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Is Forever 21 the fashion industry’s Napster?

Bottom row: Trovata originals. Top row: Forever 21 knockoffs.

So I think we all realize that disposable-fashion stores like Forever 21 are not able to have such a blindingly fast-changing lineup of stuff (they change out the inventory every few weeks) not because they gave infinite monkeys infinite muslin and are manufacturing the best of the results. Neither is it because they’ve got the world’s best designers locked in a basement somewhere churning out hundreds of new patterns a day.

Nope, they pretty openly watch the catwalks during fashion weeks, then turn around a $30 version of that Rodarte dress in six weeks or fewer, often before the original design has gone into mass production.

Forever 21 in particular has become notorious for ripping off designs; they’ve been sued by over 50 designers in the past few years with little success. Now Trovata, a clothing line based in Newport Beach, CA, which, if you look at the picture above, obviously got copied by Forever 21, thinks it’s found a way to beat the company in the legal system. From WWD:

After two years of legal wrangling, Trovata’s lawsuit alleging that cheap-chic retailer Forever 21 copied its designs is headed to trial next month, and the outcome could have implications for both vendors and retailers in this age of fast fashion.

Barring a last-minute settlement, lawyers familiar with Forever 21’s extensive litigation history said this would be the first time the rapidly expanding retailer faces a jury that will determine whether it illegally clones other companies’ designs. The result could be a clarification of intellectual property rights in an era when facsimiles of runway looks often appear in multinational specialty chains before a designer’s original version has a chance to hit stores.

The federal court case involves seven garments Forever 21 sold in its stores in 2007, said to look identical, or almost identical, to garments designed by Trovata and publicized on the runway or in magazines.

Unlike other suits brought against Forever 21 in recent years by companies such as Diane von Furstenberg, Anna Sui, BeBe Stores and Anthropologie, the Trovata suit does not allege copyright violations. Under current law, only original prints or graphics on clothes can be copyrighted — as they are considered artwork — and Trovata’s suit focuses on Forever 21’s copying of its unique button placements, decorative stitching, fabric patterns and other details.

Some examples of designs that were the focus of lawsuits:

Betsey Johnson’s textile designer Carole Hochman vs. Forever 21 over the Marilyn Monrose print

Anna Sui, $200, vs. Forever 21, $16

Diane von Fursenberg’s Cerisier dress, $325, vs. Forever 21’s Sabrina Dress, $32.80

I was interested, though, in how these lawsuits kiiiind of resemble the RIAA file-sharing lawsuits from way back when: Millionaires freaking out over no longer being the sole price-setter of their product.

It seems that there’s a similar problem in place: on the one hand, you’ve got the legit beef of (Metallica/Diane von Furstenberg): they work hard to produce a new and original product and should be paid accordingly. On the other hand, you’ve got the masses of broke-ass young people that want (Metallica CDs/Diane von Furstenberg slipdresses) saying “…wait, you people seriously think I can afford to pay ($20 for St. Anger/$325 for a slipdress)? I could get this (for free on bittorrent/for $30 at Forever 21) with minimal effort. Why should I feel bad about this when you clearly don’t feel bad about pricing your merchandise out of the reach of 95% of people?”

And besides, I find it kind of funny to watch. After years of building and stoking this never-to-be-consummated desire for designer clothes in women who can’t afford them, after decades of “Check out this bargain $85 t-shirt!” articles in fashion magazines, after centuries of fashion’s main purpose being to make it clear who’s upper-class and who isn’t, after four-score and seven years of high-fashion designers getting “inspired” by and making thousand-dollar ripoffs of street fashion and vintage stuff by anonymous designers, now that two Korean immigrants figured out a loophole they (at the moment) can legally exploit to reverse the process and let all the proles be “inspired” by Diane von Furstenberg, it’s kind of fun to watch all these designers FREAKING THE HELL OUT!

Then again, Forever 21 makes terrible-quality clothes witha lifespan of about a year, and has not so great a history with labor practices.

What do you think? Is Forever 21 a den of thieves, or is it Robin Hood?

WWD via The Cut

PS: WTF, they even had a bootleg Minor Threat shirt? Can’t get behind that.


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MEE KUH  says:

LOVING THE TEE. WHEN A TEE IS ADDED LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT ITS KINDA SHOWS ITS SELVE AND LEGT ITS SELVE TALK FOR ITS SELVE.

Apr 14 2:40 AM

Erica  says:

For the sake of playing devil’s advocate, I’ll offer this — Forever 21 offers affordable, arguably stylish clothes for inexpensive prices. Since styles are constantly changing, maybe it makes more sense to buy the cheap knock-off that you won’t want to wear in a year anyway?

I’m not sure I subscribe to that, but I can see how that argument is logical.

Apr 14 10:45 AM

Emily G  says:

Yeah, it’s basically the only model that makes sense for someone who wants to keep her wardrobe current with fashion but is not independently wealthy.

…hehehehe, I can’t believe I’m referring to Forever 21 as a viable way to look like you own expensive clothes. Cuz while they occasionally will have a stitch for stitch replica of a designer dress, you will have to sort through 200 articles of clothing designed by aging strippers to find it.

Apr 14 10:55 AM

J Murphy  says:

Perhaps these “high-fashion” designers/companies should follow what other clothing and accessory companies have been doing for years, namely creating and selling (through stores like Forever 21) their own “knock-offs” so as to capture both the high-end consumers and the cheaper sales.

Also, Emily G, I take offense to your deprecating comments about aging strippers… everybody deserves the right to look trashy

Apr 14 12:31 PM

Onec  says:

Forever 21 is trash! Stealing other designs and passing it on as your own is illegal. I hope Forever 21 gets the book thrown at them and have to pay a hefty fine. Why should companies such as bebe, Gwen Stefani, Furtsenburg, etc spend all that moneies to create something hot only to have it trashed by Forever 21?

Jul 2 7:40 PM

H&M to stop slashing clothes | PW Style | A blog about style, fashion, beauty, arts and culture by Philadelphia Weekly  says:

[...] Unless Rodarte’s latest spring/summer collection was on the radar enough to get bootlegged… [...]

Jan 7 12:48 PM

Forever 33 « The Selfish Seamstress  says:

[...] Forever 21! Granted, F21 puts out some cute stuff (and why shouldn’t they considering that they themselves are knockoff experts?) but I don’t think of them as my go-to place for chic office separates. They’re out of [...]

Jan 27 11:03 AM

Lily Bart  says:

You can see why this is such a legal minefield… are there every any original designs anyway? I mean those Trovata designs are hardly reinventing the wheel! A rugby jumper?? A white cotton top with a little print on it??? I’m sure if you tried hard enough you can find 9283432 other companies over the years that have made essentially identical garments purely by accident! Arguably no designers in the last 20 years have actually designed anything purely “original”.

I’m not even convinced that Diane von Furstenberg, for example, would even be harmed by the knock-offs, since very few of her customers actually shop at Forever 21!

Jan 27 6:03 PM

Joni  says:

The fact of the mater is, the people who buy things at forever 21 are not the people who buy the designer versions. It’s two completely separate markets. Yeah, i can see it sucking if I were a designer and someone ripped off my design, but you’re not gonna see a hotel heiress sorting through the racks at F21.

Jan 27 8:26 PM

Jeanne B  says:

I don’t shop at Forever 21, nor do I buy designer clothes (unless they show up on clearance at Gabriel Brothers or TJ Maxx). But IMHO, judging by the evidence alone, F21 is clearly using designs that are not theirs to use, without getting proper permission first. This amounts to stealing, and despite the philosophy of offering trendy clothes at affordable prices (which is lovely), the practice should be stopped. Artists work very hard to create original things, whether it be songs, garments, books, or designs. Why should someone else benefit from their hard work without giving credit where it is due? Especially if the plagiarized item is on the streets before the original. That’s just insulting to the artist.

Jan 30 6:15 PM

Fashion Designers to Receive Copyright Benefits? | This Blog is Censored  says:

[...] Countless blogs and websites exist to record the stores like Forever 21 that obviously and without shame replicate designer clothes.  You can check a few out here and here. [...]

Oct 6 5:34 AM

Robin Hoodette  says:

lulz, im a cheap bitch. theres no way in hell im paying $325 for some cheap looking dress.
however, im the real robin hood here. i won’t even pay $30 for it. that’s nearly a weeks worth of cigarettes! if i want the dress, fuck it, i’ll just take it. or better yet, take it, return it, and have cigarettes for a week, rather than an ugly dress. :)

Jun 17 1:23 AM

Maribeth Castellion  says:

I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more. Thanks for fantastic info I was looking for this info for my mission.

Oct 29 12:58 AM

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