Copycat fashion: Can Originality Exist?

The legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel once said: “If you want to be original, be ready to be copied.” There are also those who argue that the entire industry of fashion is built on imitation and appreciation– for example, imitation from the rich history of fashion, and appreciation of different cultures and traditions. 

However, this does not mean that we can deny the growing toxic phenomenon of “copycat fashion,” where often large retailers or high end brands blatantly rip off designs made by small indie designers. This problem of copying without credit has become so prevalent that there are now websites dedicated to flagging brands that have blatantly copied other brands. Some recent examples of this issue include Zara copying L.A. based designer Tuesday Bassen’s pin designs, as well as Chanel being held accountable for ripping off a sweater design from artisanal Scottish knitter Mati Ventrillon. Even high end brands are not spared–just recently, Versace announced that they were suing fast fashion retail company Fashion Nova for “brazenly” copying its trademark designs. 

Copycat fashion
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Our Prints

This comes back to the question: What about us? We’ve actually received a few messages from customers seeing “our” prints being used by other brands (hence, this article). The answer is slightly tricky. We started out 5 years ago, and part of the intention behind continuing the narrative of heritage craft and stories meant we actually started out using archive and traditional motifs that our artisan partners have been creating for generations. Technically, these archive prints are not ours, as they were not created nor trademarked by us. And since we’re not the only brand who partners with artisans to create our products, sometimes similar prints can be found in other stores or brands – a happy coincidence and universal meeting that we’ve come across a handful of times through your documentation. 

The same thing can be said for our styles that reinterpret existing heritage styles, such as the Modern Monpe, Lounge Lunghi, Classic Wideleg and Sideswept Dhoti. Because these styles are interpreted by us based on an existing traditional styles, there is always a high possibility that something similar can be found in the market. 

That being said, we’ve also collaborated with designers to create original prints or in house prints, such as the Akin collection, Mystic Mountain stories, and the IChing motif. Here, our intention is not to flag other brands that have similar designs on the market, because we know can’t control the fact that there are similar designs to ours out there. However, something that we can do is be mindful of how our brand appreciates other cultures when we make our styles that are inspired by others’ work. As designers, we try to always recognise the people and culture behind our inspirations. This is because we’re big believers that creative inspiration deserves credit. This can look like giving recognition to their communities, promoting their art, or working with them directly to support their craft. 

Inspiration versus Imitation 

But when does “inspiration” and “appreciation” become blatantly exploitative “copycat fashion”? Where is the line that separates ethical and unethical fashion imitation? Is it possible to unintentionally copy someone’s work with good intentions?

1. Giving credit 

One way that imitation could cross the line from “good” and “bad” may be failing to give credit to the original design. For example, when Chanel was called out for copying the designs of Mati Ventrillion, the first course of action they took was to announce that they were going to be “including the words ‘Mati Ventrillon design’ in its communication tools to recognize her as the source of inspiration for the knitwear models in question.” Chanel was then lauded for doing the “right thing” quickly and efficiently. By giving credit to the original designer, Chanel allowed her to protect her integrity and intellectual property. 

For us, we give credit to the traditions behind our prints. Take for example the Trikora motif, it was originally a motif traditionally used as a border design for Rajasthani houses, as a sign of protection and defense of loved ones. Keeping the integrity of the story, we worked with our ikat weavers in Hyderabad to simplify its silhouette in our reinterpretation.

2. Awareness 

Another factor that could separate respectful inspiration and ripping off would be awareness. As customers, it’s important to remember that appreciation involves respect and value. Before you put on an article of clothing or accessory, take the time to learn about it. Ask yourself, is it appreciative or appropriative? Can you buy an alternative that doesn’t walk the fine line between these two concepts? 

The same can be said about fast fashion or high end brands copying indie brands. We must not forget that there is a significant difference between two brands with massive budgets copying each other and a large corporate brand ripping off a small, independently run indie brand. The power dynamics are not the same, and oftentimes indie brands lose lawsuits against bigger brands when it comes to trademark infringement. Take the time to learn about the negative economic and creative implications of such brands ripping off an original design and consider not purchasing the copied product. 

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