Walking into your local high street store, it isn’t at all uncommon to see that they’ve taken a coveted designer piece and created a near identical copy, at a fraction of the price. Fast fashion brands, such as Forever 21, are well known for this. Catwalk highlights, such as a pair of Prada brogues or Yeezy trainers, have popped up in high street stores, such as Zara, on a regular basis, before anyone has even had time to process the shows. As this has become more acceptable, the rise in fashion collaborations has risen.
Lanvin x H&M
Where it was once unthinkable for a high-end brand to collaborate with the high street – when Halston chose to collaborate with JC Penney in the 1980s, Bergdorf Goodman immediately ceased selling his products – nowadays Lanvin collaborating with H&M is the norm. It legitimises the need of the consumer for the latest trend and helps the high-end brand reach out to a wider audience. However, whilst these are legitimate high-end pieces to buy into at low-end prices, the high street’s thirst for constant fashion updates means that copycat fashion wins out time and time again. Although when viewed only as a copy of a high-end designer’s garment (and surely they can afford it?), it seems relatively unimportant to the consumer. There is, however, a more serious side to this, including cultural appropriation and the blatant copying of smaller, independent brands.
Halson x JC Penney
High street favourite Urban Outfitters have courted controversy for some time over what many see as cultural appropriation, including the selling of duvet covers and clothing featuring the Hindu God Ganesh, and of selling Palestinian-style keffiyehs as “anti-war woven scarves”. A little over two years ago, Urban reached an undisclosed settlement with the Navajo tribe for having used the Navajo name for a collection, which included ‘Navajo hipster panties’ and ‘Navajo printed flask’. At the time, the tribe called it “distasteful and demeaning”, but the eventual settlement, including an undisclosed sum, incorporated a supply and license agreement, whereby the Navajo and Urban Outfitters planned to collaborate on a line of Native American jewellery.
Besides blatantly copying the culture of others, the ripping off of smaller, independent brands is now being called out regularly on social media. The big brands instigating this imitation have often responded that their designs are the result of emerging trends, and not from copying the works of others. This is somewhat difficult to believe in the case of Fable Heart, an independent brand that creates dressing-up clothes for children. Claire Perez, founder of Fable Heart, was asked to send two of her crowns to Boden’s headquarters. It wasn’t until her followers began sending her messages asking about her ‘collaboration’ with Boden that Perez discovered an almost identical copy of the crowns she had sent to them, on their website.
Although the retailer withdrew the crowns and encouraged shoppers to buy from Fable Heart, they were unwilling to say that any copying had taken place. In their words “there was no copyright issue,” and it was trends that had driven the creation of the crown.
Stories of small independent brands featured on the walls of design studios are commonplace, and some of these copied brands have been known to find the designers working for the bigger brands and block them from accessing their social media sites. Within the current market, it is very easy for fashion brands to simply take a screen shot of a style they like and send it directly over to their manufactures, for them to then recreate in a matter of weeks. Boohoo, based in Manchester, can manufacture a product in as little as two weeks. And both Boohoo and ASOS have admitted that Instagram trend scouting fuels their ever-growing demand.
Undoubtedly, social media platforms bring a whole host of voices together to unite in pressuring the big companies to remove the identical product, without which these larger companies would very easily walk all over the smaller independent brands. Instagram accounts, such as Diet Prada, ruthlessly post about fashion brands imitating and ripping each other off. In the case of Diet Prada, whose following has grown to £1.3 million, they brilliantly identify new designs that are uncomfortably similar to older work, as well as cultural appropriation and other fashion failings such as the lack of model diversity.
That said, these platforms are also fuelling the rise of copycat fashion. Fashion is dependent on looking to others for inspiration, so with a breadth of endless creativity out there on social media, it is no surprise that there are plenty of copycat claims. Although fashion rip-offs are not new to the digital age, the ease of access to view everyone’s designs instantly, plus the rise of fast fashion, has made this practice all the more prolific.
Helpful guide for small brands to protect themselves by ACID UK (Anti Copying in Design):
On your webpage state that all intellectual property belongs to you and any infringements will be taken seriously
Register your designs, if you can
If you are copied get professional advice, and name and shame with caution
About Our Author: Katie Calvert's background is in fashion and textiles with a first class honours degree in Fashion Communication and Promotion and experience in trend, PR and events. She decided to take the plunge back into education in 2015 to complete a Master of Arts in Multimedia Journalism. Using these newfound skills and her love of fashion and culture, Katie has been freelance writing for over a year.