Handbags and Brawn

Following last week's Handbags at Dawn, a conference on IP in the Fashion Industry,  (covered by Jeremy here, here and here), this Kat has been pondering a key theme in IP and sectors like fashion - big versus small.  As Dids MacDonald put it, it's the struggle between David and Goliath.  In fashion, this presents itself as small and medium enterprises versus large, and as social media versus large firms.

At the event, we discussed Tatty Devine/Claire's, Rachel Taylor/M&S, Wendy Brandes/Topshop and other cases. In these cases, small, independent firms had designs that were substantially copied by larger retailers. Cue outrage as designers balk at such copying. As this paper notes, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. Researcher Tedmond Wong, in his recent paper, puts it like this,
Horrified to be caught in last season's colours
"To complicate the situation further, it appears that fast-fashion firms do not target luxury designers that have great brand recognition, but prefer budding or mid-range designers that lack the clout of luxury designers in the marketplace. As these budding designers’ pieces often do not exhibit complex tailoring, use exotic fabrics, or incorporate the identifiers of a luxury brand, trademark law does not provide a potential legal  remedy. Consequently, these designers are particularly vulnerable to copying and can conceivably have their  profits eroded by copiers who bring exceedingly similar, if not identical, designs so rapidly to the marketplace."

Another theme was the use of social media as a defence against copying.  In the cases above, the small designers, or their fans, mobilised large numbers of consumers to campaign, using social media, against the larger firms.  In most cases, this resulted in a swift response by the larger player to remove the designs from sale.  This is also a cost-effective strategy for the smaller designer.

This Kat recognises that big versus small is an important theme in IP, but the situation is not black and white.  Small versus big will likely get very interesting once 3-D printing becomes sufficiently cost efficient. (Fashionable Kats may be interested to check out this online 3-D printing shop.)  She also likes the mix of metaphors this tension alludes to: David and Goliath, standing on the shoulders of giants, big versus small, the power of many and the underdog (not Kat-friendly). Copying is the new black?  Or perhaps it's all just shades of gray.
Handbags and Brawn Handbags and Brawn Reviewed by Nicola Searle on Monday, October 01, 2012 Rating: 5

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In the book The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation , by prof. Raustiala and Springmann, they say that freedom to copy actually promotes creativity. “High fashion gave rise to the very term ‘knockoff’ yet the freedom to imitate great designs only makes the fashion cycle run faster--and forces the fashion industry to be even more creative.” It´s a good read, but what's the catch?

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