In the last few years, we have seen a rise in huge names being called out for evidently copying their less well-known counterparts. In some cases, the smaller designer does not need to own a brand at all. Recently, design student Cecelia Monge posted a TikTok sharing some similarities between Converse’s newest ‘National Parks’ collection and an application she submitted for an internship in 2019- from which she was rejected. The application contained an identical concept and very similar execution to the latest collection by Converse – the video gained almost 1 Million views overnight.

Gen Z hates when smaller designers go unappreciated and have designs stolen from them by brands who can afford to win a case if the designer ever chose to go to court. Perhaps this is less of a generational phenomenon and more a product of an increasingly interconnected world and the power of social media.  Regardless, here are just a few of the brands that have been called out for design theft:

  •  Disney stole an Alice in Wonderland illustration by Katie Woodger and used it on cosmetics bags and clothing.
  • Zara stole Tuesday Bassen’s Artwork and used it for patches and designs on clothing
  • Brandy Melville stole an embroidery design from artist Brain Foetus and put it on a top
  • Bershka stole badge designs from Ivonn Buentostro
  • Khloe Kardiashian’s  brand Good American stole designs from well-known indie brand debleudazzled and then issued her a cease and desist for talking about it
  • Anthropologie stole a design and print from Indigenous-owned brand Orenda Tribe
  • In general, WeWoreWhat, FashionNova, Forever 21, Missguided and Pretty Little thing are regularly called out for copying the designs of smaller brands.

It’s not just big brands getting called out. Small brand owner Meghan Kinney was forced to acknowledge and apologize for stealing the artwork of Brendan Fagan aka Judith Supine and using it as a print for her clothing collection. Some may consider this more disgraceful than when big brands do the same thing.

Social media means that people can share their designs on a whim, receive support and gain an audience that may eventually turn into customers. It means that people can start a business from their bedroom with a minimal to non-existent marketing budget and be the creator of the next biggest trend overnight. However, this also means that bigger brands with a bigger budget, and the ability to make the design faster for less money, can take any popular design they come across and produce a similar, if not identical, item within a week. 

This is such a big issue amongst the fashion community that some small designers have blocked the worst offenders and their employees, across several social media platforms, from being able to see their content at all. Most notably, Danielle Bernstein, owner of WeWoreWhat and her own personal clothing brand has been practically shunned from TikTok and is often first on the block list for any designer looking to protect their work. Kylie Jenner has even been called out for not tagging the small designer -Loud Brand Studios- of a dress she wore on Instagram, which she later apologised for and tagged the designer who then sold out of the dress. 

@diet_prada on Instagram posts about current cases of design theft regularly. So what is it about art and designs that brands and designers feel so nonchalant about just taking as their own? 

It’s a quick money grab, provides buyers who don’t know its origins quick gratification and any potential legal cost will be offset by the product profit. Often, very little can be done, even in cases of explicit design theft. The US copyright law does not extend to ‘items of practical use’ and there is no specific law for artwork and designs stolen by big players in the fashion industry. There are currently no protections for small artists that can compete with the legal budget of the companies outright copying artwork. 

There are so many cases of plagiarism within the fashion industry. The only effective way of helping the artists that suffer as a result of this power is via social media and casting an ethics-based vote with your coin. As long and people continue to be outraged on behalf of the small designer and support the original creator of the design, we can only hope that big brands will feel the effects in their pockets and their ever-dwindling support.

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