By Jay Rickards
As ‘fast fashion’ takes a stronghold as one of the world’s most profitable industries independent designers have been left feeling unjustly ripped off by retail giants stealing their designs.
“Over the past year, Zara has been copying my artwork,” wrote independent designer Tuesday Bassen on Instagram in 2016. “I had my lawyer contact Zara and they literally said I have no base because I’m an indie artist and they’re a major corporation and that not enough people even know about me for it to matter. I plan to further press charges, but even to have a lawyer get this LETTER has cost me $2k so far… It sucks and it’s super disheartening to have to spend basically all of my money, just to defend what is legally mine”.
The artworks in question are a series of pins that share a strong resemblance to embroidery detailing on garments produced by Zara. The claims made by Bassen were dismissed, with Zara claiming that her brand was not well known enough for the general public to associate her products as being distinctively exclusive. This unfortunate circumstance is one of many, seeing small independent designers fall victim to the ‘Zara Effect.’
The ‘Zara Effect’ sees retail giants exercising an intense hyper-acceleration of the design process, whereby looks emulated from the catwalk move onto the high-street in just days. The scale of popular retailers such as Zara, Forever 21, Topshop and Urban Outfitters, enables an incredibly fast response to marketplace demands as well as a unique ability to keep up with the short rise and fall of trends. But at what cost?
Figuratively, one can purchase a ‘Gucci-esque’ bag on the high street for $80 – a modest price-tag in comparison to the original luxury brand’s handbag retail price of thousands of dollars. With a recent Australian Bureau of Statistics study showing the average Australian millennial spends $980 on fashion a year, one can understand why fast-fashion is appetising to the general public.
Another less visible cost, however, concerns creative intellectual property. Independent designers are now at the receiving end of financial and emotional hardship as a direct result of the Zara Effect. With the demand for new items resulting in fortnightly ‘collections’, major retailers’ are sourcing inspiration from independent designers, resulting in the appropriation of existing designs.
Unfortunatly, copyrighting of intellectual property operates in a grey area within the fashion industry. Although luxury brands such as Gucci are able to afford the expense of patents and strong legal resources, the ability for independent designers to challenge potential infringements are limited by both finances and legal loopholes.
For an Australian designer to protect and patent each design within a collection, it would cost approximately $350 per style. Therefore, to use the example of a collection featuring 15 designs, this would cost $5250 – and with designers typically releasing four collections a year, just obtaining patents would amass an annual cost of $21 000; a large capital amount to take out of an independent designer’s budget.
However, an alternative platform to voice out against intellectual property infringements has materialised on Instagram, lending independent designers the ability to garner public advocacy against design imitations. Instagram account Diet Prada has paved the way in fashion intellectual property advocacy; each of its posts operate as an expose of brands purportedly lifting creativity from another.
For Sydney-based emerging label Daisy Daisy, attention was recently drawn to a similar style sold by I Am Gia, a child company under fast-fashion retailer Tiger Mist. The post was met with agreement by the majority of its 15,000 users; however, there were particular comments made which offer some insight into understanding the attitudes and behaviours that motivate fast-fashion consumers.
“Not everyone can afford $410 dollar dresses so I think it’s cool [that] girls can get similar styles cheaper,” one Instagram user comments.
“If Daisy Daisy wasn’t poached and was able to grow to a more sizeable brand they would probably have the drive and funds to create a diffusion line or lower prices,” comments another in reference to Daisy Daisy’s retail prices ranging from $200 to $450 AUD.
Yet as global consumers have increasingly expressed support for intellectual property, how do these fast fashion imitation cases still arise? Coinciding with the previously mentioned study of fashion expenditure of the average Australian and the attitudes expressed within the Daisy Daisy post, it comes down to the dollar.
Amelia, a 24-year-old Australian student, offered insight into the internal dilemma for consumers. “I’ve come across independent designers who produce some cool yet niche stuff – but a price tag in the hundreds acts as a deterrent especially if it seems the piece’s cool factor will expire shortly. You feel a little ripped off trying to understand why they’re charging so much”.
So what’s left for a designer to do? Success has been found through collaborations with large retailers, such as Stone Cold Fox for Urban Outfitters, Kenzo for H&M and Missoni for Target. In a market where it is tough to fight the “Goliaths” in fashion, this route is proving successful. It allows designer’s pieces to become accessible to a larger consumer base whilst still maintaining creative integrity and the protection of its designs.
Sub Edited by Abbey Farlow