The Problem of Creative Appropriation in Fashion

Susan FangEmerging label Susan Fang

There are many reasons why being a relatively new and undiscovered label is a tough call in the fashion industry today. Helping to broaden the exposure that emerging fashion designers can achieve without big marketing budgets behind them has been a major motivation in establishing The Glass Pineapple. Large swathes of the fashion industry are not particularly friendly to new names. There are pioneering organisations like Fashion Scout and PRs like POP and Dyelog that do a great job in generating attention. But the big brands are still dominant – whether that’s the big fashion brands like Gucci or the big high street stores like H&M.

Amesh

Emerging label Amesh

Why do we need to encourage new design talent?

Providing coverage of emerging designers and also increasing the number of platforms available for sales gives fresh talent a chance to reach a new audience. It’s a win=win situation – fashion consumers find new labels to love, often discovering at the same time that great craftsmanship, innovative design and individual pieces actually don’t have to cost the earth. And those new labels find an audience so that they can get on their feet financially and start to thrive.

Katie Ann McGuigan

Emerging designer Katie Ann McGuigan

Fresh competition means existing brands realise they need to do better to capture consumers. New labels disrupt established fashion failings, such as the use of fur or unethical practices – it’s often those who are very new to fashion who are challenging the established ideals where the big names are too comfortable to do so. Plus, new names in fashion bring diversity, adding richness and depth, and helping fashion to avoid fusing into a single generic ideal.

The dangers for emerging labels of a lack of spotlight

Leaf Xia

Emerging designer Leaf Xia

There are financial risks and personal risks for new labels – just like any other new business – but there is also a greater risk for fashion creatives: having your ideas stolen. The effort, blood, sweat and tears that goes into producing a collection is brutal. It’s tougher still if you’re without much funding to cover manufacturing minimums or marketing and constantly begging favors just to get to the finish line. Perhaps producing a collection is the sartorial equivalent of giving birth. So, to then see your baby on someone else’s catwalk six months later – only being shown to a far bigger audience – that’s pretty devastating.

Rhys Ellis

Emerging designer Rhys Ellis

This is a big (and largely unacknowledged) problem for new talent – the appropriating of creativity by larger labels who have a much bigger platform and the size and influence to simply overshadow the smaller label. This is where people normally roll out the old sayings like “there’s no property in an idea” or talk about how difficult it is to really accuse someone of copying your designs because they could just be similar. But we have been contacted now by a number of labels who feel their designs have been borrowed in this way. Of course it’s impossible to establish whether there has actually been any wrongdoing but sometimes it’s difficult not to see the similarities.

Oscar de la Renta vs Cimone

Cimone

So, what needs to change?

Sometimes in the creative world you just have to take it on the chin when someone copies you. At The Glass Pineapple, people take our photos all the time, passing them off as their own on Instagram. It grates, it really does. Not just because of the blood sweat and tears that have gone in to setting up the photo or getting access to the backstage area or the time spent finding a new designer to talk about – but also because the photographer is never credited for their work by the image thief. Without a big legal team behind us we are often forced to let it go – but not always.

Boo Pala

Emerging designer Boo Pala

For an emerging designer though the impact is different, potentially crushing. Individuality of aesthetic is such an important part of breaking through – and who would assume that a smaller label came up with the idea first when only a handful of people saw the original collection. It doesn’t have to be this way. If the big fashion press gave more of a platform to new designers there would be less opportunityy for established names to borrow designs – the similarities would be too easy to spot.

EDDA

Emerging designer EDDA

And if more people were happy to blog about a brand because of a genuine interest in new fashion and not only where there was a cash reward or a freebie on offer we’d have a much more supportive environment for new brands with enormous talent but without the resources to buy coverage.

Regina Pyo

British Emerging Talent – Womenswear nominee Rejina Pyo (already stocked at Browns, Net a Porter, FarFetch, MyTheresa, Harvey Nichols)

But most of the change really needs to come from the heart of the industry. Fashion really is not a welcome place for new designers. The “emerging talents” on the British Fashion Awards shortlist this year for example are mostly already on the London Fashion Week schedule. Several are already stocked in big department or online stores. They already have more than a foot in the door. They’re awesome but not truly emerging. It’s the stage before that where the change is really necessary – not the odd scholarship or prize but a financially supported way of enabling new talent to gain some foothold.

Malan Breton

Emerging designer Malan Breton

In any industry there’s always an element of those higher up wanting to preserve the hierarchy that keeps them up there but, from a consumer perspective, enabling new talent can only be beneficial. More choice, more diversity, more cultures represented, more alternatives to the status quo – and the competition presented by a much bigger new generation could unleash fresh creativity and innovation in big labels that aren’t currently really doing anything exciting.

There’s much more interest in new designers now than there has ever been so perhaps change is afoot. And maybe 2018 is the year for it.

By Alex Pett