Fast Fashion Brands are Failing The Industry – Conservative Article
Having gone to an exceptionally creative secondary school, I am fortunate to have a lot of friends in the creative industries, including the fashion industry. The fashion industry is famously competitive. Recently, I witnessed a friend undergo any designer’s worst nightmare: a fast fashion brand stealing her design. Sofia Kristina has spent months developing her signature “wavy trousers” design, only for Pretty Little Thing to steal her design and produce it on a mass level. Fast fashion companies regularly use this method: stealing from small designers then producing such designs for very little money.
This business structure is unethical for a number of reasons. Firstly, targeting new, innovative designers disrupts the natural flow of the free market. In particular the retail sector. Secondly, the environmental impact is exceptionally problematic. Additionally, many human rights laws are often breached in the process of such fashion being produced. Finally, there is a clear gap in copyright law. It is time for our copyright laws to be revised in order to protect designers and their businesses.
The free market breeds innovation. It is absolutely essential if we are to allow for new ideas to circulate in all areas of business. I worry that such a structure is put at severe risk when fast fashion brands such as Pretty Little Thing take ideas from smaller designers. I have discussed this topic before with regard to technology, and my concern still remains. Ultimately, the more these big brands steal from smaller designers, the more these smaller designers will lose financially. As a result, they will be less able to produce new, innovative work, leaving consumers at the hands of fast fashion brands entirely. There will be less and less room for these designers to flourish. Ultimately this could lead to a monopolisation of the retail sector.
These brands abuse their power, pushing designers out of the industry. Often, larger corporations send independent designers “cease and desist” letters. These “attempt to silence” designers when their work is clearly stolen. “It’s commonplace for some fast fashion brands to budget a set amount of money each year to pay for settlements.” As a result, independent creatives stand absolutely no chance against these brands, making it more likely for them to be pushed out of the fashion industry for good.
The whole premise of the free market is to allow for growth, so why are we allowing these brands to halt it?
It is undeniable that the fast fashion industry has a shocking impact on the environment and the obstruction of many human rights. My colleague, Abi Smuts, wrote an incredible article on this issue last year, which I encourage you to read. It is no surprise to anyone that the mass production of fashion at such a low price has tremendously damaging effects on the planet and the rights of many workers. So, when fast fashion brands steal from independent designers and produce them on a mass scale, it is not just a matter of being unfair to these designers, but it is also a matter of the unsustainable nature of such a business model. This ultimately affects everyone.
Many designers work exceptionally hard to create their fashion sustainably. So when large corporations rip off these designers and then produce them unsustainably, it certainly adds salt to the wound.
Upon further research on the relationship between copyright laws and fashion, it became apparent to me that the rights of designers in the US differ quite a lot from those in the UK. Large brands do have significant power in the UK. However, independent designers in the US face even greater challenges. “US copyright law positions American fashion as a manufacturing industry rather than a creative one. With these laws still in place, fashion isn’t given nearly enough legal protection, even as blatant knockoffs have become increasingly prevalent.”
Designers in the UK have more protection than those in the US. It is nevertheless incredibly challenging for independent designers to fight their case if designs are stolen. We have seen it happen time and time again, and it will continue to occur if we do not revisit our copyright laws.
The act of stealing designs from independent creators, mass-producing it, and selling it for extremely low prices has become the corporate structure of various fast fashion companies. This puts both the free market and the sustainability of fashion at risk, affecting the integrity of the retail sector, workers’ rights, and the environment. It is time that we look at our copyright laws and start protecting new designers in order to preserve the integrity of the fashion industry.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Rebecca Selt
Point of Information
Exploitation is, unfortunately, a by-product of capitalism and the free market – A Labour Response
The premise of Rebecca’s article is sound, the exploitation of independent designers is indeed unethical. However, the article is confusing. On one hand, it sings the praises of the free market and how it breeds innovation. On the other hand, it calls for greater restrictions which would make the market inherently less free. The free market enables exploitation by those at the top.
This problem has been witnessed time and time again. Small high street businesses were outcompeted and disadvantaged by the convenience of supermarkets and online retailers. Influencers steal designs from lesser-known creatives. Designer brands appropriate traditional clothing, patterns, and symbols and sell them for hundreds or thousands.
The damage caused by this capitalist system doesn’t stop there. Gross exploitation of workers facilitates mass production at a low cost, with complete disregard for the environment. The free market has facilitated this. All for the sake of profit.
It was perhaps best summarised by Abby Milnes who responded to Abi Smuts:
“The inherent imperatives of the capitalist mode of production demand minimal costs to maximise profit. Companies like Boohoo dominating market share do not reflect the quality of their goods, not even relative to price, but their ability to excel in cutting corners as much as possible without people realising or caring.”
By its nature, the fashion industry is not sustainable. Clothes going in and out of fashion creates waste. The industry has been made even less sustainable by mass production. The rise of fast fashion allows trends to last no more than a season. There is a need for greater accountability of fashion brands and retailers. Additionally, better environmental regulation and drastically improved treatment of workers. And finally, more protection for independent businesses.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Zoë Olsen-Groome
Fashion should never have become this ‘fast’ – A Liberal Response
I can’t argue with Rebecca’s main sentiment here. Independent companies are exploited by larger, richer fast fashion companies with better means of production to mass-produce items and sell them for a mere fraction of the cost. It goes without saying that this is not remotely fair or just.
However, like Zoë, I am also confused over what is Rebecca’s suggestion to help solve this situation. How can the free market both breed innovation and simultaneously restrict it?
Fast fashion has very few merits to outweigh its obvious and devastating downfalls, as highlighted by both Rebecca and Zoë. The issue is that we, as a society, consume far too much too quickly. It is not just fashion that has become fast, but various other sectors. Our impatience for shiny new things has engendered unethical and unsustainable methods of business that bring with them a litany of issues.
Ultimately, just because we can speed up these industries does not mean we should. Unless we learn to slow down our consumption the fast fashion industry will continue to thrive off of stolen ideas and cheap labour, annihilating any small business competitors in sight.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Beccy Reeves
I am a third year student studying English and Film Studies at the University of Exeter. After completing my degree, I will be converting to law to begin my journey of becoming a commercial lawyer. As an avid reader of the Financial Times, I have begun to understand how important the commercial market is in forming global politics.
I have just graduated with a History degree from the University of Exeter and am about to start my Masters there in Conflict, Security, and Development. I will also be taking on the roles of Welfare Officer in the Politics Society and Vice-President for Coppafeel’s Exeter Uni Boob Team.