Fashion Plagiarism: Invalidating Designers or Boosting Their Credibility?

by Stephanie Farrell, Parsons Fashion Marketing


Fashion month is always an exciting time. New designs and designers are emerging and I’m reminded of the extraordinary talent already involved in our industry. Unfortunately, it’s also the month where companies like Zara, H&M and Nasty Gal choose all of their favorite designs to reproduce at a fraction of the price for the mass market. Although the copying of designs has long been an issue, it has recently become more prevalent with the increasing market share of fast-fashion companies. Even Coco Chanel has famously said, “Copying is the ransom of success.” But is it really fair to the original designer who has put in thousands of dollars and hours to just say, ‘Well we love your designs but we aren’t willing to pay for them’?

Sophia Webster, a high-end shoe and accessory designer, recently took to social media to air out her frustration with fast-fashion online retailer Nasty Gal over their seriously nasty copies of her signature Speech Bubble Clutch. Webster’s followers were outraged and many posted comments urging her to sue the company.

Although we can all agree that copycat designs are in poor taste, can there be an argument made that this situation has in fact helped to boost Webster’s own brand? Considering that she is relatively new to the scene and has only been presenting for the past few seasons, could there be merit to saying that controversies such as these can help expose new designers to a wide audience?

This example leads me to one big question: If a design is copied does it ruin its legitimacy boost its credibility? Is the fact that the design is good enough to be copied acknowledgement enough?

From a strictly marketing point of view I would have to say yes. How many Nasty Gal customers would have known about Webster before her design was poached? Although it can also be said that the Sophia Webster customer is very different than the lower-end Nasty Gal shopper, in this new shopping environment of mixing high and low, a brand never really knows where their next customer may come from. In addition, the fact that her designs are being copied in the same way as Chanel or Louboutin may be actually adding to the authority of her designs.

While I don’t believe that being a copycat is an honorable way to do business, we need to look at the bigger picture. It may be fair to say that when a designer is copied, their designs are reaching more people and in turn may boost their  name. In a world that is moving at a hectic pace where ideas are being exchanged at a faster rate than ever, I can’t help but wonder, does copying a design make its original designer irrelevant or does add to their credibility?