Fast fashion brands typically copy luxury designers and rely on micro trends to create enough products for weekly drops and new collections, but now they’re turning to influencer-founded brands for design inspiration. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but Instagram pages like Diet Prada and influencers such as Megan Ellaby, Mik Zazon and Fisayo Longe are using their platforms to hold brands accountable for their actions. Will it change anything? Unlikely.
This week on Twitter, journalist Sirin Kale pointed out that numerous high street retailers are copying Spanish clothing brand Paloma Wool’s cult designs. Fellow journalist Pandora Sykes responded to the thread and said that according to The Fashion Law, there only needs to be six small differences between designs. With this in mind, fast fashion brands like Boohoo, Shein and Cider can replicate luxury, independent and influencer designs without landing in legal trouble — but that doesn’t stop them being called out for it.
London-based fashion designer Monika Young has repeatedly accused ASOS, Shein and Topshop of stealing designs from her label, Monika the Label. Earlier this week, she took to its Instagram page to call out ASOS (whom she called “the ‘gift’ that keeps on stealing”) and Topshop for greenwashing and stealing one of her dress designs. A day later, the product was quietly removed from ASOS’ website. Coincidence? I think not.
Copycat designs are nothing new, but now more influencers are now using their platforms to attempt to hold brands accountable. In March 2019, Lulu Trixabelle accused Urban Outfitters of stealing a hat design from her brand, Fluffy, and in 2018, Carrie Anne Roberts accused US retailer Old Navy of copying one of her best-selling graphic tees. Carrie is one of the few influencers who was able to make an impact by calling out the retailer — the shirts were taken off the website and the brand said they would not order any more of the designs. It was a small success, but the brand pointed one a loophole: Carrie didn’t trademark the phrase “Raising The Future” or the font. Legally, the brand didn’t do anything wrong — just morally.
Other rare successes include Kim Kardashian West’s lawsuit against Missguided — she won $2.7M in damages — for copying her outfits. When most influencers accuse brands of copying their designs, nothing happens because let’s face it, few influencers have 251M followers on Instagram.
This year alone, illustrator Sophie Corrigan accused Best&Less of copying her “hedgehugs” artwork and sisters Faye and Megan Ellaby accused Shein and Cider of stealing Saturday By Megan Ellaby’s designs. Then, lifestyle blogger Fisayo Longe accused luxury designer Fendi and fast fashion retailer Boohoo of copying her KAI Collective designs, but nothing has changed. Brands pretend (or perhaps they actually don’t see the post) not to see the accusations, influencers move on and the cycle repeats.
So what can be done? Nothing, really. Diet Prada, a fashion watchdog, has tried to keep fashion brands accountable since 2014. Despite having over 2M followers on Instagram, it seems little has changed when the page points out the similarities between different brands’ designs. Even when influencers copy influencer brands — US influencer Danielle Bernstein of WhoWhatWhat has been called out numerous times by Diet Prada and has been accused of copying at least nine different designers’ products — little changes and she seems unremorseful.
Cancel and call-out culture are quickly becoming cornerstones of the influencer industry, and while they cause a stir for 24 hours on social media, they typically have little effect. Unless you’re an influencer as popular and famous as Kim Kardashian West, and have enough money to file a lawsuit, it seems that you have to cross your fingers that no one will steal your original design.
By Caroline Edwards, staff writer for CORQ. Picture credit: Megan Ellaby via Instagram.