Last week I wrote my first piece around “Unpacking the Business of Fast Fashion”, where I spoke at length about what sparked my interest in this trend as a global phenomenon, and my take on the local and international landscapes. The piece was introductory and looked at the possible impact that fast fashion has on the industry. Since then, I have had a few requests to expand a bit more on this subject, which of course has me really excited, because I could possibly speak about this until I am blue in the face – not because I am an expert in fashion, but because this subject is of particular interest and worth following. In this most recent piece, I have explored how the rise of social media access has enabled Fast fashion, as well as the implications that this has for brand originality. Has Fast Fashion as a trend made it all too easy for copy cats to thrive?
The rapid developments of fast fashion and its infiltration of the industry, centres around the high turn-around of wardrobe pieces that look high-end, but come at a far lower price tag and at three times the speed. So the nature of this trend, like any other business shifting and industry altering phenomena, is quite multi-faceted. The greatest burden placed on brands specifically, is how easy the fast fashion trend makes for garments to be copied, whether it’s directly off the cat walks or from other designers that seem to have a head start.
This is the beauty or the beast about fashion, depending on where you stand – styles are super interchangeable and easy to copy. This is the burden that most brands and designers have to contend with. Not only are brands copying the latest styles from the catwalks in Milan and New York, but the products and output is so similar that very few brands have a bespoke look that represents them, and the final consumer choice may well boil down to the price point.
Just the other day I stepped into one of my favourite retailers, Zara, looking for a shirt I could dress up or down. Ultimately, I gravitated towards a striped blue and white shirt that I have seen way too many times on the gram, manufactured by some seamstress whose product looks just as great as the hefty price piece I was about to spend my hard earned money on. Which brings me to a thought I toy with quite regularly in my head, and sometimes in my tweets about how “Instagram killed the Retailers”.
Now that everyone, including your favourite seamstress down the road, who used to be known only for traditional wedding outfits has a social media account, copying trends and getting them into the hands of consumers is no longer a competitive edge. The only thing that sets brands apart is “who copied it off the run way, manufactured it, and got it onto the backs of our faves” the quickest, possibly for a cheaper price, and at three times the speed.
If millennials and the current average consumer’s buying patterns are anything to go by, “in the moment purchases” mean that brands can expect that consumers will scout for fashion pieces that are similar, but at a discounted cost. This can prove incredibly frustrating for brands, especially young designers who are yet to create a name for themselves in the industry, or don’t have the backing of big manufactures or brands to help curb this frustration by producing and manufacturing at scale.
So the question then becomes: “How do designers and brands protect themselves from being copied in an industry that is driven purely by quick turnaround, hinges heavily on low pricing strategies and massive volume outputs?” Julie Zerbo, the founder and editor-in-chief of “The Fashion Law”, put it well in one of her interviews where she said, “if you’re good, you’re going to be copied, and if you’re really great, you’re already going to be a few steps ahead, innovating for next season.” This view is probably the most sane way for designers to look at this “fashion challenge”, where even the most average user on social media with enough resources, can copy the most basic look and reach enough users to make a name for themselves.
While social media has created a haven for brands to get fast access to consumers and for consumers to get blow by blow updates on what local and international brands are doing, it has also created a platform for brands to call each other out, on some “hey you copied me”. This is a lot of what we have seen with understated and indie designers calling the likes of Khloe Kardashian out on some of their “look alike” products.
Recently Khloe’s “Good American” brand was accused by indie label “Destiney Bleu”, of copying designs, and Bleu is said to have proof that Khloe bought thousands of dollars in single items of clothes from her, ahead of starting “Good American” label, which now happens to have similarly styled garb.
Admittedly, fast fashion makes it all too easy to copy designs, seeing as most of the designers and brand representatives are for the most part at the same fashions shows, season reveals, and sometimes gaining inspiration from similar muses. While some brands will deliberately copy others, there are often unforeseen cases of similar designs, deliberate or not, which are not always assumed, and this can be seen in cases such as Molly Goddard vs. Asos, and the likes of Fenty for Puma vs. Topshop.
Fashion now more than ever is at cahoots with itself, and the fastest brands will win the “hey you copied me” war, which seems to be an everyday reality if you watch the space really closely.