Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Knock-offs Are Bad for the Soul

Yesterday I posted another in a very long series of "Imitation = Flattery?" where I expose what I feel to be shoes that have crossed over from the trend inspiration realm and go way more into the blatent ripping off of another company's designs.

I wanted to clarify why I detest this practice so much and what I feel is really so wrong about buying these shoes and supporting the companies who engage in this regularly (*cough cough Steve Madden cough cough*).

To me it comes right down to theft.

Many would argue that the practice of knocking-off is no where near as egregious as is the explosion of counterfeiting going on the shoe world today (BTW - check out Michelle's new resource site: but I saw that it is.

These companies are stealing ideas aka Intellectual Property Theft.

I work in an industry where we are hired to generate ideas and to create concepts, so to me intellectual property theft is a huge issue. Essentially, someone has the audacity to come in, take advantage of the hard work, creativity and innovation we have worked hard to create and just slightly tweak it to serve there ends. When this happens, customers become confused, the original message is diluted and the value we created is minimized.

This is true for large marketing campaigns, but it is true for fashion and shoes as well.

Yes, as a consumer, it is very tempting to see a designer shoe that you fall in love with and realize that it is out of your price range. It can be very tempting when you find a very similar copy to want to buy the less expensive piece to get the same look.

But if you love the original you shouldn't and I'll tell you why.

Because every time you do that, you are helping to put the original designer out of business.

The innovation and creativity is not coming from the company doing the "inspired by" piece. They are not investing time and money to create new looks, to do research and hire experienced talented individuals. How can the first company continue to do business when they outlay all the costs and then get undercut in the end?

Sadly, it is still very difficult, not to mention expensive, for companies to prosecute against the fakes although they are trying to fight back. It doesn't help that there are laws in some countries that do a poor job of protecting original designs. Our favorite Despotic Queen of Shoes, ImeldaMatt, worked on an expose into Australia's high street rip-offs (make sure to see the original post and the Camilla Skovgaard post that started it):

I have to agree with Wendy Brandes, a designer herself, who made the following comment on an earlier post:

"No one has an inalienable right to wear designer looks. There were no fast fashion runway knockoffs back in the '80s and '90s when I couldn't afford designer clothes (excluding ABS). We wore other things! Put together our own non-designer outfits! It would be nice if the H&Ms and Forever21s came up with their own looks, but then how would they churn out product at such a fast clip? The inspiration well runs dry pretty fast."

I think fashion and good design can come at all price points. I've said many times that I don't care what the pedigree or cost is for a particular shoe - if it's cute I'll get it. I also like to spend my money on unique original ideas. I want to support that no matter where it comes from. That's why I typically don't buy "plain" shoes. What I want is for these companies to spend their time thinking up ideas at price points all along the range.

But if consumers keep buying the fakes, they won't. And if we keep buying the fakes and knock-offs we are going to limit the amount of great designs put out there for us to get excited about.

And that should make us very sad indeed.


Birdie! said...

If anything, knockoffs make the real thing so much more valuable. It's like finding gold in a sea of trash.

Jonesy said...

While I'm not in support of exact copies of designer shoes, I have to disagree on a couple points. First, I don't know of any copies that actually put a designer out of business. Fashion is fast and these shoes come and go quickly. If someone can't afford to buy the designer pair, they don't buy it at all, which doesn't support the business of the designer either. If someone can *truly* afford it, they aren't going to buy the knockoff just because it's way cheaper. The customer base for these companies are completely different, especially when a designer shoe can be 10x the cost of a knockoff. Not to mention, people buy designer shoes for the brand name, status and quality they hope to receive for the high price they are paying, separate from the actual look of the shoe.

Also, knockoffs are nothing new, as one of the commenters suggested. It's been going on ever since apparel has been made for the mass market (this NYTimes article "O.K., Knockoffs, This Is War" from 2006 talks about that). It's just more visible now that we have the internet. I remember shoes like Keds and Reeboks being knocked off in the 80s and it's happened to Crocs, Puma, Adidas and plenty of other lower-priced shoes as well. I don't think people should overly glorify the designs of expensive designer shoes. Not all of their ideas are completely original and they often get inspiration from what's around them as much as anyone else.

The article also makes a point of how people buy generic Raisin Bran in the store and it doesn't put Raisin Bran out of business - there's room for both.

And then you start thinking about the imitation (both subtle and outright) that you see in virtually every facet of life - cars, iPods, movies, books, food, drinks, music, websites, that girl who stole your look in high school - and you realize that imitation isn't just flattery - it's human nature. So, I'm not sure if it can ever be contained. How would it? When it comes to design, people can always technically and legally work around regulations, even if there were some put in place.

Michelle said...

I have a question, Poochie, and though I'm sure it'll come out wrong I don't mean it in a snotty or accusing way - but how do you justify buying things from Anthropologie? After all, they're notorious for stealing ideas/copying things from independent designers (along with Urban Outfitters, and they're both owned by the same person), who arguably need the money quite a bit more than the huge names.

Personally, as someone who's recently been screwed over by counterfeits, I don't find knock-offs as bad - at least you KNOW you're buying Steve Madden and not McQueen or Prada or whatever. As opposed to finding out you spent $75 on a pair of shoes that are constructed like $25 shoes and then not being able to get your money back. /sigh

Princess Poochie said...


No problem. I know UO has a real rep for knocking off and I have never really shopped there. I do know that UO and Anthro are owned by the same company. I don't know as much about them copying or knocking off smaller companies. I try to keep my eye out there as much as I can so I can recognize the original versus a mass merchandiser copy. I have to admit I know more about shoes than clothes. I would much prefer to buy from the original creator if I can and I know about it.

I think that's a part of why I like doing this series. It puts the information out there as you are doing with the fakes. We all can't see and research everything ourselves so I know I rely on the work other bloggers do to help inform my purchasing decisions.

josephine said...

hi, I've only just discovered your blog, and I am really enjoying all the posts on this topic - it's a tough one for sure. To add my two cents, I spent my final design project of university this year researching a lot of sociology behind the fashion industry, identity in fashion and fashion retail, and unfortunately Birdie, the research I did disagrees with you. Copies always dilute the original idea - they make the original less powerful, it severs the link between original designer and consumer and doesn't allow the designer to convey the message that they initially intended as powerfully. And from a consumer's perspective, it's no fun having the original pair of, let's say McQueen's, if the girl walking down the street next to you, has the $200 Wittner pair on and you can't tell the difference. You have paid money for an original idea and that is taken away from you.

In terms of intellectual property, in fashion there is some hope and I think we should be holding onto that as much as possible. There are many other design professions where IP is practially impossible to police (my profession of Interior Design particularly). Design becomes a part of your life, and the designs you create are a part of your soul (apologies for the mush), and it is gut wrenching to have someone outright copy your idea when you have put in hundreds of hours, and late nights and stiff necks (designers who sketch will know what i'm talking about!) to reach that final outcome.

I also think that it is degrading the talent of the "designers" who are working for these high street brands - I'm sure they have far more to offer than copies of others' work, and wouldn't it be so much more exciting if we had so many more styles to choose from. This is all coming from someone who can't afford designer shoes, I never have been, but that is OK with me - I would much prefer to admire them from afar until such time as I have the money to invest in an amazing piece of art, as these original shoes so rightly are.

Claire said...

Great post. One of the subcultures I have a foot in has a discussion about knockoffs regularly, and the big question that comes up there is "what about those who can afford the original, but aren't being catered to sizewise?" - people feel that sizeism within the fashion industry sort of balances out the moral scales when it comes to buying knockoffs. Do you agree, or not?

I'm on the fence on that, to be honest. I would hate being knocked off or being asked to create knock off images, but I can sympathise with the plight of the ignored customer.

Pearl Westwood said...

This is a fantastic post! I have to agree with Joshephine that all the knock offs and fakes just take the special away from the original. Not to mention the designers who put their soul into creating original designs. I rant about this on my blog alot mainy over Chanel fakes but the shoe thing is really starting to get to me. Fine having 'influenced' high street version but direct knockoffs and fakes are just not acceptable.
Claire raised a great point Ive never even considered, but yeah thats something to think about!

Chris said...

Fakes are damaging businesses. Simply do a search on ebay for anything branded and there are tons of fake cheap tat that is taking business away from established brands!

We sell Kipling bags and even they are being replicated!