Imitation isn't the best form of flattery if you're a billion-dollar company using designs all but identical to those created by a small business owner. That's bullying.
Earlier this week, L.A.-based indie artist Tuesday Bassen alleged in an Instagram post that the Spanish fast-fashion retailer Zara has ripped off her designs for the past year. Take a look at her evidence:
It's not new for fast-fashion retailers to borrow, or even flat-out steal, designs from other high-end mainstream brands. You can walk into any Zara store and point out the Céline or Alexander Wang runway references.
Sometimes, designers are infuriated. In 2012, womenswear accessory brand Christian Louboutin unsuccessfully sued Zara for copying their trademark shoes with red bottoms. Zara then filed an appeal saying that the idea of Christian Louboutin's trademark was "too vague and that there was no proven risk of confusion between the two pairs of heels." A judge ruled in favor of Zara. Trademarks in fashion are tricky.
Sometimes, though, designers are flattered. In 2014, Balmain's creative director Olivier Rousteing told The Independent: "I watch the windows always, and it's genius what they do today. They go fast, they have a great sense of styling and how to pick up what they have to pick up from designers. I'm really happy that Balmain is copied—when I did my Miami collection and we did the black and white checks, I knew they would be in Zara and H&M. But they did it in a clever way—they mixed a Céline shape with my Balmain print! Well done! I love that."
In this case, indie illustrator and designer Bassen isn't flattered. And Zara's response to her shows just how little they care. Here's an excerpt:
The lack of distinctiveness of your client’s purported designs makes it very hard to see how a significant part of the population anywhere would associate the signs with Tuesday Bassen. This is our firm view, and being fully aware of the 3rd party notifications that you have brought to our attention. In this last regard, please note that such notifications amount to a handful of complaints only; when it is borne in mind that millions of users worldwide visit the respective websites monthly (Zara: 98,000.000 average monthly visits last year, Bershka: 15.000.000 average monthly visits last year), the figures clearly put those few notifications into sharp perspective.
This wasn't enough to stop Bassen. Now, she's joined forces with 16 other indie designers—Bananna Bones, Coucou Suzette, Georgia Perry, Mokuyobi, Strawberry Moth, Ivonna Buenrostro, Adam J. Kurtz, Maria Ines Gul, Gabriella Sanchez, Explorer’s Press, Big Bud Press, Sara M. Lyons, Pity Party Studios, Crywolf Clothing, These Are Things, and Rosehound Apparel—to fight Zara.
Here are side-by-side comparisons of these artists' designs next to the ones that they say Zara copied without their permission.
Whether high-end mainstream brands are angry or not when they believe their work has been copied, they have the money to fight back and the exposure to make people notice that they were wronged. When Zara steals from less-established indie designers like Bassen, instead of promoting or collaborating with them, they are denying their existence and taking money from pockets that aren't nearly as deep as their own.
Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna's friend's Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.