From October 2016 to March 2017 the team is joined by Guest Kats Rosie Burbidge and Eibhlin Vardy, and by InternKats Verónica Rodríguez Arguijo, Tian Lu and Hayleigh Bosher.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Fashion, Fast Fashion, and IP

The Devil Wear's Prada film clip
Arts schools are a natural but underused environment to discuss the art in the artistic works of IP.  Yesterday’s CREATe and Goldsmiths-hosted event at Glasgow School of Art, "Fashion as Urban Creative Economy: Start-ups, IP and the Rise of E-Commerce", brought together an eclectic bunch to discuss IP in fashion.  To key IP themes emerged – IP is low on the list of the woes of independent fashion brands, and copying/borrowing/being-inspired-by are common, even sanctioned, in fashion.

Thoughts from designers 
Making your Katonomist feel decidedly like an uncool academic (I really need to get a conductor’s hat), independent fashion designers presented their experiences in setting up their own fashion brands. Finance is a big challenge. Many designers rely on friends and family to support their work, and living cheap (said to be a huge problem in London) is important.  One designer works as a building concierge in exchange for shop space.

The Devil Wear's Prada film clip
In keeping with economic theories of innovation races, the panel of designers felt innovating to stay ahead of competitors is a good strategy. Dynamic duo Basso and Brooke described their experience as early adopters of digital at the start of the 2000s. By the mid-2000s, competitors started to catch up.  To compete, the pair created innovative "embellished prints," which combine digital printing with embroidery and beadwork.  Marte Hentschel of Source Book noted, “If there’s a copy, change immediately and try to stay ahead… It’s just part of the game for us, sadly.”

Thoughts from academics 
Fashion’s ‘piracy paradox,’ (covered previously here and here) suggests fashion relies on copying to encourage its deliberately cyclical (planned obsolescence) nature to create demand for newer fashions. To mark these cycles, the industry collectively decides, via colour organisations, a seasonal palette. It’s a bit like a standards setting organisation, and allows for colours to date.  (For fans of The Devil Wears Prada, think the cerulean blue sweater scene.) However, this dynamic may be changing. According to Dan Strutt, ‘fast fashion’, defined as the process by which, “designs move from catwalk quickly in order to capture current fashion trends” (think H&M and Zara), leads not only to faster fashion catwalk-to-street cycles, but also to shorter colour runs (how long a factory produces a particular colour).  Could fast fashion become frenetic fashion?

Dan also looked at the professionalization of fashion blogging. Bloggers now offer public relations packages – combing text, street photos, blog, Instagram and tweets – to fashion brands.  [Merpel is an anxiously awaiting the moment when she can be paid to promote Trade Mark. That will be £5,000, thank you.]

Life isn't perfect, but your outfit can be
By Nabokov at English Wikipedia
IP is a low priority for independent fashion designers. With trends and fashion cycles running in months, rather than years, slowing down to pursue infringement, when finance and getting-stuff-done dominate, isn’t a priority.  Like most creative industries, fashion is fairly informal and the legalistic nature of IP can be off-putting. Social norms dictate when copying is desirable or unacceptable; it can be a fine line. It's not always large-designer-on-small-designer copying, but also small-designer-on-small-designer. Enforcement mechanisms vary, but peer pressure, shaming on social media and legal actions are common.

A key theme, and one that is not unique to fashion, is the general precarity of fashion start-ups.  Uncertainty and the high costs of living in cities like London, make translating innovation and creativity into sustainable businesses is hard. There was also discussion of a possible fashion e-commerce bubble. Many giants such Zalando, Yoox, Asos and Net-a-porter have only recently begun to turn profits, yet have questionably high market values.

The story doesn't end here. Efforts by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and the on-going cheerleading copyright battle between market leader Varsity and Star Athletica (covered here by the 1709 blog), may lead to an expansion of IP rights in fashion.  From yesterday's discussion, it's unclear how this would help independent designers.  In the meantime, I'm enjoying my snorkel blue jumper.  

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