At this point, it’s really no secret that Urban Outfitters has seen its fair share of controversy. They’ve been accused of copying original designers, they’ve used offensive slogans in their T-shirts, and now it’s been brought to our attention that they’re engaging in something a little more concerning: They use lead in some of their products.
A reader over at feminist pop culture blog Jezebel tipped editors off to the fact that there are many items on the Urban Outfitters site that openly list “lead” as one of the materials. This haircalf skinny belt, which retails for $24, is an example, listing “leather, mixed metal, nickel, and lead” as its main ingredients. A search for “lead” on the UO site turned up no fewer than 78 different products.
When we initially learned of this, our first thought was that perhaps it’s allowed because lead, normally a toxic substance, is probably okay in very small doses. But we were wrong: according to the Center for Disease Control, lead is a “very strong poison” that should be avoided at all costs. Read on:
Because of its potential health problems, the amount of lead used in products today has lessened or has been removed. Though used less often, lead is still common in many industries, including construction, mining, and manufacturing. In each of these industries, workers are at risk of being exposed to lead, by breathing it in, ingesting it, or coming in contact with it.
Having said this, and noting that lead is definitely a toxic metal, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has established rules about how much lead is too much, and how much is a safe amount to be around. Surprisingly, the FDA hasn’t established guidelines for safe amounts of lead in lipstick and other cosmetics, though they have done so for the color additives used in such products: “typically no more than 20 parts per million.”
While we admittedly have no idea in what amount the lead in UO’s products appears, we feel pretty safe betting that if UO feels compelled to list it as one of the main materials used, it’s probably nothing to sneeze at.
In short: it’s not particularly healthy to put lead on or in your body in any amount. Which means it’s not advisable for Urban Outfitters—or anyone else, though a cursory search of sites like Anthropologie and Zara revealed no overt references to the toxic substance—to include it in their products.