Picture this. You are finalising the pieces for your launch scheduled to go live in eight hours. Ensuring every stitch is perfectly aligned, every sequin is tightly sewed on, every piece is in pristine condition, and you remind your small number of Instagram followers to set their alarms. Tomorrow is the big day – the day when all your hard work will go live, the day when your childhood dreams could come true.
Reminiscing on the hours spent intensely researching the most sustainable materials, hand-stitching until dawn in your small studio and being constantly preoccupied by new possible tweaks and changes, you hope every moment is worth it. Every piece lined up for the launch carries a sentimental meaning. From your uniquely designed top being your first ever design idea to the cargo trousers being inspired by your mother’s wardrobe – these pieces are more than a passing trend, but items you hope will be cherished for years.
Yet, the fashion industry is disconnecting itself from its origins. It was once built upon creativity, individuality, and the ability to express oneself. Now, small designers’ works are copied and stolen, reproduced en masse to satisfy the fast-fashion industry that has taken over .
Whilst independent designers aim to restore the authenticity of the fashion industry, the fast-fashion giants take their originality and utilise their massive reach to suppress small designers’ potential success. Take the recent global sensation- Shein. Known for their trendy, inexpensive items, they have successfully become a magnet for those who seek fashionable items without breaking the bank. Despite their website bombarding users with flashing, time-sensitive promotion codes, too many sub-categories and heavily edited pictures, they remain one of the most popular websites in the world.
Yet, their popularity is not one to celebrate. As all these companies do seek the easiest way to make profit, Shein regularly plagiarises from smaller, independent creatives, becoming widely known as the place to purchase designer dupes. By using cheaper manufacturing processes and materials, these stolen designs are sold for a fraction of the price, and at a fraction of the quality, meaning the original designers struggle to make any profit from their own designs.
And there is countless evidence to support this accusation. Take the independent crochet fashion designer, Bailey Prado. Known for her unique and distinct designs, she pours hours of work into designing, crocheting, and tailoring every piece to perfection. So, when Shein decided to upload carbon-copies of her designs onto their website, she claimed they ‘removed every personal connection to the designs’.
Fast-fashion retailers like Shein always remove this sentiment. Underpaid, poorly treated garment workers are so overworked that quality has to be sacrificed. After all, it’s hard to make polyester fabric look like craftsmanship. All this polyester is then packaged in unrecyclable plastic packing and delivered throughout the world. This is not fashion at its finest. Fashion should be creative, it should be passionate, not a rushed routine to make profit.
The tragedy within this is that small brands cannot fight against the saddening transformation of the fashion industry. Legal routes are costly, and even if they are pursued, large companies have the power to silence any claims publicised. In the end, they can claim ownership over stolen designs yet there are never any repercussions for the brands which steal them.
This all creates a knock-on effect. It discourages independent designers from publicising their designs because of fears of them being stolen by retailers like Shein. Designers are left wondering how they can make room for themselves in the fashion industry when every large company has the power to override them.
This pattern fuels large companies and kills off smaller ones. It removes the creativity of the industry. It removes originality. The only way this can be restored is by spreading the word about the problem. To write articles, to share posts on social media, to educate consumers of the dark background that lies beneath designer dupes. Because in the end, the decision lies among us – if there is no demand, the supply will have to cease.
By Holly Downes