Knockoffs, the fashion industry put to test

knockoffsDo you drool over a Fendi Forever Big-Mamma or a Chloé Marcie-Small?

If you do, you know I’m talking about pocketbooks, designer handbags that -at the chilling price of around $1700- you can easily acquire at Nordstrom or any other high end fashion store.

Or you can follow the steps of Samantha Jones and buy a knockoff version from the trunk of a van in a sketchy neighborhood.  Yes, “the” Samantha Jones from Sex and the City that got her and her pals thrown out of the Playboy mansion just because she had a fake version of the famous Fendi Baguette.

If you are concerned about the legal consequences of your actions, a new book The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation by co-authors Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman can put you at ease.

Contrary to the copyright paranoia in other industries such as movies, literature, music and such, the fashion industry sees with benevolence when their creations are copied and reproduced at the lower end of the market.

Apparently, a successful fashion design needs to build a “trend” and trends are easily created if a manufacturer can reproduce thousands of similar pieces of clothing, accessories or shoes that the common consumer buy at a cheaper price.

During an interview with NPR Public Radio, Raustiala affirmed that “faster” is the name of the game in fashion.  The fashion cycle is short-lived and needs a little push from friendly knockoffs to move even faster.  For increased consumption and quick turnaround, trends define styles that people love until the “next big thing.”

The authors think the knockoff industry also grows the fashion industry and makes it successful by creating jobs, increasing consumption and stimulating the economy.

But beware, that is the American way. The American apparel industry allows copying without legal consequences.  Fashion is not covered by copyright laws in the United States because the law cannot cover something that has a useful function –covering our bodies or protecting it from the weather–such as clothing.

Other countries protect some fashion items through design patents but standards of originality and uniqueness can be difficult to prove to obtain such patents.

The writers also believe that the last knockoffs’’ beneficiaries are consumers, who enjoy a high design product at a lower price. Copying generates competition in the industry and competition tends to diminish profit margins in favor of a larger market share.

Of course, you should be careful who you mingle with when wearing your copied “found treasure.” Like Samantha Jones, you don’t want to be caught in the act with a fake label and thrown out of any selective circle.

(A version of this article was published on September 2012

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