Knockoffs Defined for the Fashion Industry
Fashion Terms

What are knockoffs?

The term is not as cut & dry as you may think.  In our opinion, there are two distinct categories when discussing this topic.

  • Replicas (illegal knockoffs; Product Produced and Sold by Thieves) – these are most certainly illegal.  Replica clothing, footwear, or accessories are made with the concept of deceiving the consumer into thinking that the product being sold is produced by a particular company or brand.  When in fact the product was not produced by that company or brand.  A good example would be Louis Vuitton handbags.  They are manufactured to look as identical as possible to the originals but are not made of the true high quality, etc.

  • Copycat Designers (potentially illegal knockoffs; but not always against the rules) – many designers are influenced by product they see in magazines, stores, and on the streets.  Some designers will see product and copy it on purpose, but other designers may copy another designers concept in a more accidental manner.  It is possible for designers to copy another designers concept without doing so in a malicious manner.

What is a copycat?

According to the Urban Dictionary a copycat is, “an obnoxious individual who, sickly, gets off on copying, imitating, emulating, simulating or miming the words, gestures and expressions of another individual.” 

What is a copycat fashion designer?

The “copycat designer” may not be as obnoxious as a typical copycat.  However, they most certainly would be annoying to the company that had created the original concept that is being copied. 

An example of copying a fashion concept in an accidental manner can be as follows.  Designer #1 decides that this year the color yellow should be very important.  They design a full collection in Yellow and are the first to show it on the runway.  Designer # 2 enjoys viewing the collection while attending fashion week.  When they return to their office, they instruct one of their illustrators to design a new collection and instructs them to utilize yellow as the primary color.  They quickly produce their collection and ship to several boutiques in New York City and Paris.  Designer # 3 is on a seasonal trip to New York and notices that in a few of her favorite stores she sees various lovely yellow garments (originally designed by Designer # 1 & 2).  Because designer # 3 see so much yellow in the store, they decided they better create merchandise in the same color.

Did Designer # 3 copy the color concept from Designer # 1 who was the first to hit the market with the color???  They may have copied the color, but it was indirectly and not really on purpose or in a malicious manner.

The above concept would hold true if we replaced the word yellow with a particular type of fabric, silhouette, etc. 

On occasion the clothing that we see may trickle into our minds and influence future collections that we as an industry may develop.  A designer may borrow portion of another designers concept, and then embellish it or make other changes to make it a more original masterpiece.  The reality is that a great deal of copycat like designing takes place in the apparel industry.  Some of which is done fairly, and some may push the envelope a bit.

Knockoffs are a tricky concept in regard to fashion.  While knockoffs present obvious challenges to designers, they also play an important role in the overall dissemination and life cycle of trends.  As trends develop they potentially help feed demand for the original designer and often can improve sales for the entire industry. 

Some of your favorite fashion designers are copied, but they have also most likely copied someone else at some point in their career.  We are not saying that they have all done so, but it is a possibility.  It is called “inspiration.”  

Walking through the small show, looking at a dress from Yves Saint Laurent’s famous Mondrian collection (as well as copies of it), and Jeremy Scott’s McDonald’s-themed Moschino collection, I thought, who can say what is truly original? Counterfeits are one thing, as evidenced by shockingly authentic looking copies of Vuitton and Chanel bags that have a demonstrably negative effect on the originals. But there are also gray areas, like those clever Brian Lichtenberg-designed orange “Homies” sweatshirts that parody the Hermès logo.

Coco Chanel has been quoted as saying, “If mine are copied, so much the better. Ideas are made to be communicated.”  In Coco’s days, designers were more protective of their collections than those of today.  Chanel herself banned illustrators from sketching her designs, and Balenciaga and Givenchy banned the press altogether from their shows at times.   In today’s world, it is hard to keep any secrets.  Information about collections are posted on fashion blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

And before the era of instantaneous, online coverage, they did not even have to deal with the concept of “fast fashion,” in which mass retailers are able to produce and sell credible copies of runway fashion often more quickly than the designers themselves.

It is important to note, we at Apparel Search are NOT lawyers.  We are not certain the official rules regarding copyrights, etc.  It is strongly suggested that you do NOT rely on our comments above if you are seeking clarity in regard to the law.  You should consult with an expert on this matter if you are developing your own collection or are facing legal questions on this subject.

What are your thoughts regarding knockoffs in the fashion industry?  Do you think they are a necessary part of the industry or something that should be completely policed in a more serious manner?

You may want to also read the fashion copyrights page for additional information on this topic.

Read more fashion terms here on Apparel Search.  We hope you have been enjoying your reading.

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