If you’ve been shopping lately, you’ve seen it: a dress or a purse that almost-sorta-not-quite looks like a designer version that sells for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars more.
Maybe you even bought it.
I’ve had that gleeful, naughty feeling, the thrill of saving a wad of cash and the excitement of owning a piece that is even cuter than the original.
Should I–and even more to the point, should we–feel guilty?
The answer, while complicated, is probably.
With the advent of fast fashion emporiums like Zara, Forever 21, TopShop and H&M, clothing can be translated from the runway to the retail floor in a matter of weeks. Often the items are changed in detail–seams moved, sleeves altered, trim edited–but are similar in spirit; these pieces are labeled as “inspired by” their designer predecessors. (This is not to say that the fast fashion shops pull all their inspiration directly from the runway. These stores can–and regularly do–turn out original pieces that are interesting and fashionable in their own right.)
Other, more expensive labels are also in the knockoff game. Recently, Alice & Olivia produced a version of Balmain’s $11, 410 band jacket, which, according to multiple sources, will be priced around $400. Cheaper, but not cheap; and questions of ethics and intellectual property remain.
So is this kind of interpretive fashion legal? According to fashion legal expert and blogger Susan Scafidi:
“A new clothing or accessory design typically falls between the cracks of the intellectual property system. The label is probably protected by trademark, but the design may not yet be sufficiently iconic to be protected by trade dress. Since the item is functional, copyright doesn’t apply. Very few garments or accessories actually meet the standards of patentability; even if they did, getting a patent takes months or years.”
In a word, yes. Sort of. For now.
Backed by a large group of American designers, the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) is lobbying Congress for passage of the Design Piracy Prohibition Act, which would ban “substantially similar” designs from the marketplace. But even this definition is slippery; what’s the line between “substantially similar”–a knockoff, deliberately copied from an original piece–and “inspired by,” which takes the original piece and tweaks it in a new way?
Ironically, Diane von Furstenberg, the president of CFDA and one of the designers leading the charge on Washington, just settled a case of design infringement with the designers of fashion line Mercy, whose floral jacket was ripped off by one of von Furstenberg’s designers.
It seems that in the world of fast fashion, no one is immune.
photo credit: The Star