Seeing Double: Copycats in Fashion

Copycats in fashion

Copycats are prolific in the fashion industry. Image by Adobe Stock.

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery…”, or so they say. If you’re doing something so right that people are paying attention, enough so to believe they could profit from selling a copy of it, then perhaps there is an element of flattery or compliment. And they say that copycats are just part of fashion’s game, that they are actually a healthy part of the fashion cycle, to keep things fresh and innovative. But maybe that was a valid truth years ago, before fashion was highlighted as a significant player in our global carbon and waste problem. Now mainstream fashion moves so fast it is dizzying, and fast-fashion copycats have stoked that engine to move faster than it ever has before.

The Luxury Copying The Street
This has long been a trend in fashion, which only more recently has been flagged for the appropriation that it is. Think Zara Rhodes putting punk on the runway in 1977, or Gucci paying ‘homage’ to Harlem tailor Dapper Dan in 2017. This last example is an interesting story, as Dapper Dan became well-known in the 80’s hip-hop scene for creating unique designs from knock-off Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Gucci prints. He was (understandably) sued by said companies, and had to close his business in 1992. Gucci showing a near-replica jacket of Dapper Dan’s some 25 years on, with no credit, felt like ironic appropriation to those who were familiar with his work, and so they took to social media. Later that year Gucci helped Dapper Dan reopen his atelier in Harlem, and they now run a beautiful custom tailoring brand together. A story with a rocky middle, and a fairy-tale ending (or new beginning, as it were). The transparency and viral nature of social media seems to be doing some good in holding luxury brands to account for the appropriation they unleash on the world.

The Big Copying The Small
There are way too many examples of fast-fashion, or even just big brands, copying independent creators. Big mainstream brands like Zara, H&M and Forever 21 have ever-growing lists of the small, independent brands they’ve knocked-off. This is unfortunately because there is such little legal protection when it comes to fashion design. Art and music have better protections than fashion, and even though all three are just as creative as each other, fashion has historically been seen as ‘functional’ and therefore subject to different rules. And so, copying is rife. Consumer behaviours have not helped this phenomenon, as demand for cheaper, trendier items, delivered as soon as physically possible, has only grown with the use of social media. People want the ‘it’ item, but they don’t want to pay full-price for it, so in swoops the fast-fashion copycats ready to take the order. And we all know that what sits behind those fast-fashion brands is no good, but for some consumers, their desires outweigh that truth. There are even social media groups that actively celebrate and knowingly buy-into ‘dupes’ of original designs. And so, the cycle continues, hurting one independent creator after another, as the respect and value for the work they have done to create the once-unique and original design diminishes in the wake of fast-fashion.

The Fast Copying The Slow
Fast-fashion doesn’t just hurt the little guy, it is having undue effects on the higher end too. Social media and the real-time of the internet have hugely disrupted the traditional fashion game, where designers create a collection months ahead of its season, and show it on a runway to potential buyers. Consumers and fast-fashion brands can now view those fashion shows in real-time, and the interest in the trends shown are ignited immediately. Fast-fashion brands that are nimble enough can set about producing copies of the designs shown on the runway (in precarious factory conditions, might I add), which they can deliver to market before the original designer has a chance to. If the existence of high-fashion and copycats together was ever symbiotic, the sheer speed of fast-fashion capabilities these days, which not only undercuts the original creator on the cost of creation and retail price, but also on retail delivery, is surely going to bring that symbiosis to a grinding halt very soon.

What You Can Do
With every purchase, ask Who Made My Clothes? But not only who physically constructed the clothing, but also who designed it. It might not always be possible to know if something is a copy, as maybe the original designer is an independent creator that you are yet to come across. But try get a feel for brands that you really trust in; with real, identifiable people behind their design work. And if you spend enough time on the internet (which we all do, in spades), then you will hear about copycat brands, and it is up to you to put them in your ‘no-go’ shopping zone.

To put it plainly, the desire for cheaper and faster is not sustainable. Our attention spans need to slow down, and each and every consumer needs to take a moment to find out more about the things they buy and wear. Unfortunately, due to historical laws (or lack thereof) and the way the ‘free-market’ is set up, copycats will be always be around, but how much power they have is up to us and the choices we make.

Extra for Experts: If you haven’t already, check out Diet Prada on Instagram; they curate examples of fashion copies, often with hilarious commentary.

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