Urban Outfitters rocked by boss's shock departure

It's the latest setback for the edgy fashion chain after accusations over race and design copying

Its stores have been described as the epitome of urban cool. Its clothes are favoured by actors including Cameron Diaz and its chief executive heralded as a retailing genius. But the golden age of Urban Outfitters, known for its subversive styles – including a discontinued line of T-shirts featuring a Palestinian child holding an AK47 over the word "victimized" – may be on the wane.

Last week, chief executive Glen Senk, 55, the only openly gay CEO in the Fortune 1000, resigned suddenly, sending shares tumbling sharply. He had spent 18 years working for the company, becoming chief executive in 2007.

His departure comes after a tough year for the high-street-with-a-twist company beloved by fashion stylists. In May, the pop star Miley Cyrus launched a Twitter campaign urging people to boycott the company, accusing it of copying an "I Heart Destination" necklace from an independent jeweller's design, with a pendant in the shape of the place. Urban Outfitters strongly denied the allegation, but a Boycott Urban Outfitters Facebook page was launched over the controversy.

Then in October, the company removed the word Navajo, after the Native American tribe, from the title of more than 20 products, after a cease-and-desist letter from the attorney general of the Navajo nation. Sasha Houston Brown, from Minneapolis, wrote an open letter to Mr Senk, deploring the use of the title. "I am deeply distressed by your company's mass-marketed collection of distasteful and racially demeaning apparel and decor. I take personal offence to the blatant racism and perverted cultural appropriation your store features this season as 'fashion'," she wrote. More than 16,000 people signed a petition protesting against the term Navajo being used on its fashion items.

Although the Navajo title was removed in the US, the UK online site was yesterday selling a "Truly Madly Deeply Tribal Navajo Tee", "Navajo Wayfarers" and a "Navajo Blanket Shopper".

Last April the company, which also owns Anthropologie and Free People brands, announced plans to double the number of stores in the UK, with MR Senk estimating the business could grow to have 50 stores here. But his departure has left analysts speculating that the company is in trouble. Urban Outfitters had already seen its finances dip, with net income in the nine months ending October falling 27 per cent to £95.3m.

After the announcement of Mr Senk's exit, stock dropped 19 per cent last Wednesday morning, before rising 2.3 per cent during afternoon trading. Investment analysts from Nomura bank said: "If Glen can't do it, we wonder who can. [Urban] is still a good growth story, but the departure of Senk signals that problems at the company are no closer (more likely farther) to being solved."

Richard Hayne, who founded the Philadelphia company in 1970 and is already chairman, will step into Mr Senk's role. The chief financial officer of the company, Eric Artz, sought to reassure investors, saying: "Dick never retired from anything. He's been involved in our strategy and knows what's going on. I don't anticipate a significant change in the overall strategy."

But Poppy Dinsey, stylist and founder of the fashion website WIWT (What I Wore Today), believes the company has lost its edge. "What they did that was so niche has now become common on the high street. In the early 2000s, I used to shop in Urban Outfitters in the US to get T-shirts with slogans like "Jesus is my homeboy". It's expensive, and their quirky designs and slogan T-shirts can now be bought at Asos.com or other online outlets. Their vintage look has become so common people can find it in New Look. It's lost its edge. But it's still well curated, is good for men, and no other store does homeware like Urban Outfitters."

The firm launched as the Free People's Store in Pennsylvania, and shortly after changed its name. It now has more than 140 stores in the US, Canada, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden, as well as in the UK, but retains its edgy style, selling "What Would Jesus Do?" fortune telling figurines and wind-up nun toys, alongside "Jive Turkey" and "Death Before Disco" T-shirts.

After resigning, Mr Senk will join the US jewellery retailer David Yurman as chief executive next month. And Richard Hayne will have to reassure fashionistas and the City that the brand is not losing its cool.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

    £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

    Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

    C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

    C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home