“Faking” Fashion – A Sad Truth

Copying the fashion of designers is not a recent phenomena. “Knock-offs” or copies and “counterfeits” have been happening as far back as the 18th century. In the early 1900s, department stores sent employees to Paris Fashion Week to covertly sketch the designs walking the runway, eventually these designs were manufactured as “Paris Originals”. Designers went to extreme lengths to maintain the secrecy of collections before their debut, in order to deter the practice. However, copying has continued to permeate the fashion industry. The line between real and counterfeit is getting finer, and some copies are so detailed that it takes an expert eye to determine its authenticity. Let’s look at the distinction between knock-offs and counterfeits, and  protecting fashion products.

Knock-offs

We walk into fast fashion retailers at an alarming rate, and as a result developed an insatiable appetite for cheap goods and knock-offs. The ease in copying high fashion has given the masses an overwhelming volume of fashion goods.

What is a knock-off? It’s a fashion product made to evoke the original by having a similar appearance, but without the use of a registered trademark. Knock-offs are copies of products manufacturers find inspiring, or interpretations of designer trends. They are manufactured in low quality materials, and are usually sold at cheaper prices than the original items that inspired them.

Knock-offs aren’t typically considered illegal, but sometimes a brand will challenge a copy in court if the original creator feels the resemblance is so close that the consumer is misled. The possibility then exists for diminishing the brand’s image.

Counterfeits

We clearly recognize this term as illegally sold products. The sale of counterfeit goods in extreme cases fuels terrorism and child labour. Many governments spend millions to fight this problem.

A counterfeit is identical to another product, but the difference from a knock-off is trademark infringement, claiming the design as their own. Unauthorized use of a trademark or logo is likely to cause confusion. Louis Vuitton is the most counterfeited designer brand in the marketplace. A counterfeit Louis Vuitton may use its logo on the product, but it may appear blurred, tilted or smudged, whereas the original appears symmetric. The counterfeit is hard to distinguish from the original, but the quality differs from the genuine product, and the price is often significantly lower. There are many resources available to help you recognize the characteristics of an authentic product. Counterfeit goods are sold online, street corners, and through underground vendors.

counterfeit Louis Vuitton Handbags
Counterfeits
back of authentic Louis Vuitton wallet
An Authentic Louis Vuitton Wallet – notice the symmetric logo

Consumers are not punished for purchasing counterfeits in North America, but many consumers willingly purchase these fakes, because they are looking for cheaper versions of pricy designer fashion. In France and Italy, tourists may be punished for buying fake goods.

The main distinction between knock-offs and counterfeits is that one is legal and the other is not. The physical differences between knock-offs and counterfeits are not always clear, because certain features or details on the product can be recognized as a trademark or logo. The red soles, a feature of Christian Louboutin shoes could be mistaken for the real thing on a copy without the brand name.

Trademarks and Copyright

Inevitably, brands and designers look to protect their intellectual property with trademarks and copyright. Trademark is a type of intellectual property which is a symbol, word, or words, legally registered as representing a company or product. Trademark laws are designed to protect the public from being duped into thinking they have purchased the real thing. In contrast, knock-offs don’t typically deceive the consumer, they are merely considered a copy. Without a trademark, a knock-off can be much more challenging to prove in court than a counterfeit which has committed trademark infringement. With knock-offs the name and logo are nowhere to be found, so it comes down to which party has the better story. France is well known for its copyright system that extends to fashion designs, and dates back to the 15th century when protection was granted to the manufacture of textiles. The fast fashion retailer Zara has had two cases filed against them in France for copying a dress design (2012), as well as a shirt design (2013).

Clothing or accessory designs are not covered by copyright law in the US or Canada. It is difficult to prove that a product is original, because all one has to do is tweak or change the design a little and call it their own. Trademarks are one of the best ways to protect your fashion products. 

With the explosion of the internet came the belief that content on line should be free, and a casual attitude developed towards using copyrighted work. In the knitting world, I have seen patterns created by designers, knit by others and sold as originals. This is often innocent enough, but it’s stealing – pure and simple. My work has been posted on sites without my permission. Until you have felt the sting of this behaviour you can’t know how the creator feels.

The fashion industry has an incredibly long history of copying designs. I admit to using other’s work as inspiration, and to replicate designs, but I would never claim their work as mine or sell it. All designers should protect their work as much as is possible within the legal system. As for the consumer, don’t merely think of saving pennies – buy the real thing!