The Technology Trap: Fashion, Copying and the Speed of Information at FIT


Throughout history, fashion designers have battled bootleggers in a never-ending struggle to prevent them from copying their designs. Today, technology has accelerated the speed at which knockoffs hit the market: within days, retailers such as H&M, Forever 21 and Zara can deliver copies of these designs for a fraction of the price of an original.

At FIT’s recent panel, The Technology Trap: Fashion, Copying and the Speed of Information Susan Scafidi  (Fashion Law Institute), Ariele Elia, curator of the Fashion & Technology exhibition at the Museum at FIT, renowned fashion designer and CFDA member Jeffrey Banks, and Te Smith from online brand protection company MarkMonitor, discussed how technology has propelled the speed in which pirates copy fashion designs and what fashion houses are doing to prevent it.

“The US is the only developed country without copyright protection on fashion designs,” Banks noted, “France, Japan, India and even China have some level of copyright protection for fashion designs.”

Institutions such as the Fashion Law Institute and the CFDA are actively lobbying Congress to pass the Innovative Design Protection Act (IDPA) that would allow copyright protection on fashion designs for a term of 3 years.

Meanwhile, emerging fashion designers have retaliated against the bootleggers by creating diffusion brands (knockoffs of their own designs), aka “Design Collaborations,” such as Jason Wu for Target, or middle end collections, such Marc for Marc Jacobs, to appeal to the masses and to deter the appeal of buying fakes.

Some renowned fashion houses such as Burberry and Belstaff live stream their fashion shows to the public. Through technology, they are able to engage with their customers, offering them the buzz of runway shows. In return, they are able to collect data on the products that get the most clicks and customers are able to pre-order certain products before they hit the stores.

Others, including LV and Christian Louboutin, use the services of online brand protection companies such as MarkMonitor to shut down rogue sites that sell their knockoffs, or they take legal action against bootleggers.

Technology is a double edge sword: although it has propelled the speed in which fakes hit the market, it has also helped to create faster prototyping via 3D printing, as well as innovative, eco-friendly new materials such as milk fabric.

So what does this mean for the upcoming designers in NY’s fashion industry? We can hope that Congress will pass the IDPA and grant NY designers certain copyright protection that European designers already enjoy, but our best advice is that if you are prominent enough to have copycats, be prepared to knock off your own designs by launching diffusion brands, or go to the Fashion Law Institute for some legal advice.  It’s always best to be prepared.

FIT will be holding a similar event of on April 25th, 2013 – Cross-Pollination: Fashion & Technology, to find out more click here.

About the author: Oujua Chen

With over 10 years of experience managing a wide array of small businesses and non-profits worldwide, Oujua’s expertise in identifying and analyzing operational problems, and implementing constructive solutions to meet strategic goals and improve overall efficiency has proven to work across industries.

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