Too Big To Care
Updated: Jul 11, 2021
Fast fashion companies are notorious for stealing designs, but can they really be stopped?
Recently, fast fashion group Boohoo PLC came under fire for allegedly stealing Kai Collective’s “Gaia” print, renaming it “Marble” and selling it in an array of shirts, skirts, and dresses on the Boohoo site. Kai Collective has since sent Boohoo a cease and desist letter, demanding £30,000 in damages and legal fees, according to documents leaked by The Fashion Law. Should Boohoo refuse to comply with CEO Fisayo Longe’s demands, Kai Collective will file suit.
This isn’t the first time a fast fashion brand has been accused of copyright infringement and pilfering a lesser-known designer’s intellectual property. However, fast fashion companies are rarely held accountable for their blatantly illegal actions, seldom acknowledging the suits brought against them, and outright ignoring the terms of cease and desist letters, often refusing to remove the allegedly-stolen designs from their websites. So, why is it that fast fashion brands continue to lift copyrighted designs? And, more importantly, how do they get away with this time and again?
In short, fast fashion companies are too big to care.
First off, how severe is a copyright infringement allegation? Though it is a serious charge in terms of business ethics, copyright infringement actually carries with it underwhelmingly lenient penalties. According to US Law, those found guilty of copyright infringement will be forced to a pay a fine, between $200 and $150,000, per each work that is infringed, as well as the legal fees of the opposing party. And, unless a copyright infringement case is considered criminal, there is no potential prison sentence for the offender, nor is there a probationary period or threat of shutdown for the company at fault.
For a group like Boohoo, a publicly-traded company with a market cap of £4.3 billion and £857 million in revenue, a fine of $150,000 is just a drop in the bucket.
For Boohoo, it is cheaper to steal another designer’s work than to commission their own for a collection. This is the nature of the incredibly unique and much-hated fast fashion business model. Companies like Boohoo are built on production, price point, and presence. Essentially, fast fashion labels thrive on their quantity of merchandise, cheaper price point, and massive social media following.
As such, not only is Boohoo’s copycat “Marble” print available in more styles and colorways than Kai Collective’s “Gaia,” but it is also more cost-effective for the average consumer—Kai Collective’s “Gaia” apparel retails between £67 and £130, while Boohoo’s “Marble” apparel retails between $8 and $16. Furthermore, while Boohoo boasts an impressive 32.2 million followers across its group’s platforms, Kai Collective only has 64.3k. As a result, not only are Boohoo’s “Marble” designs more recognizable, but they are also more accessible than those of Kai Collective.
Thus, whether Boohoo pays the £30,000 being demanded, or is found guilty of copyright infringement and forced to pay the maximum $150,000 fine, the fast fashion giant will come out on top. In fact, Boohoo will likely make more money from selling its counterfeit “Marble” design than it is forced to pay for stealing it.
This lack of consequence is why Boohoo and other fast fashion brands continue their illicit practices. In order to curb this rampant problem, there must be stricter copyright infringement penalties in place to ward off poachers. Without legal reform, fast fashion will continue to profit off the intellectual property of smaller designers who are ill-equipped to take on behemoths like Boohoo, Inditex (Zara), and H&M.
Ultimately, without harsher laws, smaller brands and lesser-known designers will struggle to protect their work, and fast fashion companies will remain unaffected, unrepentant, and too big to care.