16 controversial clothing items that were pulled from stores

Hanukkah Sweater

Every so often, fashion brands upset shoppers by attempting to sell questionable merchandise.

While many designs were created in good faith, others have been perceived as ways to make money by ruffling feathers. Nonetheless, the internet rarely forgets.

Here are 16 examples of the worst clothing items and accessories that have made a bad impression.

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In January 2018, H&M apologized for using a black child in what some people called a ‘racist’ sweatshirt ad — but many thought that wasn’t enough.

Following the release of the sweatshirt, the Weeknd announced he would no longer work with the brand. And after facing intense backlash online, the brand apologized and seemed to remove the item from its US website.

However, some people said on Twitter that this apology wasn’t enough, and claimed that the brand should’ve known better, as monkey is a noted racist slur.

One week after H&M shared its apology, members of the The Economic Freedom Fighters, a South African political party, held violent protests at the brand’s stores in Johannesburg and Boksburg.

At the time, local news outlets reported that protestors ripped through the stores, knocked over clothing racks, and dismantled mannequin displays. H&M temporarily closed its South African stores as a result.


In December 2017, people were outraged when they discovered that American Eagle was selling a men’s “metal cuff” bracelet that they thought looked like “slave shackles.”

People began to share images of the product on December 11, 2017.

American Eagle apologized for the product on Twitter on December 12, 2017. The retailer released the same statement to INSIDER on December 19, 2017. “We’ve heard and understand the concerns about the bracelet. We apologize and have removed the product from our stores and website,” a representative for the retailer said.

Although the bracelet is no longer for sale online, some people say they have spotted it in stores.

On December 18, 2017, Twitter user Donna L. Johnson claimed that she found the item in an American Eagle outlet store in Fort Worth, Texas.

When asked about Johnson’s claims, the retailer previously said the following in a statement sent to INSIDER: “It has been communicated to stores and we will follow up with the store mentioned in the tweet to ensure that the item is removed.”

Kendall and Kylie Jenner fell into hot water after plastering their faces over musical icons to sell T-shirts.

After complaints from music fans, Kendall and Kylie Jenner pulled a range of controversial T-shirts from their site. The shirts — which debuted on June 28, 2017 and were taken off sale on June 29 of that year — showed the sisters’ faces superimposed over several famous musicians, including Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., and The Doors.

The Jenners issued a statement apologizing for causing offense after receiving criticism from music fans and allegations of cultural appropriation.

They were even met with threats of legal action. The Doors’ estate reportedly threatened to sue the Jenners, issuing a cease and desist letter that claims one of the T-shirts in the range — which shows a selfie of Kendall over an image of Jim Morrison and The Doors logo — tarnishes the band’s trademark.

After receiving flack from the military community, Forever 21 pulled gray shirt-dresses that were designed to look like army training gear.

In early May 2017, Revelist reported that alternate camouflage designs were still available for purchase online and in stores.

In 2013, Nike’s bloody “Boston Massacre” shirts turned into an offensive reminder of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Nike previously claimed the design was intended to help New York Yankees fans celebrate the baseball team’s double series sweeps against the Boston Red Sox, according to ABC News.

Despite being recalled, one eBay user made news for attempting to auction off a shirt for over $155,000.

In 2010, many alleged that Urban Outfitters promoted eating disorders with its “Eat Less” V-neck.

The caption used to help sell the discontinued shirt online read, “‘Eat less or more or however much you’d like in this seriously soft knit tee cut long and topped with a v-neck,” Huff Post reported.

JCPenney’s “Too Pretty to Do Homework” graphic tee was condemned by customers who believed it sent forth a sexist message.

In an interview with ABC News, a spokeswoman from JCPenney said executives agreed and the company suspended sales in 2011.

Before being sold to boohoo.com, Nasty Gal was criticized for appropriating black culture with a $50 faux leather do-rag.

The discontinued fashion accessory sparked outrage on Twitter in 2014 with users questioning if Nasty Gal realized a do-rag’s true function, which is to protect and maintain natural hairstyles.

Read more: Designers like Gucci are failing to learn from their mistakes and keep selling clothes that spark accusations of cultural insensitivity


Urban Outfitters angered several Twitter users in 2014 with its $129 “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt.”


On May 4, 1970, four Kent State University students were fatally shot by members of the Ohio National Guard. Nine others were wounded. Two out of the four killed were Vietnam War protesters. The incident sparked outrage across the US, and ultimately a May 4 Visitors Center was opened on the school’s campus to prompt widespread awareness.

Taking the public’s disapproval into consideration, Urban Outfitters pulled its Kent State sweatshirt and issued an apology online, BuzzFeed News reported.

A portion of the company’s statement mentioned that there was no blood on the item and its holes were from “natural wear and fray.”

H&M removed a faux feather headdress from US and Canadian stores when Native Americans addressed the retailer.

A news article from TODAY.com reported that the item previously belonged to a limited edition H&M Loves Music summer collection. The line was said to include clothing and accessories ideal for festivals and other similar events.

Pressure on social media led Nordstrom to nix a Hanukkah-themed sweater from its 2015 holiday lineup.

The sweater, which was designed by the brand Faux Real, included the Star of David, a menorah, and the phrase “Chai Maintenance.” Chai is a Hebrew word that’s pronounced “high,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

The Chicago Tribune also reported that Nordstrom stopped selling the sweater in November 2015, and released an apology to customers.

We made a mistake by not looking more closely at the words on the sweater before we posted it,” Nordstrom spokeswoman Tara Darrow previously told the Chicago Tribune. “Had we done so, we wouldn’t have offered it.” 

“As soon as we heard from customers, we removed it from our site right away,” she continued. “We’re terribly sorry for offending people and sincerely apologize.”

Critics slammed Zara in 2014 for making a children’s shirt that resembled a Holocaust prisoner uniform.

Within hours of releasing the shirt online, Zara apologized and argued that it was modeled after what “cowboy sheriffs” wore in the Wild West. The brand’s parent company, Inditex, then shared its plans to “destroy” the garment via a statement sent to The Huffington Post.

Fury erupted after a shirt that included a noose drawing sandwiched between the words “Hang Loose” was spotted in T.J. Maxx stores.

Tavik, a lifestyle company that makes beachwear, designed the shirt and stated it was not “related to anything other than surfing,” CNN reported

In response to the backlash, a T.J. Maxx spokeswoman apologized and claimed that the company “mistakenly purchased a few hundred units of the item” and its product review process “missed this item.”

In 2014, Urban Outfitters was accused of glamorizing mental illness by selling a black-and-white “Depression” crop top.

The retailer responded to customer complaints on Twitter writing, “Hey everyone, we hear you and we are taking the shirt down from the site.”

Walmart received backlash from online shoppers who noticed that it was using the N-word to describe the color of a wig cap.

Though it’s not worn as a fashion accessory, the wig cap — which is worn underneath a wig to protect hair — was labeled as “Ni–ger Brown” and manufactured by Pixnor, a third-party seller. 

Ultimately, Walmart issued an apology and removed the beauty item from the site. The retailer also launched an investigation “to determine how this could have happened.”

On Monday, Nike pulled a patriotic pair of shoes that Colin Kaepernick described as being offensive.

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Nike’s latest Air Max 1 design was multicolored and had 13-star American flags embroidered on the back of each shoe. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, athlete Colin Kaepernick influenced the brand to halt production of the shoes, which he described as being offensive. Many on social media also criticized the design and questioned why Nike would incorporate a flag that’s reminiscent to some of slavery.

In a statement sent to INSIDER, a Nike representative said it “has chosen not to release the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July as it featured an old version of the American flag.”

It’s widely believed that seamstress Betsy Ross created the 13-star flag in 1776, but many scholars disagree, according to the Library of Congress. The design has also been repurposed by groups like the Ku Klux Klan, according to The New York Times.