Plagiarism In The Fashion Industry

When does “taking inspiration” become plagiarism? It seems that many big fashion houses are “taking inspiration” from others at the moment.

From a young New Yorker creating bootlegs of Life of Pablo merch, to LA based artist Tuesday Bassen’s work being ripped off by Fashion Giant Zara, it seems that plagiarism has become a strong part of today’s fashion industry. The question is: Is it right?

Gosha Rubchinskiy’s take on Tommy Hilfiger. Photo Credit:

How come when Gosha Rubchinskiy does a cheeky spin off of Tommy Hilfiger’s iconic red, white and blue logo it’s ok? But when a big fashion house like Zara rips off a small artist like Tuesday Bassen it is outrageous and wrong?
Its not like plagiarism in the fashion world hasn’t been happening for years. It just seems that now people are looking out for the “little people”. With the power of social media today it seems that it is impossible for plagiarism to go undetected.

Design Houses have been “taking inspiration” from small artists for years. Prints found on Pinterest by local artists have been showing up in new clothing lines for fashion houses like sapphire, Sana Safinaz and Zara Shahjahan.

For years designers have been fighting each other over plagiarism accusations. A perfect example of this is Roberto Cavalli’s feud with Michael Kors, which has been going on for years. In the words of Cavalli, Michael Kors is “the biggest copy cat in the world.” YSL was also taken to court by Christian Louboutin over their use of his signature red sole on one of their designs.

YSL vs. Louboutin. Photo Credit:

The multi million-dollar brand Forever 21 has unashamedly copied designs and prints from artists and designers for years. Having been sued 50 times in the past 27 years of its existence and are yet to lose a single court case. Zara’s case with Bassen is not the first time they have been caught ‘modifying’ someone else’s design. The keyword being ‘modify’ and not ‘copy’ in that sentence. Christian Louboutin definitely wont be shopping at Zara anytime soon either, after they copied his iconic red sole trademark in 2012. Not only did the court give Zara permission to use the red sole on any shoe they made, Louboutin also had to pay Zara 2500 euros ($1898 AUD) as compensation.

Plagiarism is such a grey area in the fashion industry. In some circumstances it can be seen as something to applaud, and in others, it is just wrong. In the case of Austin Butts, a young New Yorker that decided to create bootlegs of Kanye’s Life Of Pablo merch, and then had Kanye give his stamp of approval, it was definitely a moment to applaud. Butts was selling his own DIY version of the merch to Yeezy fans waiting in line when Kanyes team, including  Virgil Abloh and Heron Preston, spotted the merchandise and instantly fell in love. The shirts were then sold alongside the official merch. The young entrepreneur even had Cali Thornhill DeWitt the collaborator on the design of Kanye’s apparel wanting one.

Austin Butts with his Life of Pablo Bootlegs. Photo Credit:

“No-one was mad except some of the fucking kids that don’t get it, a lot of people just don’t get it because like they’re like, ‘Why the fuck would you buy a fake shirt?’ But it’s more real than the real ones, you know? A lot of people don’t get it. These are more rare than the ones in the store ‘cause like 10,000 kids waited in line for those and only a hundred people have the fakes, you know? And this is actually printed by kids.” – Austin Butts talking to Dazed

Unfortunately plagiarism doesn’t always work out that well, as Tuesday Bassen is finding out. For someone like Bassen, having a big company like Zara steal her work and sell it for, most commonly, a lower price because of their cheaper production costs, it impacts on her livelihood as an artist. Why would people want to go and buy something online and then have to pay shipping when they can walk into their local Zara store and buy it at a much cheaper price? Fellow artist Adam J Kurtz, took to social media to show his support, not just for Bassen but also 12 other independent artist that have also been copied by Zara. Since this original tweet, there have been many more cases discovered. The image with the comparisons was posted on his personal website under the title “Shop The Stolen Art.”

In 2010, Senator Charles E Schumer passed the Schumer law in America, with the support of the CFDA, which covers plagiarism and copyright in fashion. It states “a designer who claims that his work has been copied must show that his design provides ‘a unique, distinguishable, non-trivial and non-utilitarian variation over prior designs.’ And it must be proven by the designer that the copy is ‘substantially identical’ to the original so as to be mistaken for it. The bill would cover all fashion designs, including products like handbags, belts and sunglasses, for a three-year period from the time the item is seen in public—on a runway, say. Factors than can’t be used in determining the uniqueness of a design are colour, patterns and a graphic element.” So really, it’s extremely difficult for one brand to accuse another of plagiarism, as the law now makes fashion not just a utilitarian article, but also a form of art and creative expression.

To read more about the Tuesday vs. Zara story, check out our article on the case here.