As the world commemorated the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th, Urban Outfitters was quietly dropping incendiary news of a different sort. Eschewing a glitzy ad campaign, the retail giant simply began selling Proper Attire condoms online. The decision to offer the latex prophylactic was announced on the store’s Facebook page:
“Hello from Urban Outfitters. We are delighted that Proper Attire is now available in your fave lifestyle store! Isn’t that marvelous? Please support Planned Parenthood and buy a pack today.”
According to a Planned Parenthood Federation of America [PPFA] spokeswoman, Proper Attire is its own corporate entity, but the condoms were designed—and are now sold—with the express purpose of raising funds for PPFA’s reproductive healthcare programs. Launched in late 2007, Proper Attire products are geared to women, specifically club-going twenty-and-thirty somethings.
“Proper Attire condoms are for every woman who wants to protect herself and her partner. Unlike other condom brands, every element of Proper Attire condoms has been inspired by the world of fashion, from the Proper Attire brand name and the chic packaging created by fashion designers, to the fig leaf logo,” their website boasts. “They were created specifically for the fashion-conscious woman who values style and quality.”
Thankfully, the site does more than pander to fashionistas and offers explicit information on condom use, from how to put one on to what to do if it slips or breaks during intercourse. Information on Emergency Contraception is provided alongside an 800 number that links readers with a Planned Parenthood facility in their area—not just for EC but for general well-woman care, cancer screenings, and other forms of birth control. The tag line says it all: “Don’t let embarrassment become a health risk.”
Needless to say, the anti-abortion/anti-contraception/anti-choice Right went ballistic when news of Urban Outfitters latest offering surfaced. According to Rita Diller, National Director of STOP Planned Parenthood, a project of the 31-year-old, Virginia-based, American Life League, on Monday, August 9 an ALL associate informed the group that Urban Outfitters was selling Proper Attire condoms on its website.
What happened next boggles the mind. On August 11—two days after learning about the condoms’ availability—Diller emailed STOP PP supporters, urging them to contact Urban Outfitters to let them know that they objected to the company’s fundraising for PPFA. The email was widely reposted by dozens of local anti-choice and church groups and by major national organizations including the Alliance Defense Fund, Women of Grace, and catholicnewsline.com.
The next day, Urban Outfitters pulled Proper Attire from its catalog, telling shoppers searching for the product that it was no longer available.
Diller and her STOP Planned Parenthood allies are, of course, tickled pink by this development. “Retailers should take note that, if they choose to partner with Planned Parenthood or sell any of Planned Parenthood’s products or services, there is a vast network of parents across the country who are ready and willing to protect their children,” Diller wrote in an email.
“These parents want their teens to respect their sexuality and remain sexually abstinent until marriage. Parents want to know that they can allow their teens to browse a youth-oriented retailer’s website without being exposed to Planned Parenthood’s sexually oriented merchandise.”
And Planned Parenthood? According to PPFA, the decision to sever ties between the reproductive health group and Urban Outfitters had little to do with anti-abortion backlash and was instead a mutual business decision. “It was a test partnership, meant to last 30 days online,” a spokeswoman told me. “When our supporters learned of it, they questioned the decision to partner with Urban Outfitters because the company is known to lean conservative.”
Indeed. Urban Outfitters’ founder and current board chair, Richard Hayne—number 317 on Forbes’ 2009 list of richest Americans and the 773rd richest person in the world—has a net worth of $1.8 billion and is a highly visible contributor to rightwing politicians and causes. According to New York Magazine, Hayne “supports Senators who vote for legislation against gay marriage” and his inner circle includes the likes of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. This certainly makes one wonder why Hayne, and the company he represents, agreed to sell Proper Attire in the first place. [Despite repeated attempts to reach the company, no one responded to my calls or emails.]
Then again, Urban Outfitters has repeatedly offered—and then pulled—products that rankle consumers. To wit: in 2003 a board game created by the company, Ghettopoly, was criticized by the NAACP and civil rights activists; that same year an “Everyone Loves a Jewish Girl” tee-shirt with a border of dollar signs was denounced by the Anti-Defamation League; and last May, a shirt with the message “eat less,” modeled by a rail-thin woman, was slammed for promoting anorexia and other eating disorder.
Perhaps it’s just a question of the doing what’s best for the bottom line and on that score Urban Outfitters is unquestionably a winner. Last fiscal year, sales totaled more than $1.9 billion and the company has expanded to add Anthropologie, Terrain, and Free People to its portfolio.
Meanwhile, Proper Attire condoms—marketed with playful raciness: “Proper Attire: Insist on a dress code. It’s required for entry”–are available through Planned Parenthood and Babeland and can be ordered from condomcountry.com and quikcondoms.com. They’re also sold in several high-end hotels and boutiques in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, DC, and the Hamptons with all proceeds benefitting PPFA.