There’s been much discourse over the years regarding fashion’s struggle against plagiarism, locally and globally. Globally, we’ve witnessed spats and law-suits, such as Louboutin taking YSL to court over a red sole patent; YSL and other brands could use a red sole with a red shoe but Louboutin retained patent rights for the red sole. Young designers and native artisans often rightfully accuse big brands name of stealing from their collections and artwork.
This isn’t a new problem and it isn’t just limited to apparel. Make-up brands have been accused of stealing artwork and/or looks from independent artists, accessories are reproduced, even product packaging can be plagiarized. If you count the cyclic nature of fashion where trends are recycled every few years and reproduced with an “updated” look, it can almost begin to seem like nothing in fashion is original after all.
A recent case of the copy paste fiasco surfaced this month when artist and activist Shehzil Malik called out one of the country’s leading textile brand, Gul Ahmed, for lifting her artwork without any credit, acknowledgement or prior permission. It later emerged that Malik wasn’t the only artist who had been robbed; artwork from various other smaller brands that gelled with Gul Ahmed’s collection were also featured without credit or compensation.
There was social media furor, keyboard warriors taking to the brands Instagram page to express their displeasure and righteous outrage. It was followed by shrugged shoulders in response to Gul Ahmed’s half baked apology (blame on junior designer, condemnation of lax plagiarism and removal of said designs from circulation). Just like the cycle of trends is repeated so are the vaguely worded apologies on behalf of the brands.
Gul Ahmed certainly is the first or the only to be embroiled in such a controversy. Social media and hawk-eyed bloggers have ensured that brands are (if nothing else) publicly shamed and end up recalling the design or belatedly come to a financial settlement with the aggrieved artist.
What has truly aggravated the situation though has been the technological boom. With social media comes greater accessibility to otherwise exclusive resources but also greater accountability because information has been democratized. Fast fashion with its insatiable hunger for the “new” has further exacerbated the situation. The constant demand for new designs, collections going out every week to high-street stores and Instagram have changed the rules of commerce and the struggle to keep up is real and evident.
While design integrity should be important to each individual designer, it does sound like a cop out when brands blame employees instead of taking the hit. It isn’t just design employees who have and are struggling with pitiless pace of fashion, creative directors and lead designers have spoken out against the break-neck speed of fashion seasons.
From Albez Albaz to Raf Simmons, some of the top names in the global fashion fraternity have spoken about creative fatigue, feeling burnt out and not having enough time to focus on or hone ideas. Simmons famously left after a short stint at Dior, citing said fatigue and even spoke about the lack of time, stress and anxiety that producing countless collections each year induces.
Locally, designer Fahad Hussayn shut shop recently citing financial bankruptcy and his brand’s inability to bring the fashion and the business together on a mutually beneficial platform.
If the designers at the top of the food chain are feeling the pressure and feel that the eye-watering salaries they command are not worth the mental, emotional and physical strain that these high-pressure roles require, then we can only imagine how junior designers are faring.
While plagiarism isn’t a new problem, it will be harder to address in the future if the pace of production isn’t altered. The creative burn-out is real (though no excuse for cheating or lifting work) and must be addressed by the brands. Quality clothing rather than quantity clothing needs to once again be the focus of designers rather than staying relevant online or creating a social media buzz.
Fast fashion, as glamorous as it may appear, has consistently revealed a dark underbelly. From issues with child labor to inhumane working conditions and hours, environmental damage and even deaths, it’s been riddled with problems due to a business model that puts profits before human beings. Fashion definitely demands blood, sweat and tears, as does every profession or passion but are real tears and blood worth a pretty shirt?