It’s long been understood that as soon as designer fashion hits the catwalks, there will be high street brands ready to ‘inspire’ themselves, create a ‘tribute’ or – more blatantly – rip them off. Since the beginning of fashion, women would bring illustrations and images of couture designs to a seamstress and recreate the latest looks on a budget. Today it’s called ‘getting the look’ and finding high street pieces, reminiscent of expensive designer items, has become an acceptable way to dress.
We like to save for a special designer tote bag, sneakers or a dress, but no one can afford to wear super brands everything the time (and it would be boring to wear entire shows *lewks* all day, erryday.) a conversation that ends with “No way, I thought it was Gucci!” when you reveal your primary source…
Emma Watson is the founder and owner of children’s hat brand, Little Hotdog Watson and a lecturer on fashion marketing and explains the history of copying in fashion. “It’s been there since day one, but it’s always big box or supermarket brands that copy the catwalks and nobody cares too much about that. In the early 2000s, F&F ‘copied’ a green Chloe dress and the customer who buys from Chloe will not buy fashion from Tesco, nor will they want polyester, so those (supermarket) sales would never eat away at the top brand market.”
That’s fair enough, but over the past few years big brands have moved away from established runway collections and sought inspiration from smaller brands, directly from mainstream brands, emerging designers and freshly graduated students. . And that’s where it is not Okay.
If a major international brand copies the dress of an equally international designer brand, both companies are protected by a team of lawyers who can fight and reach a payment agreement. But what happens when the designer presents his own brand? Financially, it is an unequal field. Starting out as a fashion designer is hard work. Often doing everything from sourcing fabrics, cutting patterns, managing warehouses and distribution, ordering, packing, doing their own PR, marketing, HR and accounts, small labels often do not have the financial means to be supported by a specialized team of intellectual property lawyers. Or even a lawyer.
“Today, when a big brand copies a smaller independent, whose price would only be slightly higher (because they have less buying power, smaller quantities of scale and less ability to negotiation), the big brand directly takes customers away from the smaller label and business opportunities,” says Emma.
Patrick McDowell is the founder of an eponymous sustainable fashion brand and director of sustainable design at Pinko and wonders if emerging designers are specifically the prey. He thinks that “marginalized groups have less representation and resources, maybe that’s why they are more copied”. Patrick also points out that small designers and those at the start of their careers are also likely to create designs from deeply personal spaces and experiences. “It’s even more insulting when a design (is copied) because there’s no understanding of Why it was created.”