Are You Wearing Knockoffs?

When we think of knockoffs in fashion, we typically think of the cheap imitations of luxury brands such as Chanel and Gucci, which can often be found in the back alleys of major metropolitan centers. But the practice of copying designs is much more pervasive than you think. Peek behind the curtains of fashion production rooms and you’ll find that many — if not most — designers are ripping off designs in some way. 

And it’s not just the companies you’d expect, either. We all know that fast fashion brands are quick to mimic the latest looks. Just check out this collection from Zara, for example. It’s essentially a rip off of avant-garde designers such as Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto, and Maurizio Altieri (for those keeping track, this is the fifth mention of Rick Owens at Put This On). Companies like Zara have built business empires by copying runway looks and offering them at more affordable prices to the high street consumer. 

No, the fast fashion stuff is obvious, but copying happens elsewhere as well – even among “top designers.” Maison Martin Margiela’s German Army Trainers and Common Projects’ white Achilles Lows, for example, are essentially rip offs of earlier designs by other companies (albeit with ever-so-slight modifications). Then, of course, there are all the rip offs of Common Projects’ work. Nigel Cabourn also often mixes and matches things he sees in vintage pieces, but sometimes, things are pretty straightforward reproductions. Speaking of reproductions, many of those niche Japanese labels many of us covet (e.g. Buzz Rickson, The Real McCoys, Toys McCoys) are just reproducing vintage garments they’ve found at flea markets

Free Culture and Innovation

Johanna Blakely, who serves as a Deputy Director at a media-focused think tank at USC, gave what I think is one of the best talks on this issue at TED. In a nutshell, her argument is: fashion’s free-for-all culture drives trends, which in turn, pushes innovation. In other words, fashion evolves like this: one company introduces a risky, but good design, and when it proves successful in the market, other high-end designers copy it. This creates a trend. Eventually, the trend becomes safe enough for mass-market fashion retailers to copy (since they have to wait until they can move millions, not just dozens, of units). These retailers milk it for all its worth, and when high-street consumers start wearing the style, early-adopters move on to other things (perhaps out of snobbishness, or just not wanting to pay top dollar to look like everyone else). This gives those earlier experimental brands an incentive to innovate. As Blakely puts it, without this free-for-all copying culture, the world of fashion would be much less vibrant. 

Naturally, the argument is not without its opponents. This week, The New York Times hosted a discussion on intellectual property rights in fashion, and a few writers argued that the industry needs much stronger protections. Admittedly, I wasn’t terribly convinced by their arguments, but one good point they did touch on is that, when a big brand rips off a smaller company, it can be a devastating blow to a young designer, who can’t afford to have the wind taken out of his or her sails. Those “hot trend” moments can make or break their career. 

Of course, there are also the ethics surrounding intellectual property, which is a separate (and perhaps thornier) issue. One thing is for sure, however — we as fashion consumers can avoid the kind of knockoffs with fake luxury labels (the kind sold in those downtown alleys), but it’s almost impossible to not wear something that has stolen a bit of design from somewhere else. When Oprah asked Ralph Lauren in 2011 how he’s been able to keep designing for so many years, he answered: “You copy. Forty-five years of copying; that’s why I’m here.”

Technology and Fashion
One of the things that interest me about men’s clothing is not just the clothes themselves, but also the business of fashion - how things are produced, marketed, and even sold. In 2013, there were a couple of interesting stories about how developments in technology might affect the way we interact with and buy clothes.
Online Fitting: Our friend Jeffery Diduch had a post last year about developments that could improve our online shopping experience. The biggest difficulty with online shopping, obviously, is the inability to try things on before you buy, which is why it’s helpful to do business with stores with generous return policies. Companies are coming up with innovative ways to reduce that return-rate, however. True Fit, for example, is creating a database of garment measurements across companies, so that if you’re shopping at, say, Ralph Lauren, you can get a suggestion on which suit you should buy if you already know that the Brooks Brothers suit you have in your closet fits you well. You can already see how this works at places such as Nordstrom. 
The Store is Everywhere: There were a couple of stories last year about potential smart phone developments that would allow people to take pictures of others on the street, and then be able to identify exactly where they can buy the clothes and accessories they saw. This would essentially make the entire world a store where you can instantly purchase almost anything you see. Business of Fashion - a fashion industry trade publication - had some interesting thoughts on what this could mean for traditional retail.
Science Fiction: There were also some more futuristic predictions. Ray Kurzweil predicted that we’ll start to see 3D printing for clothes by 2020 (surprisingly not that far away) and Business of Fashion wrote about how the emerging field of “digital biology” - which enables biologists to not just read, but also write genetic code - could allow companies to design “synthetic life” materials. This could allow us to “grow” things such as self-repairing, self-cleaning garments, or create garments that can reproduce themselves and receive “updates” (new colors, patterns, etc), much like how software updates on our computers. 
Of course, many of the advancements in technology will affect fashion in ways we won’t immediately see or realize. Increasing computing power and the digitization of data has allowed companies such as Zara to react faster to consumer trends, and as companies grow in their ability to marshal "big data," we’ll likely see fast fashion get even faster (a speeding up of trends and a continuing drop in prices). For better or worse, the idea that men’s style moves at a glacial pace might not always hold true. 
(Pictured above: an early prototype of "body scanning" pods used for custom tailoring. This contraption was made in the 1940s)

Technology and Fashion

One of the things that interest me about men’s clothing is not just the clothes themselves, but also the business of fashion - how things are produced, marketed, and even sold. In 2013, there were a couple of interesting stories about how developments in technology might affect the way we interact with and buy clothes.

  • Online Fitting: Our friend Jeffery Diduch had a post last year about developments that could improve our online shopping experience. The biggest difficulty with online shopping, obviously, is the inability to try things on before you buy, which is why it’s helpful to do business with stores with generous return policies. Companies are coming up with innovative ways to reduce that return-rate, however. True Fit, for example, is creating a database of garment measurements across companies, so that if you’re shopping at, say, Ralph Lauren, you can get a suggestion on which suit you should buy if you already know that the Brooks Brothers suit you have in your closet fits you well. You can already see how this works at places such as Nordstrom
  • The Store is Everywhere: There were a couple of stories last year about potential smart phone developments that would allow people to take pictures of others on the street, and then be able to identify exactly where they can buy the clothes and accessories they saw. This would essentially make the entire world a store where you can instantly purchase almost anything you see. Business of Fashion - a fashion industry trade publication - had some interesting thoughts on what this could mean for traditional retail.
  • Science Fiction: There were also some more futuristic predictions. Ray Kurzweil predicted that we’ll start to see 3D printing for clothes by 2020 (surprisingly not that far away) and Business of Fashion wrote about how the emerging field of “digital biology” - which enables biologists to not just read, but also write genetic code - could allow companies to design “synthetic life” materials. This could allow us to “grow” things such as self-repairing, self-cleaning garments, or create garments that can reproduce themselves and receive “updates” (new colors, patterns, etc), much like how software updates on our computers. 

Of course, many of the advancements in technology will affect fashion in ways we won’t immediately see or realize. Increasing computing power and the digitization of data has allowed companies such as Zara to react faster to consumer trends, and as companies grow in their ability to marshal "big data," we’ll likely see fast fashion get even faster (a speeding up of trends and a continuing drop in prices). For better or worse, the idea that men’s style moves at a glacial pace might not always hold true. 

(Pictured above: an early prototype of "body scanning" pods used for custom tailoring. This contraption was made in the 1940s)