Intellectual property theft happens in fashion design. We've all heard the stories about the Kardashians keeping up too closely with indie streetwear designers. Some fashion designers have even experienced foreign clothing manufacturers reselling their original designs on Amazon, under a cheaper brand mark.
Why People Steal Clothing Designs
Intellectual property theft saps €23.6 billion in annual revenues from the apparel industry, according to the EUIPO Observatory. Why does this keep happening? Why is it so easy? We found three main reasons…
1. U.S. copyright law usually won’t protect your clothing pattern.
A pattern can be read as an instruction on how to make a garment – copyright won’t protect that. It might protect your design illustration, but it won’t safeguard anything you’ve created to serve a function – like a pant leg pattern.
2. Effective U.S. trademark protections require large-scale fashion customer recognition.
Red bottoms = Louboutins. A Birkin has a set shape, flap, and lock.
The ornamental qualities that distinguish these products have earned them trademark protection, but so has their visibility and notoriety. Products created by smaller, independent designers aren’t likely to receive the same trademark protection as a Louboutin or Birkin. Even so with these two examples, the trademark only protects a certain part of the look, not the entire product. Plus, with smaller designers, most copycats take everything BUT the branded trademark.
3. Some fashion design copycats have very large, very expensive legal teams.
Let’s say you catch a major brand copying your creative concept – like these designers did with Zara. Pursuing legal action against giants like this can be expensive – but may be the only way to halt the theft.
4 Ways to Keep Your Fashion Designs Safe
Don’t get discouraged. While there’s no 100% proven method to end fashion design copycatting (even billion dollar brands struggle here), there are four steps you can take to prevent intellectual property thieves from profiting off your clothing designs. First –
1. Register a copyright for any original prints or ornamental, non-essential design features.
If you ever do need to file a lawsuit, this will give your legal argument better grounds.
2. You invented the next zipper or Reebok pump? Get a patent.
While a copyright won’t let you put your stamp on functional elements, a patent can protect a novel utility.
3. Use a trusted manufacturer with a pristine reputation.
MakersValley only works with highly-vetted Italian manufacturers known for quality, craftsmanship, and honesty. We will not work with manufacturers who resell original Maker-designed garments. Our manufacturing partners agree to this when they join our network. With other manufacturers, you would have to do your homework to make sure that they don’t repurpose and resell your patterns without permission. Plus, with the MakersValley Platform, you get to watch as your creations are made in real time, right from the factory floor.
4. Watermark designs to your buyers and in your online portfolio.
While this won’t provide ironclad design protection, a watermark can serve as a deterrent to those who might want to copy your design and sneak it into their portfolio.
Transparency and Honesty in Clothing Manufacturing
Design inspiration can come from anywhere, and sometimes different people dream up similar clothing concepts. That’s part of the reason why it’s so hard to pin down legal protections in the fashion industry. However, honesty and integrity are always the best policies, and fashion design copycats not only harm the designer from whom they’re stealing, but they also sell short their own originality.
Independent designers invigorate global fashion and the economy. Respecting the intellectual property of the fashion design community is not only the right thing to do. It pushes the entire industry forward with inventive creations that excite, enrapture, and encourage even more great work!