Urban Outfitters Is Selling Heroin?
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Urban Outfitters Is Selling Heroin?


Don’t worry if someone hands you a hypodermic needle next time you’re browsing for the perfect $40 tee-shirt to match your yoga mat bag. See, it’s not really a needle, it’s a harmless ol’ ballpoint pen that just happens to say “I Love Hairroin” on it. But no, no, see, it’s not about drugs, it’s about that hip new salon setup behind the sale rack. Hairroin. Get it?

Gross Just Got Grosser

We get it, and we’re not amused. Urban Outfitters, everyone’s favorite emporium for faux-boho chic and Manic Pixie Dream Apartment décor, has predictably partnered with a salon called Hairroin. To promote its new Manhattan location, the salon—which has been a Hollywood fixture since 2006—has pitched “pop-up” tents in Urban’s New York stores. The traveling concept is pretty clever—as hairdressers haul their gear from store to store, shoppers can score some bayalage while shopping for their Zooey Deschanel costume. And just to ensure that everyone browsing Urban’s multi-story offerings knows they’re there, they pass out those classy little syringe pens.

Too Late, Urban, You Lost Your Edge a While Ago

Excuse me for a sec while I indulge a sudden wave of nostalgia. Who remembers being in middle school and popping the lead out of your mechanical pencil until it was nice and long and then holding down the eraser as you pushed the lead against your skin so it looked like you were shooting up? (Okay, maybe not everyone.) But even more relevantly, who remembers when Urban Outfitters was actually an edgy place to shop?

In fact, Urban’s clout with the impressionable under-18 set is part of what makes this marketing gimmick so gross. The other part is the fact that heroin has ballooned into a much bigger problem than it was eight years ago when Hairroin Hollywood opened its doors. And New York is one place that’s been hit especially hard by the epidemic. According to the New York Health Department, heroin deaths in the state more than doubled from 2004-2012.

Getting Called Out, And Not Just for the Shitty Clothes

It’s only natural that New York lawmakers aren’t exactly thrilled with the business partners’ oh-so-clever marketing scheme. Senator David Carlucci called on Urban Outfitters’ CEO Tedford Marlow to apologize to those whose lives have been ruined by addiction. “This year New York stopped ignoring the heroin epidemic that is ravaging our communities and worked hard to pass meaningful reform for people suffering from addiction,” the Senator said. “As we made steps in the right direction, corporations like Urban Outfitters and Hairroin Salon have worked to glamorize the use of heroin and the disease of addiction.”

Janet Rivera of the organization Parents Helping Parents agreed that “while a drug theme might not encourage someone to use heroin, it certainly sends a message that it’s as cool and hip as the salon and the store that feature it.” Of course, Hairroin and Urban are far from the first businesses  to attract customers (and press) by glamorizing drugs. It’s a ploy that’s as cheap as it is perennially  effective. As long as there are privileged teenagers with money to burn, products that carry an air of rebellion will fly off shelves.

Photo courtesy of Thatslegit (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped)

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About Author

Erica Larsen AKA Eren Harris blogs at Whitney Calls and Clean Bright Day. Their writing has also been published on Salon, Selfish, Violet Rising and YourTango. They live in Los Angeles with their husband and their enormous cat.