As city college kids, I’m sure we’re all familiar with Urban Outfitters, the alternative urban-styled retail store that sells shirts that read “Come to Philly for the crack,” and “Trust me, I’m a virgin.”
It’s a haven for those who enjoy dressing unconventionally, whether you’re a hipster, tree-hugger, rebel or an emo-tastic artist of some sort. When the business first started, it actually used to be sort of cool. But now Urban Outfitters is what Abercrombie & Fitch is to frat boys and surfers – just another corporation manufacturing items based on stereotyped target audiences. I should know. I work there. And as a person who feels it is paramount to work for something I love and believe in, working at Urban has often made me feel like a sellout.
I applied for the job thinking I would be able to work somewhere more lax and less corporate than most companies. While the stores may appear that way, behind the scenes the business is run by Richard Hayne, founder and president of Urban Outfitters. Hayne is actually a rich, conservative Republican who, according to Philadelphia Weekly, has donated more than $13,000 to the Republican Party.
Now before I say things that could potentially get me fired, let me make a disclaimer: I like my job. I love the people I work with and the atmosphere is always fun. Folding clothes isn’t so bad when you’ve got Grandmaster Flash, The Mars Volta and The Shins playing in the background.
Let me also point out that I have no qualms with the political agendas of other people. Or at least not to the point where I judge them based on their party preference.
But I do have a problem with corporations who blatantly make an effort to appear liberal, rebellious and unique when in fact they are quite the opposite. As a result, I feel that the company has created a front, and as a representative of Urban, I contribute to that front. I feel I’ve become a sell-out who is representing a company that is no longer based on principles I agree with.
Maybe I sound a bit melodramatic, but I’ve never been comfortable being paid to do something that I didn’t simultaneously feel passionate about. And as Urban becomes more and more of a pit stop for suburbanites and rich college kids, I find myself grinding my teeth through a weak smile.
A few weeks ago, I had a customer frantically upset because he was too short to fit into a pair of $170 Seven brand jeans. He told me he had to have them because “in this city, Seven jeans mean something.” It took me a few seconds to digest the absurdity of this remark, and when I did, I had to try deathly hard to act polite without throwing up in my mouth.
It’s situations like these that remind me of what Urban is now compared to what it was when it first started. It was a small store based on anti-war and anti-corporation efforts, bringing affordable uniqueness into the homes of college students. Now I look around the store and notice “vintage” goods being priced for four times what they’re worth and I wonder if I’m in the wrong place.
But I remind myself that it’s only a part-time job to hold me over during college, and when the time comes to choose a career, I will be sure to dedicate myself to something I passionately love. In our society, we all know we have to acquire jobs that generate cash flow in order to be considered productive members of society. For most of us, this means trying to find a career without selling our souls to the devil.
The most that we can ask for is to be paid handsomely to do what we love. Because my job at Urban Outfitters currently contradicts both these standards, it is a continuous reminder of why I must work toward building a profitable career I love. Maybe it’s a bit idealistic, but I won’t let that stop me from finding a balance. And if I do, it will be then that I know I have achieved success.
Eva Liao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.