Let’s set the scene: you’re lying on your bed scrolling on Shein, getting ready to add to your spring closet. Something catches your eye. A pair of trousers, with a unique cut on the waistline. It’s well designed, you can sense there was some thought behind the design, it has an originality to it. Except, you’ve seen this before. It’s your design.
This has been the reality for a shocking number of budding designers in recent years. It is not new news that familiar fast fashion brands like Shein, Zara ad ASOS have been accused of stealing designs from independent fashion designers and smaller brands with no compensation or credit. Instances of this daylight robbery goes back as far as 2013, so how do brands keep getting away with it?
Influencer Cassey Ho was a victim to Shein’s theft in late 2022. Cassey is the original designer of the viral Piroutte Skort, which gained popularity in August 2022 when she released a YouTube video revealing the product which amassed 26 million views. In January 2023, Shein released an identical copy of Ho’s work, down to minute details of the positioning of the model, and the accompanying accessories. Ho described the theft as “shocking and painful” when she discovered that Shein retailed the skort for a third of the price of her original product.
This highlights one of the biggest issues fast fashion brands have created. Clothes sold by smaller brands and designers take weeks, sometimes months of hard work, careful detailing and often hand-made manufacturing, hence their high price in exchange for extremely good quality. Fast fashion has skewed the image of clothing production. According to Time Magazine, between July and December 2021 Shein added between 2,000 to 10,000 styles on the app every single day!
This arose with fatal consequences. Shein has been at the centre of many green campaigns against fast fashion and wasteful production and the subject of numerous human rights investigations, which has discovered inhumane working conditions for factory workers in China who are paid as little as 4 cents per item. Fast fashion has the labour power to produce clothing items at a rapid rate to meet ever changing trends and consumer desire, and is not concerned about the quality of the products they produce or the condition of their workers.
An important concept to understand in the world of fashion is that there is legally nothing wrong with copying designers. I say this in the loose sense that one brand cannot copyright a jacket simply because it is a jacket, or the fashion world would be a mess of constant copyright claims. What artists and smaller brands can do is copyright certain creative choices and trademarked designs that are unique to their brand, such as Ho’s pirouette skirt and Elyon Adede (Elexiay’s) unique crochet Amelia Sweater. Brands like PLT have utilised this knowledge to clapback at a designer who tried to claim the brand had stolen her design. TheTab wrote about this scandal in more depth.
However, with many smaller brands unable to afford the costs of copyrighting original ideas, they have been left helpless in the face of greedy fast fashion brands who are able to reproduce designs for half the price with double the labour. Tracy Garcia and Emma Warren are two more small business owners who have been subject to fast fashion brands ASOS and Shein stealing their designs. But with an average following of less than 1,000 followers, how are these small designers expected to stand against giant corporations with armies of lawyers?
Shein attempted tackle the theft allegations by introducing a YouTube mini-series called Shein x 100 Challenge that claimed to be empowering independent designers by running a Project Runway style series. However, this faced heavy criticism, some describing it as “basically a job interview where candidates fight for money and then help Shein make even more money” with no celebration of individuality and creativity.
Shein has counteracted their negative reputation of by creating an intellectual property complaint portal, where designers and brands can file a case against the brand. However, with potentially hundreds of claims coming in from all over the world, the effectiveness of this portal has not yet been proved.
Social media may be our greatest superpower
So how can we protect smaller businesses? Once again, social media may be our greatest superpower. Beatrice Turner has called out ASOS for stealing her designs of a wedding gown on Instagram, gaining 1.9 million likes. Tik Tok, Twitter and Instagram are ways that independent designers can be backed by thousands of likes, retweets and tagging of the brand to voice their discontent. This has not only discredited brands but made designer’s more aware of the risks of robbery, encouraging them to copyright and patent their designs.
With enough social media slander, it is the hope that global fast fashion brands will be held accountable and give designers the credit and compensation they rightfully deserve.
Featured image courtesy of Pina Messina via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.
In article image 1 courtesy of @blogilates via Instagram.com. No changes were made to this image.
In article image 2 courtesy of @elexiay via Instagram.com. No changes were made to this image.
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