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.

Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing