While trolling on Pinterest to see the latest eye candy, I stumbled upon what I thought to be a Zoe Karssen sweatshirt. When I clicked on the link, I realized it was actually a copy of the original sold at a really cheap price. I immediately thought “This is a copy…BAD”, hoped I didn’t accidentally download a computer virus, and moved on. Months later, I saw more pieces from the same website and wondered “Have I judged it too quickly?” It’s not claiming to be the actual high-end brand, but it does appear to be a copycat. To add to it, why is this website getting my criticism when I don’t think twice shopping at an H&M, Zara, or Forever 21? Fascinated with the business behind fashion, it got me asking the age old question…
When does inspiration become imitation?
The issue at hand is whether one designer is taking from another’s original design. A fun fact I learned through my research is that clothing designs are not protected under copyrights or patents. Therefore, most lawsuits I discovered argue on the basis of trademark infringement (a word, phrase, symbol, or design that distinguishes a source of goods from another party). In 2011, Christian Louboutin and YSL litigated over the famous red soles. Eventually, the ruling favored Louboutin for red soles only, but YSL is allowed to create monochromatic red shoes (where the sole and upper parts are both red). Travota sued Forever 21 where the crux of the argument was that Forever 21’s used certain design elements unique to Travota such as button placement and rounded zippers. After two years, the case settled outside of court. There are many other examples where one skates a thin line between inspiration and imitation and have yielded mixed results which prompted my next question…
Does imitation hurt or help the industry?
Like anything in this world, there is a valid argument for both sides. If it were me, I would feel violated, I would want credit where credit is due and to recoup potential lost revenue. According to The Piracy Paradox in The New Yorker, there may be some impact to sales, but for the most part, it targets a completely different market segment, making fashion affordable and attainable. Besides, isn’t copying a form of flattery? An interview with the authors of The Knockoff Economy lays out the argument that it helps the industry since copying fuels trends and pushes for more innovation. Once a design reaches the masses, it’s time for the “next big thing”. For example, how many of you are thinking right now “If I see one more wedge sneaker or jeweled sweatshirt…[insert some knee-jerk reaction]”.
So what’s the bottom line?
I definitely feel more informed about the subject after researching and writing this post. Besides learning the difference among copyrights, patents, and trademarks, I learned that there various shades of gray in what I previously thought was a black and white topic. I may not buy from the site mentioned above, but I will still buy inspired pieces. For me, it’s not only what is practical and economical, it also serves as motivation to someday be able to buy the original.
Sources: 1. The Piracy Paradox via The New Yorker / 2. The Knockoff Economy: How Copying Hurts – and Helps – Fashion via Time / 3. Christian Louboutin vs. YSL ‘Red Sole’ Lawsuit Finally Dismissed via The Huffington Post/ 4. Travota’s Suit Against Forever 21 Has No Effect on Knockoff Regulations via New York Mag