Fast Fashion: Cut, Copy, Cash
by Sheetal Raghav
By definition, ‘fast fashion’ refers to a phenomenon in the fashion industry whereby production processes are expedited in order to get new trends to the market as quickly and cheaply as possible. A Cambridge University study reports that in 2006, people were buying a third more clothes than they were in 2002, and women have four times as many clothes in their wardrobe than they did in 1980. Women are also getting rid of similar amounts each year.
But as the fast fashion wheel keeps churning, the fashion lovers in us keep turning to it.. to not just fill our wardrobes but to fill it with pieces that are high fashion at a low price. In other words, the current market is rife with knockoffs. Fast fashion companies like Zara and H&M have built multi-billion-dollar businesses reproducing the latest catwalk designs for a fraction of their original price. ‘Catwalk Copying’ is a business model that has been adopted by these fast fashion retailers to capture a certain consumer at a certain price point. And even though these brands are widely criticised for cornering the market by selling copied designs, how and why are they getting away with it?
Simply because the legal protection offered to fashion designers is limited and often difficult to prove.
For instance, Christian Louboutin’s red sole is a distinguishable trademark, but in 2012 Louboutin lost a lawsuit against Zara where he challenged Zara’s use of the red sole in one of their products. The court ruled that Louboutin’s 2011 trademark registration was too vague, suggesting he should specify a Pantone number in the future. Though in this instance Zara was infringing on a trademark in a much blatant way, their overall business model tends to copy ‘uncopyrightable’ elements, like shapes and aesthetics. In this way, Zara clothing looks high-end without being a carbon copy. There are also cases where the threat of a lawsuit doesn’t discourage a retailer because they earn more money by producing and selling copied designs than any legal loss. Forever 21 has been sued and has settled claims over 50 times for stealing prints and designs from designers like Anna Sui, 3.1 Phillip Lim, and Diane Von Furstenberg.
But does copying also promote fashion?
Unlike technology, in the industry of fashion, there is no constant innovation of new products that leaves old ones obsolete. So consumers buy clothes out of desire, not necessity. When a new design first appears on the catwalk, its high price means only a few can afford it. When its copies find their way into fast fashion, it loses its allure for the elite who value luxury fashion for its exclusivity and distinctiveness. These customers start looking for something new, thus, starting the cycle again.
So in a way, copycats help create trends, and then help destroy them, so maybe without copying, the fashion industry would be smaller, weaker and less powerful?!