It's Daylight Robbery: Fast Fashion's Designer Crimes


Heather Gosling (she/her) writes on how fast fashion brands steal designs from independent designers

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Image by Marcel Pedro

By Heather Gosling

It is no secret that fast fashion designers such as SHEIN have stolen designs from independent designers, and they have been doing so for years with no compensation or credit. The blatant nature of this theft is remarkable, with so many designers posting side by side photos of their design and SHEIN’s identical rip off: this is daylight robbery. Instances of this go back as far as 2013, so why is it that big brands such as ASOS and SHEIN continue to profit from stolen designs?

SHEIN was founded in 2008 in China and sells clothing for ultra-low prices. The company has come under fire from climate change cam-paigners for their unsustainable practices. They have also faced controversy over labour practices with workers being paid as little as four cents per item produced.

Fast fashion has escalated in recent years. With new trends every week, and roughly 10,000 new items added to SHEIN’s website every day, it is impossible to keep up with the flurry of new clothing SHEIN and other fast fashion brands pump out. But how do they manage to create these new designs at such a fast pace? The answer? By stealing from other designers. It’s not just small, indie designers that are the victims either.

In 2018, Levi Strauss accused SHEIN of copying its trademarked stitching pattern and filed a lawsuit that was settled. In a rare instance of fast fashion companies fighting against each other, H&M also sued SHEIN earlier this year for stealing its designs.

For the big players of the fashion world, the stealing of designs does not threaten their place in the industry. The power and wealth these companies hold allows them to eas-ily settle the issues that arise. It is not the same story for independent designers. However, the amount of time (and more importantly, mon-ey) that it takes to file a lawsuit against a huge company like SHEIN, is a resource that many independent designers do not have. For exam-ple, California-based knitwear designer, Bailey Prado, had 45 of her crochet designs stolen by SHEIN last year. Prado called out SHEIN in an Instagram post, showing side by side photos of her design and SHEIN’s plagiarism. Her caption reads:“The way SHEIN copied my whole life...”. The pieces that SHEIN had copied , which sell on Bailey Prado’s website for $95 – $300, were listed on their website for $20 or less. You would be correct in thinking that this is a suspiciously low price, because it is. The low price of fast fashion items reflects both its low quality and the ultra low wages of its workers.

SHEIN has since removed some of the list-ings, but only the pieces that gained the most attention on social media, which is far from a real resolution. This response shows the lack of care fast fashion companies have for the people who design clothes; the time, effort and dedication that is  put in only for their design to be ripped off by a fast fashion brand and sold at a lower price. Bailey Prado has previously stated that she has received legal advice about the matter, but was discouraged by “stories about large companies just burying smaller brands in legal fees and paperwork”. A similar case happened to French fashion label MaisonCléo in 2019 when SHEIN copied some of their designs including its “Angèle” white off-the-shoulder blouse. Marie Dewet, founder of the label, stated that she was “not surprised unfortunately, as it’s the way fast-fashion brands operate”. Dewet reached out to SHEIN, but only received a response after fashion watchdog Diet Prada posted about the issue on Instagram. Only then did SHEIN reach out to the label offering a collaboration: "You make the designs, we make the clothes”, but Dewet refused to respond, stating that she would never work for a fast fashion company.

Whilst SHEIN has gained the most atten-tion for stealing designs, it isn't just SHEIN that is to blame. Many fast fashion companies use the same process of using social media to gain “inspiration” for designs. In 2020, ASOS was accused of ripping off an independent jewellery brand Studio Cult’s ‘Flame earrings’. Studio Cult’s earrings were made from stainless steel and were marked at £40 on their website, whereas the ASOS copies were made of inferior materials of 90 percent zinc at just £8.

Fast fashion companies seem obsessed with gaining profit from stealing trendy designs and making them cheaper by cutting workers wages and making items from cheaper materials. But the issue is, it works. SHEIN is a multi-mil-lion dollar company for a reason, and our mind-set as consumers needs to change. The constant change of trends on social media creates the perfect environment for fast fashion companies to flourish. If we are constantly looking for the next trend, then we become obsessed with wanting more and more clothes at cheaper and cheaper prices. If SHEIN can steal intellectual property from artists and designers and still continue as a company, what does that mean for the fashion industry?

As consumers, are we going to allow this to happen? SHEIN exists as a company only because there is a demand for inexpensive fast fashion, and whilst slow fashion can be inacces-sible to many people due to its cost, the damage that SHEIN is doing needs to stop before it is too late.