How Zara & Other Fast Fashion Brands Get Away With Copying Designers’ Work

By Mikelle Leow, 07 Mar 2018

Composite image by DesignTAXI. Left image via Zara, right image via Adidas, logos via Wikimedia Commons

You’ve probably read about this scenario on a regular basis: a brand accuses a mass retailer—for the umpteenth time—of copying its work. In spite of the endless lawsuits filed against the latter, it continues to deliver “inspired” derivatives from high-end and indie designers.

Zara and Forever 21 are just two culprits from the fast fashion business who are frequently reproached for “ripping off” creative ideas. The fact that this is a perpetual game might confound many, so Business Insider has sought to confirm why it keeps happening.

Christiane Campbell, partner at Duane Morris law firm, told Business Insider that fashion isn’t as protected as most creative works because fashion products are functional, and thus cannot be safeguarded by law.

“To be protectable by copyright, an item cannot be functional… the argument has always been that fashion is not protectable.”

Of course, there are remedies to defend fashion ideas, but Campbell warned that they can be taxing and expensive.

Companies can apply for trademarks—such as adidas’ iconic three-stripes design—and design patents, to gain legal leverage over potential copycats. However, it’s important to note that these filings are often geographically specific, so a brand from another continent might still be able to use your design.



Another reason fast fashion stores seem to be able to skirt the law with alleged dupes is because of how quickly their collections come and go.

Campbell pointed out that the painstaking process of suing mass retailers might take even longer than the duration of which knockoffs stay on shelves. Hence, these brands “tend to be pretty risk-tolerant.”

[via Business Insider, images via various sources]
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