Not for the first time, the nation’s favourite shop, Marks & Spencers, has been accused of copying an independent designer. Kate Pietrasik, founder of Tootsa MacGinty, the popular children’s wear brand, was reportedly contacted by several customers when they discovered children’s pyjamas for sale in Marks & Spencers which bore a striking resemblance to a design in the Tootsa MacGinty range.
Tootsa MacGinty’s sweatshirt has the features of a bear’s face stitched on its front with a mouth that zips open to show the bear’s teeth. The M&S pyjamas feature an almost identical bear which also has an opening mouth showing the bear’s teeth. Coincidence? We think not. Marks & Spencer had not licensed the design from Ms Pietrassi and had no permission to use it.
Following an article in the Independent at the weekend and more than a few tweets on the matter, Marks & Spencer has decided to investigate the claims.
When we think of copying in the industry we often presume it’s the big corporations, Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, that are being copied. But that’s not always the case. Many designers like Tootsa MacGinty find themselves copied by highstreet brands and face a David and Goliath situation. Here in the UK we have a myriad of laws protecting fashion designers. However, it’s often the situation that smaller, niche designers targeted by the fast fashion giants don’t have the finance, time or team of lawyers required to take on a legal challenge and enforce their rights.
Designing is not like sprinkling fairy dust; it requires years of practice, study and work to develop the necessary skills. It can take months for designers to develop textile prints, design a bespoke item of jewellery or to develop the perfect dress. The basic philosophy behind intellectual property laws is that people will invest more time and energy in developing new and original designs if they can profit from them. This incentive is somewhat diminished if a designer’s work can be stolen the moment it is unveiled. Would you spend months developing something that will be reproduced on the high street and sold for a fraction of the price for no monetary reward or attribution?
Social media has played a huge role in protecting smaller designers in recent years. Designers and their customers can ‘shame’ those that have copied into removing the product from their shop floors via social media sites. Just a couple of years ago, jewellery design duo Tatty Devine discovered near identical pieces of jewellery to their designs on sale in high street giant, Claire’s Accessories. When Claire’s ignored their complaints, Tatty Devine posted their grievances on their blog. Before long the story had gone viral and was picked up by mainstream media and national newspapers. Amidst the storm of negative media, Claire’s promptly removed the designs. Marks & Spencers also stopped selling a range of flower-print clothes back in 2012 when a young independent designer spotted designs that were “strikingly similar” to her own in M&S shops.
But is this the answer? Surely naming and shaming organisations on social media is a last resort. It doesn’t address the financial and emotional strains suffered by the designers who find themselves the victims of copying. The issue can be more easily resolved if organisations agree to pay for the designs that they use in the first place. Many small designers would be happy to discuss the possibility of licensing a design but don’t get the opportunity – their designs are taken and copied without their knowledge.
So while purchasing a designer dupe on the highstreet may seem harmless, remember, someone, somewhere put a lot of time and energy into creating the original. Intellectual property theft is not a victimless crime so let’s not encourage it. Innovative, creative designers should be rewarded, not punished, and retailers should pay a license if they want to use a design that belongs to someone else. Think inspiration, not imitation!
Image via @claredwyerh