan Valania
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 46 | Posted Jun. 11, 2003

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Asked to clarify for the record whether he ever contributed to Santorum's reelection campaign, he counters, "I don't want to mislead you. Like many people, I have some affinity for Rick Santorum, and I have problems with some of his positions."

And where does Santorum's position on homosexuality fit in his comfort zone?

"I'm not going to comment on it," he says, irked. "I have my own opinion, but I am not going to share it. Our job as a business is not to promote a political agenda. That's not what we do. There are all kinds of political views held by my employees. Some would be horrified to learn that we contributed to Santorum's campaign, and others would be fine with it. We openly discuss and joke about our political differences."

While on the topic of uncomfortable questions, PW raises the other issue that dogs Urban Outfitters: the allegation the company relies on sweatshop labor to manufacture its apparel, generating its massive profit margin on the backs of the Third World poor. Check the labels on most of the clothing hanging in an Urban Outfitters store and you'll find that many say "MADE IN TURKEY," "MADE IN INDIA" or "MADE IN SRI LANKA."

Yes, says Hayne, nearly all of Urban Outfitters' apparel is manufactured in Third World sewing shops--just like nearly all of the clothing sold in this country. If Urban Outfitters relied on domestic union labor, says Hayne, most of his customers could not afford the price he would have to charge to turn a profit. All things being relative, he says, Urban Outfitters does not contract with any sewing shops that are overtly inhumane or exploitive.

"Years ago I visited one of the factories we work with in India, and there was 500 people standing in a line three people deep stretching around the building," he recalls. "I said to the foreman, 'What's going on?' He told me they were all applicants for the four positions they had open. I toured that facility and it was reasonably clean--for India. And it was reasonably well-lit--again, for India. And yes, it was mostly young women working there. But it is my understanding that the only other option those women had to feed their families was selling their bodies. So I don't want to hear people from the suburbs with their fat American stomachs telling people in other countries how to run their societies."

At this point--about two hours into the interview--Hayne pauses and, with barely contained irritation, says, "I guess I should have asked this before I agreed to this interview--what is your angle?"

The irony of Richard Hayne--the undisputed king of under-30 retail cool--is that there's nothing remotely hip about him. Nothing at all. With his loosely knotted yellow silk power tie and boardroom-blue dress shirt, he looks like a typical $1,000-a-plate Republican fundraiser attendee. An eyeglass case bulges nerdily in his breast pocket, his teeth are slightly crooked and a few thin strands of hair arc over a small constellation of moles mapping the northward advance of his forehead.

He is even-toned, courteous and articulate. Although he rarely makes direct eye contact when talking, Hayne projects a Dick Cheney-esque aura of no-nonsense gray flannel gravitas.

Like all niche retailers, Hayne's relationship with his customers is a sort of reverse Dorian Gray: He gets older and they stay the same age, eternally 18 to 26. He long ago gave up on trying to figure out what young people want to buy, turning over purchasing decisions to a cadre of hip, plugged-in twenty- and thirtysomethings who routinely crisscross the capitals of cool--New York, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo--in search of the new new thing.

"If you are fiftysome years old, as I am, and your job is to figure out what a 21-year-old woman wants to wear to attract a male, there is probably something wrong," he says. "She certainly doesn't want me to know what that is."

To maintain the company's fashion- forward edge, buyers are encouraged to fail. "If everything a buyer is putting in the store is selling, then they are not taking enough risks, they are not experimenting enough," says Hayne. "It's not rocket science. We just try to give our customers what they want: something to wear on a Friday night that will make the boys look at them--or the girls look at them. We have two rules: 'It's okay to fail' and 'Never look in the rearview mirror.'"

When Hayne says "we," he is essentially saying "I." He is the company president, after all. He's never had much reason to fear failure. The day he started what would become a $700 million retail colossus with just $4,500, a few high-minded ideals and a lot of hard work, Hayne stared failure in the eye, and failure blinked and moved on in search of easier prey. He's never had much use for looking in the rearview mirror, either.

Still, when PW was forcing him to march down memory lane, he recalled how seeing Dylan and Joan Baez perform in 1964 was a transformational experience. It opened his eyes to everything that was phony and uptight and unjust in the world--and made him want to change the world. And there is a part of him that believes he has done just that in his own small way. But as the hippie party of the '60s devolved into the post-Vietnam hangover of the '70s, it must have occurred to him that idealism--like the length of your hair or the cut of your clothes or rebellion itself--was nothing more than fashion. And fashion is a commodity to be bought and sold for a profit.

Jonathan Valania (jvalania@philadelphiaweekly.com) writes frequently about the media and music for PW.

Additional research for this article by Sarah Watson.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 46 of 46
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1. BK said... on Jul 6, 2008 at 08:25PM

“I think Richard Hayne is a wonderful man. Urban Outfitters is an amazing store, and it is frustrating that you only have such negative things to say. It would have been nice if you had at least said a few good things about him. You are a good writer but maybe you should be more open minded and not just focus on what is bad or wrong about someone or something.”

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2. kirsch said... on Jul 9, 2008 at 02:11PM

“i wonder why it is that urban outfitters has now decided to put notebook pads with catholic saints containing duragatory captions on them... like calling one of the female saints a bitch...is this part of the stay hip”

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3. AC said... on Oct 5, 2008 at 06:25PM

“Dear BK, I think you missed the point of this article being an honest portrayal of a man who has abandoned his ideals (if they were ever there) to pure and blatant consumerism-- I don't think any of the things in this article are mean or cruel to Richard, only true. It's important to stay true to an interview.”

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4. matea said... on Jan 28, 2009 at 07:14PM

“im with AC on this. it just sounds like an honest portrayal. no B.S. like usual. honestly its kind of sad that there are not other large scale clothing chains that don't feed some fat old republican man at the top”

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5. Diana said... on Feb 1, 2009 at 04:42PM

“Amazing that Hayne decried having to pay AMERICAN workers good wages because it would make their clothing too expensive for Americans, and yet he operates Anthropologie, which sells dresses worth about $8 dollars, for $300. dollars. Guess the retailers like him are getting their come-uppance. I'd predicted last year that the steady stream of offshoring not only clothing construction, but fabric itself (all in the name of BIG profits) would come back and bite them on the behinds. Guess what? When American consumers stop buying on credit (which they have stopped doing), and they no longer have wage-earner jobs (all been shipped overseas in the name of shareholder profits), then who the heck is going to buy your overpriced merchandise? Basic economics always trumps basic greed. I'll never shop in those stores again. ”

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6. Dee said... on Feb 7, 2009 at 11:11AM

“This is a wonderful article. thank you for writing about Urban.Good to know these things. No one is too "big" to fall... it just takes time.”

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7. dee said... on Feb 7, 2009 at 11:14AM

“i cannot agree as a former employee...”

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8. Debi Colbert said... on Feb 13, 2009 at 12:47PM

“Looking for a vest I purchased in St. Louis Missouri. It is a medium grey stone washed vest with collar has reinstones and crochet lace at the bottom Urban 1987”

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9. jy said... on Feb 28, 2009 at 08:26AM

“well i dont agree with most of you mr. hayne is a great man he made my dad and the rest of my family happy my dad works for him he is the sweetiest man he is soo nice”

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10. Anonymous said... on Jul 1, 2009 at 12:01PM

“I don't know why you think it's the Republicans that are fat cats, who's taking over big business in America and giving them billions of dollars.. the democrats. That's the progressive way. They are taking over the economy-energy, health care, cars, banks. They will control every aspect of our lives. He better hurry up and make as much money as he can , times a ticking faster everyday. With Al Franken now in don't blink because you'll miss the switch from liberty to tyranny.”

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11. anonymous said... on Jul 16, 2009 at 11:54AM

“Oh man I remember reading this when it was published, thank god it's online, somebody needs to start reposting this sucker all over the internet.

PW would never have the balls to publish something like this today.

We need one of these about SRO and GYRO too.

Doesn't it bother anyone else that these 3 companies have co-opted 80 % of philadelphia's talent???”

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12. Anonymous said... on Dec 25, 2009 at 04:51PM

“My sister told me to stop shopping at anthropologie a long time ago because of who they support...I never listened until I read this article.
I told my friends to stop buying me gift certificates to anthro.”

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13. Anonymous said... on Jan 5, 2010 at 05:52PM

“Urban Outfitters is well known for stealing artist's work and selling it as their own. Just Google "urban outfitters steals designs" and look at what comes up.

Support your local artist - don't by ripped off ideas from Urban Outfitters.”

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14. Anonymous said... on Jan 5, 2010 at 05:54PM

“Gah, my keyboard keys got stuck! That should be " don't *buy* ripped off ideas..."”

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15. Nick Russell said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 02:13AM

“Two things:

1) The tone of this article is a bit unfair for the faux-shock that indeed Urban Outfitters is a business and that the CEO has changed his views on personal matters in the last 30 years.

What's the saying? You should be liberal in your 20s and conservative in your 50s? Whilst he may not align with the 60s ideals anymore, he is paying thousands of people. That should be worth something.

2) As far as his support of political figures -- the political system in the US is so far f*cked that who even really cares anymore. Americans love to feign outrage but at the same time also love to amazingly not to anything, allowing the government to run roughshod over everyone's rights. Boo hoo. If you want to talk about another man's politics go get a sign or a gun or run in an election or do something. It's laughable that anyone thinks $13,500 donation means anything in the face of the level of corruption present in the US.”

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16. Anonymous said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 02:46PM

“@ Nick Russell

I don't think the point is to judge the man's personal political beliefs, so much as it is to expose the blatant hypocrisy of a company that markets clothing to young liberal-minded people then invests in bigoted and controversial politicians.

People like Rick Santorum are the scum of the earth, and I'd hate to see any retailer investing in his career...and it just adds insult to injury to see it come from a company that masquerades as an open-minded and liberal retailer.”

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17. Anonymous said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 04:50PM

“I will never buy from any of Hayne's stores again - enough said.”

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18. Anonymous said... on Jan 12, 2010 at 09:18AM

“I'm writing to UO today to ask to be taken off their catalog mailing list. The female models with partially exposed breasts and in explicite poses look like they are 12 years old. I'm pretty progressive and open minded about sexuality but this is just creepy.”

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19. slackerati said... on Feb 21, 2010 at 08:00PM

“Speaking of "postcollegiate slackerati," that first paragraph reads like a freshman Lit student's attempt to sound scholarly.

"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do." — Thomas Jefferson”

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20. jasmine said... on Mar 29, 2010 at 05:07PM

“modelmayhem.com/ub3rmoda”

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21. Anonymous said... on May 8, 2010 at 10:36AM

“eh.... just go to Sugarcube and other Old City shops!!! http://sugarcube.us”

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22. Anonymous said... on Jun 11, 2010 at 09:08PM

“In America people are allowed to take risks and try to make it rich. In his quest he realized that he had to do certain things to become rich and stay rich. As metioned in the article, he donates money to different causes and supports causes that need support. Times have changed and he changed with the times. Many of the former liberal "hippies" have changed into republicans for reasons such as financial stabability and change in opinion. Even though his ideals have changed, he and his buisness should not be judged. He has realized that in order to thrive in a capatilist economy, some of his liberal ideas had to change. Although he does support a man be has said horrible things, he may support him for reasons of his own. Try to show him how wrong this man is. He supplies many jobs and sells some pretty awesome clothing. I believe if you were to judge this man fromthis one article you would be as much of a hypocrite as him by saying you're "openminded" learn his side of the story.”

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23. admirer said... on Sep 13, 2010 at 10:49PM

“I think that trying to corner him with Santorum's views of gay rights was pretty low of you guys. It's pretty clear that he donated to Santorum based on some economic issue, probably a tax of some sort.

Really, he seems like a decent guy who decided that living in hippie poverty wasn't for him. Good for him.

Still, one of my favorite stories in the paper.”

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24. Anonymous said... on Oct 1, 2010 at 11:11PM

““I think that trying to corner him with Santorum's views of gay rights was pretty low of you guys. It's pretty clear that he donated to Santorum based on some economic issue, probably a tax of some sort.

Really, he seems like a decent guy who decided that living in hippie poverty wasn't for him. Good for him.

Still, one of my favorite stories in the paper.””

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25. A.C. said... on Feb 11, 2011 at 12:29AM

“You miss the point here. It's true that he is a genius businessman. He may be a sweet man. But I've toured UO's headquarters, and realized it is nothing but a factory of thieves pilfering ideas, stealing from their own freelancers. It's the most capitalistic, vicious clothing company of them all. I'm not surprised the false hipness of UO has Santorum allllll over it.”

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26. Anonymous said... on Mar 4, 2011 at 07:09PM

“Wow. I found this article to be ridiculous. Enough with the flowery writing; if you're doing journalism, stick to journalism! This article is extremely biased and straw man's Hayne. The writer is just as guilty of having an agenda as fox new or msnbc.”

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27. Anonymous said... on Apr 12, 2011 at 05:30AM

“Urban Outfitters is SO overpriced...”

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28. Anonymous said... on May 28, 2011 at 05:34PM

“I find it hard to believe that anyone who seriously studied anthropology (enjoyed, really wanted to, really was excited about it -- not those who go to college just to get a degree and degrade the social science fields because they're "really easy") could even dream of supporting someone like Santorum, simply because of the fact that supporting him -- and others ideologically similar on any side of the lines -- makes no sense for someone who believes in understanding human culture.”

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29. Thomas Jennings said... on May 28, 2011 at 06:28PM

“Does seem like a very loaded article. Got some interesting information out of it, but he's certainly not the kind of monster that you seem to think he is.”

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30. Spam S. Pam said... on May 30, 2011 at 07:59PM

“Soooo, you guys haven't bothered with even the most basic of spam filters then, eh? It even says as I post this, "Urls prohibited" but I am looking at several obvious spam posts with URLs, years old shilling crappy goods and probable scams.

Nice-way to go-keep advertising those spammy spam spammers...........”

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31. Anonymous said... on Jun 1, 2011 at 10:36PM

“Lets be real, this is just a case of a person caught up in consumerism. hipsterism isnt going anywhere. this scanal just results from a persons ideal being wrapped up in the realities of capitalism. if your worried about still managing to be a hipster though, heres 6 easy rules to remaining one of the slacker, anti-establishmentist, cool kids.
http://wp.me/p17OrR-wC

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32. Tom said... on Jul 24, 2011 at 03:40PM

“Agree with the type of exposure that this article provided, pulling back to see the man behind the curtain. I think it's low for a company to profit from young liberals and spend money in a way diametrically opposed to that demographic.

Niceness is often a way of trying to smooth over a political stand when you have no spine.”

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33. Bannef said... on Nov 9, 2011 at 07:01PM

“Eh, so Richard Hayne is a republican. Their CEO, Glen Senk, is openly gay, and that is not an easy feat - I sincerely doubt he could have risen so high in a hostile environment (or would have chosen to - he seems quite proud of his sexuality).

I never quite understood the issues with corporations trying to be "trendy" or "creative." I guess the image is of a bunch of suits sitting around with a computer deciding what the "kids" will be into this year, but mostly it involves finding some really creative people, and then paying them to make things... Which sounds cool to me? It's hard enough for artsy people to get enough money to put food on the table in this world...

Now, if you have reason to think they are taking advantage of those creative people, then I totally get that there's a problem here. But I think that needs to be evaluated company to company (or even department to department within one company).”

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34. western style printers said... on Jan 4, 2012 at 06:51AM

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35. andrew said... on Mar 4, 2012 at 05:53PM

“Just like Dick Cheney, Richard Hayne's quite the chicken hawk. Never bought a damn thing from Urban Outfitters, and don't plan on doing so. Still, Pennsylvania has a lot to answer for to let it get to the point that Rick Santorum is a viable presidential candidate.”

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36. Anonymous said... on Mar 13, 2012 at 01:03AM

“Thanks for letting us know that the dollars we liberal women spend end up supporting Rick Santorum, who would deny us our rights!

I will be screaming this from the rooftops and shopping elsewhere!”

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37. Anonymous said... on Mar 27, 2012 at 11:39PM

“I came here looking to fact-check before reposting the latest ant-urban FB thread. I've hated UO for ages, but this article is so slanted it makes me want to like the guy. Reporting of facts should not involve personal opinions.”

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38. Mac said... on Mar 28, 2012 at 12:37PM

“So, if I decided to open a vegan restaurant, and i am a meat eater, would that be wrong? What if i was just doing it to make money? What if i was an atheist who operated a religious book store? Doing either of these things hurts no one, it just offers a service to people in search of a particular product. I work for Urban and its actually a pretty cool company, and many of the people who work there are a lot more open minded and tolerant of all political and social views than you would think. There are employees who are conservative and liberal, but we all have a common goal; TO SELL CLOTHES. This of course ensures that we keep our jobs, gets raises and promotions.

Would Brooks Brothers, a store that sells high end conservative apparel, be lambasted if the people in charge were liberals who donated to liberal causes? Would their consumers be justified in complaining that they donated to liberal causes, or would that just be COMPLETELY MORONIC?

Logic is in short supply nowadays.”

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39. ironyisoverrated said... on Apr 18, 2012 at 10:37AM

“Setting aside whether UO sells clothes that fit my or anyone else's taste, ultimately it is a publicly traded company that anyone can buy into and theoretically profit from. Knowing this, as a consumer who isn't interested in buying stock in the company, I'd only avoid UO if they directly donated corporate funds to regressive social causes. I don't have a problem with a shareholder doing so as an individual. If we progressives really want to encourage a more ethical, humane marketplace, we need to build more ethical, humane businesses ourselves rather than hectoring conservatives to make superficial changes to their business models and pay lip service to issues that concern us.”

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40. fashion trend said... on Apr 23, 2012 at 09:36PM

“I came here looking to fact-check before reposting the latest ant-urban FB thread.

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45. Anonymous said... on Jun 10, 2014 at 08:23PM

“OK - let's see. Clearly, Hayne is a bigot because he once, 11 years ago gave money to a politician. But yet he promoted to CEO the very first openly gay Fortune 500 CEO. Obviously a complete bigot....!!
Oh, and he gave Santorum $13,500 (because he agreed with some economic positions of Santorum) and he gave Drexel U over $20,000,000 to advance education. Again, clearly only interested promoting in his own bigoted views of the world.
He is also active in pre-college education personally, and Urban is a big supporter of both Alex's Lemonade Stand (fighting childhood cancer) and the Children's Scholarship Fund (giving scholarships to primarily minority Philadelphia kids). Horrible..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hayne is a Libertarian, not a Republican. He apparently believes in individual liberty - maybe you don't.
Sorry. Rehashing the $13,500 to Santorum and telling us that he is "balding" is just showing your hatefulness. Try learning a few facts and open your eyes. Idiot.”

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