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The Rise of Copycat Culture & Counterfeit Fashion

Photo: Getty
Copycat culture has reached its peak. Tongue-in-cheek imitations of both established and emerging designers’ key items and logos can now be found for sale all over the internet.

It started with streetwear labels (think back to Comme des Garçons-imitation fonts screaming, “Comme des Fuck Down,” Will Fry’s multi-logo bomber and Pretty Real’s Broschino range) and slowly filtered into high-end – recall Ashish's SS14 Tesco satire, Gerlan Jeans x Cheetos, Bobby Abley x Disney, and Jeremy Scott x McDonalds.

A sensitive subject, these contentious collections were born into a legal grey area, making the brands on the receiving end unsure of whether or how to take action. Oftentimes, as is the case with Vetements' DHL logo, borrowing is totally legal — with companies licensing the use of their own logos to fashion brands for a fee.

Fashion editors either love it, or hate it, and as for the creative directors, if this new way of taking inspiration from another brand's identity is done in the right way, in a way that could be beneficial for them, they embrace it, and quite rightly so. It's a way for them to access a brand new audience, and a much cooler one at that.

Through this new copycat culture, brands are able to grab the Instagram generation’s attention, with social influencers revelling in the fact that they are wearing a juxtaposition of labels, all at the same time.

The trend is showing no signs of slowing in 2016. There’s O-Mighty’s ‘adidas’ jumpsuit, Palace Skateboard’s ‘Palasonic’ knit and Vetements' DHL tee, which sold out in weeks, despite costing £185. Not to mention a site named ‘,’ that’s taking the whole bootleg theme one step further by creating meme-esque styles of the originally copied pieces. The DHL tee for example uses the same colourway and font but reads ‘meme’ instead. So 2016.

What feels new amongst copycat culture is an underground movement where the cool kids are taking charge. Take 17-year-old high school dropout and designer Austin Butts a.k.a. Asspizza as an example. A clothing dealer, he creates his own-brand streetwear pieces using his social media influence and influential acquaintances to pass them on to someone who’s willing to pay over $300 for one item. Big names such as rappers Wiz Khalifa, ILoveMakonnen and Theophilus impressively wear his gifted items on stage, but that's not even the half of it. On the launch of Kanye West’s Pablo merchandise pop-up, Butts took matters into his own hands, selling mock-ups on the streets and even in the queue outside for $20 a pop. Yet instead of getting into trouble for it, Butts was praised. The popup employees loved the idea and, with Kanye’s approval, some of the pieces were even displayed inside the store.
It’s not always fun and games of course. Most recently, in February, Gucci filed a lawsuit against discount designer e-comm site Beyond the Rack for allegedly selling counterfeit bags. Gucci was made aware of the site’s faux-logoed bags in June, when the brand received multiple complaints from shoppers stating that their new double-G-plastered purchases were "inferior quality." And how about the umpteen fake Primark stores that continue to crop up in the Middle East? There are so many of them now that it's impossible to monitor the situation and subsequently shut them down.

There’s such a thin line when it comes to copycat culture and if the ‘copying’ process isn’t done well or in a way that’s either above board or massively ironic, it can get nasty. Chanel sued millennial e-tailer Shop Jeen’s Erin Yogasundram for a whopping $2m after she sold knock-off iPhone covers for $35 back in 2015. Chanel’s reps claimed, “Chanel has suffered irreparable injury and substantial damages, and the Defendants have been unjustly enriched." The exact amount Yogasundram had to pay back wasn’t revealed, however it must have been hefty. She had a genius response though, stating, “The fact that we were even on their radar, it was flattering.” And this is exactly what this trend is about: being able to acquire a new audience that’s on the opposite end of the luxury spectrum, in a cheeky and tantalisingly clever way.

When it comes to this ‘borrowing’ theme, there’s now a sense of mutual acceptance from both sides of the party. It’s been done so much that even designers of the highest calibre take the fact that someone is mirroring their work in their stride. It’s all about recognition. Whether it’s a 17-year-old social media star or Karl Lagerfeld, taking the time and effort to ‘copy’ is a complimentary nod to the other brand’s wealth of influence.

The movement is bridging the gap between the catwalk and the street. And if this recent wave of copycat culture is anything to go by, the bootleg trend is here to stay. Especially if creative directors continue to be flattered by the idea of younger, hipper brands echoing their identity, enabling them to be exposed to an otherwise difficult market to target. Looking to the future, expect this concept to reach even wider mainstream audiences. River Island x Poundland anyone?