Zara, River Island and More Are Under Fire for Allegedly Stealing From Indie Artists

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NEW YORK, NY July 23, 2016

It’s a widely accepted fact that fast fashion’s designers — how shall we put this — borrow liberally from the runway. However, injured parties like luxury brand Céline choose to look the other way (we suspect) because their well-to-do customer is not shopping at Zara or the like. That, or lax copyright laws make prosecuting time consuming and ineffective. However, when popular retailers blatantly lift designs from smaller fishes, i.e. indie designers, it triggers our sense of moral outrage.

At least a dozen indie artists have recently come forward with complaints that Zara, River Island, Bershka, Forever 21 and more copied their work without offering attribution or compensation. As mainstream clothing companies scramble to stay on top of the rising DIY movement and fulfill customers’ hunger for craft pins and patches, indie artists are getting trampled in the fray. However, Los Angeles-based illustrator Tuesday Bassen and Montreal-based Stay Home Club founder Olivia Mew aren’t shying away from the fight.

It being 2016, the Davids of the world have a very useful platform on which to stand and take on the Goliaths — social media. On Sunday, Mew took to Instagram to call out River Island after a U.K. fan pointed out the striking similarity between Mew’s work and a patch sold by the high street retailer. “I’ve been told by many people that these companies aren’t producing the designs in-house, but rather buying them from small contractors overseas who produce vectorized copies of ‘trendy’ artwork found online and sell them for cheap,” Mew told Fashionista. “The issue for me is that big companies like Zara, River Island, etc. can’t be bothered to do [their] due diligence and Google something before mass producing it.” However, River Island won’t face legal repercussions for their actions, at least from Mew, who’s deterred by the cost. Tuesday Bassen, however, is determined to hold Zara accountable for appropriating her designs. Over the past year, Bassen’s seen her work co-opted by the global retailer time and time again. On July 19, the artist aired grievances with the brand via Twitter, sharing a particularly cold letter she received in response to a cease-and-desist letter sent to Zara by her legal counsel.

“They responded with images of generic heart lolly photographs saying that my work was too simple and also that basically no one would know it was me, because Zara gets 98,000,000 visitors and I’m an independent artist,” Bassen told The Fashion Law. Bassen plans to copyright her work going forward and press charges against Zara, both costly endeavors. Adam Kurtz, another designer allegedly wronged by Zara, made a page called “Stop the Stolen Art” comparing his and other indie artists’ work to the Inditex-owned brand’s products.

Ohio-based brand These Are Things, included in Kurtz’s roundup, took to Instagram on Wednesday to voice their upset:  “You might have heard that Zara has been ripping off the work of many artists lately. Sad to say that they have copied our designs, too,” read the post. “Unfortunately, this is not the first time our work has been stolen, nor will it be the last. There’s also not much that independent artists can do to fight international, multi-billion-dollar corporations.”

While some lawyers argue that certain shapes and phrases fall under public domain, given the specific combination of shapes, colors and phrases used by these independent designers and the sheer number of allegations, it seems as though Bassen and her cohort could make a compelling case.

Yesterday, reps for Inditex had this to say to Fortune: “Inditex has the utmost respect for the individual creativity of all artists and designers and takes all claims concerning third party intellectual property rights very seriously. Inditex was recently contacted by Tuesday Bassen’s lawyers who noted the use of illustrations in some badges sourced externally and on clothes in its Group stores. The Company immediately opened an investigation into the matter and suspended the relevant items from sale. Inditex’s legal team is also in contact with Tuesday Bassen’s lawyers to clarify and resolve the situation as swiftly as possible.” You’ll notice the tone of this statement is far more apologetic than the aforementioned letter sent to Bassen. Perhaps they’ve learned their lesson, perhaps they smell a class action. Meanwhile, River Island remains silent.

[ via Glossy ]

IMAGE: BERSHKA

IMAGE: OLIVIA MEW