It is safe to assume that college students understand the consequences of getting caught plagiarizing. Whether the work came from their best friend or from an esteemed scholar online, unearthed plagiarism demonstrates a violation of the Honor Code and implies a university judicial trial that can ultimately result in punishment as severe as expulsion. But what happens when plagiarism is removed from the context of an educational institution and is placed into the cutthroat jungle of the fast-fashion retail industry?
Fast-fashion retailing giants, such as Zara and Forever 21, have been consistently pushed into the limelight for plagiarizing their collections from indie fashion designers. Within the past six months, Zara has been accused by more than 40 artists—ranging from small-time LA artist Tuesday Bassen, to CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund Winner Aurora James—of stealing designs for their seasonal collections. These artists along with many other indie designers, called for the boycott of the global retailer in order to invoke repercussions for Zara’s blatant plagiarism. However, despite the countless lawsuits and clear inauthenticity in the company’s periodic collections, the retailer still enjoys paramount success in the form of a latest $15.9 billion revenue and an average monthly online viewership of 96 million consumers. The media relishes in the drama but finds new smoke and moves along. The independent artist starves from legal fees while the mainstream corporation revels in money trees.
This flagrant disregard for the feelings and credibility of the original art creators reflects the sufferings that these emerging creatives endure in the sphere of the monopolies of fast-fashion corporations. It is already difficult enough for designers to successfully make their mark in an ever-changing industry like fashion, as seen on television shows like Project Runway. Independent fashion designers pour their blood, sweat, and tears into original collections and pieces in hopes of catching the eye of someone who can make their dreams of “making it” come true. So, watching helplessly as a corporation relishes in the glory of fashion pieces they created, and being apathetically brushed aside because of one’s “lack of status” within the fashion industry reign as the most damning of experiences.
Social media constitutes a powerful ally in the independent designers’ fight—not only to seek recognition for the pieces the designers create, but also to spread awareness concerning this emergence and staying power of plagiarism amongst the fast-fashion elite. Tuesday Bassen, one of Zara’s most vocal victims, shared her unfortunate experience with the corporation through her popular Instagram page and informed her followers of ways they can help in the cause. She and her indie designer friends collaborate by continuing to take legal action and sharing their stories on Instagram and Tumblr.
Before entering the real world, students are taught being successful in this world is to be “you and your original self.” Achieving authenticity leaves no room for plagiarism. Although plagiarism in the fashion industry stands as nothing new, the inattention towards originality speaks volumes for an industry always looking into the future.