Thursday, March 5, 2015


left, real. right, knock-off

Few weeks back, FIT did an exhibit dedicated to counterfeits and knock-offs. While not visually their best exhibit, it was informative. I'm not disappointed... you see knock-offs every time you step into a fast-fashion store. Don't need to see it at a museum.
Anna Sui and Forever 21
This isn't illegal in the US. You can't copyright ideas (like a patent leather skirt) and garment design (wide-legged pants), and if it isn't serving a new function, you can't patent it. You can, however, copyright logos and unique prints (like a t-shirt design) and textile designs (like the shirt above), which is why Forever 21 gets sued all the time.

From the exhibit

from the exhibit

 The exhibit had a few informative videos on how to spot a fake, stuff you already know, like sloppy stitching and cheaper materials substituting for expensive materials (pleather for leather, polyester for silk). One of the videos said, "If you paid less than $100 for a dress in the last 10 years, it was a knockoff."

Probably. I've had friends who worked as fashion designers and most of what they did was watch the runways and then get to work knocking it off. And then those clothes end up at F21, H&M, Zara, Hot Topic, and anywhere else. Personally, I don't see a problem with it, as long as the clothing is ethically made. A lot of it isn't. And the world of counterfeits is especially dark, with mafia-types and sweatshops. Seriously, don't buy counterfeits.
Counterfeit shoe and bag (right) next to the real shoe, bag (left)
New York had a pretty large counterfeit business about 5-10 years ago. If you walked through Chinatown, people on street corners would show you pictures of "real" Chanel/Gucci/Louis Vuitton/etc or you could ask to see them and they'll take you to the back of the store. Or they'll take you to a van, or the factory itself (I've seen these factories). If the police were suspicious they'd shut the store down with you inside (also happened to me). The NYC police department has a completely separate department dedicated to combating the counterfeit business. These days the counterfeit business is pretty under wraps.

Sometimes I like something so much, I buy the original and the knock-off. Here are two. The first is a textile design (this IS illegal to knock-off) of a delightful cactus print. I love cacti. A coworker wore the below H&M* shirt and my jaw dropped. I then did a terrible thing and bought the same shirt that she has. While not exactly the same print, which would get them sued, it seems really similar enough to be "inspired."I still adore the cacti.

*On its own website, H&M promises to give all its workers a "living wage" by 2018, so do what you will with that information.

Dress: Something Else by Natalie Wood, list price $$

Long sleeve t-shirt: H&M, list price $10

the two fabrics next to each other. 

My next knock-off (a 3D printed knockoff) is my Gareth Pugh ring, which I've showed you guys a million times before. If I could buy this ring a million times over, I would. 
The two next to each other
For one, the real ring is made of brass and is heavy, while the 3d-printed one is lightweight. The 3d-printed one also has a sandy texture, typical of this production method. The person also didn't get the shape completely right. 

Where do I stand on it? I stand with the law here--for the most part, knocking something off--ethically!--is ok. There's only so many shapes we can wear on our bodies. Can you imagine if someone copyrighted the T-shirt? The leather skirt? Or material leather for bracelets or bones for earrings. While no one's weeping for fashion moguls like Versace and Galliano when their work ends up at F21, people make the case for indie designers whose $100+ dresses also end up at F21. I'd argue that the audience that shops at F21 would probably not be aware of those indie designers in the first place, and chances are, if your price point for a dress is $15, you probably wouldn't be spending $100. Not everyone can afford to spend extra for designer or travel in the kind of circles where wearing designer would actually matter.  

How do you feel about knock-offs? is it legal in your country?


  1. This is really interesting! One of the main reason I stopped working at F21 (even though I slipped up last month and regretted it), is when they REALLY started knocking off indie designers and many other reasons. Besides the quality being total shit.

    I'm aware of the fashion industry and knock-offs, but I tend to not follow fashion as closely as I used to, so I'm sure I'm wearing so sort of knock-off!

    At my work we have a lot of Made in the USA brands of retro clothing and people can't wrap their head around spending $100 for a cotton dress. I have explain why it's at that price and people just look at me with a blank stare....then again I live in Buffalo. Haha!!!

    1. *shopping NOT working at F21 (shutters)

    2. Lol. Good thing. They treat their employees with the care they treat their garments. I had a friend who said it was the worst job ever. It's great you guys sell fair-trade stuff.

  2. I think the same rules apply here in Canada, fashion is just too tricky to copyright. I feel for indie designers, especially when they sell the pattern online and their dress ends up all over Etsy or in shops. On the other hand though... Imagine if everything did pass copyright and a regular t-shirt cost us $90 because it's designer. Utter chaos would ensue, people wouldn't be able to afford anything! So maybe it's a good thing people can't copyright everything...

    1. Yeah I feel bad for indie artists too. I remember on etsy, the person who did the corsets with the heart and rib cage...and then that design was knocked off everywhere. i think even hot topic had it.

  3. loved the comparison, aside from bad sewing I couldn´t really tell a knockoff from the real thing, not that it would matter to me. i guess it really depends on the originality of the item. a lot of knockoffs are not that comfortable to wear, like those jeffrey campbell shoes that you can buy for cheap but cannot stand one second wearing.

    1. ugh as an owner of those campbell knockoffs, i can agree. I didn't even make it to the end of the block

  4. I work in fashion and I know how to tell a knock off from the real one. I agree it would suck if I had to pay $90 a t-shirt because someone copyrighted that

  5. A very interesting article! I wish there would be more affordable street fashion versions of beautiful over the top creations such as Alexander McQueen! I would try not to buy things based on independent designers work, but if it's a super expensive thing I could never afford, I would get it! Also as the others have mentioned, we need cheap clothes for every day, like $10 shirts, and also sometimes people do have the same idea, we can't have everyone suing each other willy nilly..

  6. well... to me I'm a bit on both sides, could not explain to be honest but I try to stick to Originals... Exceptions when something I really want is just sold out Or when I didnt know it was a knockoff before... I dont know what I would do though if a piece I fell in love with turned out as not affordable... maybe i would then get the knockoff?