How Do Copycats Affect Small Fashion Lines?

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Alexander Wang Mini Rocco Duffel-Bag

Product Credit: (left) The real Alexander Wang Mini Rocco Duffel selling for $875, (right) a replica selling for $179

A few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal published an article about how small fashion businesses are negatively affected by copycats and imitations of their products. There is even an interactive feature with photos of products and their replicas, and as shown in the above photo of Alexander Wang's mini duffel bags, it can be hard to distinguish real from replica.

The article cites scarf designer Elle Sakellis as an example. Elle designed $190 Otera "evil eye" scarves after she was inspired by a wall of Greek luck totems. The scarves were quickly bought by Kitson and Intermix but when Elle didn't receive any more orders, she discovered that both stores had found a similar scarf made by Raj Imports Inc. that was selling for only $30. Unfortunately, knockoffs are, for the most part, perfectly legal. In a situation like the one above, there is not much an independent designer can do to protect their original designs from copycats.

Perhaps the best advice for Elle and other emerging designers comes from Fraser Ross, owner of Kitson, who told The Wall Street Journal,

Designers must be fleet at creating new, cheaper versions of their own creations. I'm always telling these designers, 'Knock yourself off. They're knocking you off so do it yourself.'

That is precisely what Nathalie Rykiel did when she noticed that H&M's clothes looked a bit like Sonia Rykiel. She told NYLON Magazine,

Are you asking if H&M has used my designs? Well, yes, of course! They copy me all the time. Finally I said, 'Look, if you want your girls to wear Sonia Rykiel from H&M then let's have the real thing.'

And although The Wall Street Journal tries to make the case that these copycats are a financial burden on small designers, there are two sides to this issue. While copycat designs are unfair to the original designers, there are thousands of people employed by the buyers and companies that exist solely to copy designs. And these high-priced products are also a financial burden on us, the consumers.

Although copycat designs threaten the fashion designers we love, in an industry where it is customary to pay, say $500 to make a dress that eventually sells for a cool $2,000 at Saks, I find it hard to pity these designers too much, regardless of the size of their company. What about you?

What do you think?

For more on this issue, see our article, Would You Wear... Designer Knockoffs?

Now tell us your thoughts. Do you buy copycats or replicas? Do you pity designers whose products are copied and sold at a lower cost? Do you think it's fair for high-end designers to mark up their products so much? As always, let us know with a comment.

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