Pin It
Stolen Zara Bershka fashion design patch
Left: Gabriella Sanchez’s Don’t Text Him patch, right: the stolen design on a Bershka clutch

How come the high street can blatantly steal designs?

LA artist Tuesday Bassen is the latest to have her work stolen by a major chain – but what can people do in the face of mega corporations?

Zara had the internet in a craze on Wednesday after 26-year-old indie designer Tuesday Bassen took to social media to call out the Spanish fast fashion giant for copying an array of her illustration-centric designs. The items in question were a series of badges and patches, with the similarities immediately obvious – although not to Zara, apparently, who rejected Bassen’s claims citing “the lack of distinctiveness of (her) purported designs”. They also implied that she’s too small a fish to be taken seriously.

“(They claimed) I have no base because I am a small artist with 90k followers on Instagram, but they are a major corporation with 90 million customers and only ‘a handful of people’ would notice that the designs are mine,” Bassen told us. “I plan to pursue this further, even though they are trying to belittle and bully me.” And Bassen isn’t alone – on Twitter, designer Adam J. Kurtz drew attention to other instances where designers had had their work clearly ripped off – tweeting a further twelve examples. You might also remember an instance where London label Sibling called out the retailer for imitating their AW13 collection.

Far from a novel tactic, fast fashion retailers and/or their suppliers have a history of looking to emerging designers for “inspiration” and failing to provide them with compensation (or credit) for any subsequent use of their designs. Interestingly but not surprisingly, these retailers have a bit of a different way of handling copying allegations compared to their high fashion counterparts. When faced with claims of copying, high fashion brands tend to take swift remedial action, often offering an apology, pulling items from a collection and refraining from selling them at all.

Most recently, this was seen in the case of Chanel, with the questionably original Fair Isle sweaters that the Paris-based design house showed as part of its Pre-AW16 collection in Rome in December 2015. When designer Mati Ventrillon called out the house for copying, Chanel did the right thing – acknowledging the designer, issuing a public apology, and saying that it would credit Ventrillon on the garments’ labels. When accused of copying a bracelet of celebrated, emerging designer Pamela Love’s in 2012, Chanel issued an apology to the designer and vowed to refrain from selling the lookalike creation. 

Fast fashion retailers generally tend to be far less accommodating. Los Angeles-based retailer Nasty Gal, for instance, which has come under fire quite consistently since its launch in 2006 for copying emerging designers, has been downright nasty at times. In 2013, when confronted on social media by indie jewelry designer Saylor Rose for offering a suspiciously similar bracelet design, Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso responded, “Forgive us for never having heard of you… Congrats, you’ve been knocked off. It’s a rite of passage.” She went on to further post: “Great promotion for whatsherface. No way we knew that a goofy charm bracelet was invented by miss @saylorrose… No way to pay attention to every single mom of an Etsy scrapbooker out there.”

Nasty Gal pulled the allegedly infringing design in that instance, but that certainly is not the norm. On most occasions, these fast fashion retailers do not take action. Having been called out by London-based designer Sophia Webster in December 2013 for copying a handbag design or in April 2014 for copying a watermelon printed dress original to UK-based brand Kuccia and its designer, Soraya Goggin, Nasty Gal failed to take remedial action.

“Forgive us for never having heard of you… Congrats, you’ve been knocked off. It’s a rite of passage” – Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso responding to jewelry designer Saylor Rose

It is not surprising that most mass market brands – as distinct from high fashion ones – tend to shrug their shoulders and keep on selling when they are called out for copying. This is because the copycats, the ones whose business models depend almost entirely on the copying of others’ designs – are relatively unaffected by the threat of bad press that tends to come hand-in-hand with such copying allegations.

Unlike Chanel and other high fashion brands – the ones who are most susceptible to the effects of bad press – fast fashion retailers do not have stunning reputations based on quality and originality to uphold. Those are not things for which fast fashion retailers are simply known. They are known for copying and so, when they are called out for it, it tends to be nothing more than business as usual. This is why when designers and bloggers take to their social media accounts to expose such copying, not only do fast fashion retailers not remove the garment or accessory at issue, the vast majority of consumers are not deterred. Consumers turn to the Nasty Gals and Zaras of the world for cheap clothes and runway copies – if these retailers were to respond to cries of copying by pulling the items in question, frankly, they would not have much left to sell.

As for why we only rarely see these copying cases make it to court, there are at least two reasons. Primarily, fast fashion retailers tend to settle these matters quickly and long before trial because it is much cheaper for them to pay a small sum to make the matter disappear, so to speak. Forever 21 has a long history – upwards of 30 lawsuits in 2016 – for allegedly stealing the work of other designers and passing it off as their own.

Second, most cases never come to be because litigation can be prohibitively expensive, thereby preventing many indie creators from filing suit in the first place. While Bassen has said she plans to take formal legal action against Zara, it is going to cost her. “Even to have a lawyer send a cease and desist letter to Zara has cost me $2,000 so far,” she said. “I want to point out that most artists don’t even get this far. The ‘luxury’ of spending $2,000 for a lawyer to write a letter is something most artists cannot afford.” Zara knows this, and they use it to their advantage. It’s unethical, sure – but when has fashion ever cared much for ethics?

You can shop from some of the original designers here – and let Zara know what you think about their plagiarism here.