May 272011

I recently saw this post from an artist complaining that Urban Outfitters stole her design. I am a huge supporter of local and independent designers. I love de-constructed, re-constructed, up-cycled, original, vintage fashion, though I feel the whole thing was blown way out of proportion, including UO removing the necklaces from their site*.

This reminded me of many tech companies with items that are first-to-market, but ultimately get superseded by another company’s similar but better product (Microsoft’s surface -> iPad, Sony Walkman -> ipod, Atari -> Nintendo). The cycle of development is even faster in the fashion industry than it is in tech. In tech, ideas are cheap and the devil’s in the execution. In mid-range fashion, the opposite is true. Cheap labor makes for cheap (and fast) execution**. Ultimately, though it’s the entity that moves forward that stays ahead.

Companies can take an idea and make it cheaper, or better or both. Ever wonder why those Luis Vuitton bags have their LV symbol ALL OVER their $1000+ bags? It’s because you technically can’t copyright a specific bag design, but you can copyright a logo. This doesn’t stop all those cheap chinese companies from replicating the design and using an ‘LT’ logo instead. This happens to EVERY high-end fashion label. Ruffles on the runway eventually turn into ruffles at Urban Outfitters. This quote from The Devil Wears Prada sums it up perfectly.

But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.

Check out these videos for more examples of ‘stealing’

I feel badly for this girl, but she could have something that Urban Outfitters doesn’t – speed and creativity. If she constantly comes out with new designs, it doesn’t matter so much who’s trying to copy her. She could even become (*gasp!*) a trendsetter.

‘Stealing’ designs is definitely a bad thing to do, and speaks volumes to the stealer’s inability to innovate. It’s great to point it out and shame/embarrass them. It’s even better just to come out with a superior product and stay ahead of the curve.

* In fact, I remember seeing California necklaces with a jewel at San Francisco at least 3 years ago in several local shops. State necklaces exactly like this artist’s; more state necklaces, and more. Another example of ‘copying’ fashion I love is when Lady Gaga supposedly copies her bubble dress from Chalayan. Sorry, but the bubble dress is a classic staple from burlesque. The only reason why this story got so much attention is that the internet creams itself over underdog stories and itches to avenge oppression from ‘the man’ (and because nobody like Urban Outfitters. It’s just hipster clothing for the masses, and we consider ourselves superior).

** I’m qualifying mid-range fashion because couture & high-end fashion is technically difficult execution that requires a huge deal of skill, is often handmade, and is incredibly refined in many subtle ways, just like cars. Actually, every industry is rife with copying the innovators.

 Posted by at 10:55 pm

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