The Fashion industry has always been a beacon for creativity, and place of refuge for those who are societally seen as “other”. The celebration of difference is the allure of fashion and what allows people to find themselves within the craft. However, what happens when difference is replicated instead of celebrated?

Over the past few years we have seen a very interesting climate emerge in the fashion industry. One that forces prestigious fashion houses out of their comfort zone and creates space for niche lifestyle brands to shine. Luxury brands have been forced, successfully and unsuccessfully, to keep up with the convenience of fast fashion and the resurgence of high-end streetwear.

Some brands have chosen the influencer route, hiring celebrities and social media moguls to promote their brand, namely Calvin Klein with Justin Bieber, Tommy Hilfiger with Lucky Blue Smith, and Guess? With A$AP Rocky. Other brands have chosen the collaboration route like Louis Vuitton x Supreme and Bergdorf Goodman x KITH.

Even other brands have chosen the plagiarism route. Gucci, KTZ, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, and others have been accused of duplicating smaller designers’ work over the past few months.

In 2017 alone, Forever 21 has had issues with Tupac T-shirt designs, a courtroom battle with Supreme and Stüssy collaborator Phade, accusations of “ripping off” Kanye West’s Pablo merchandise, and more. Gucci has had at least 5 of their designers say that their designs were plagiarized in some of Gucci’s latest collections and one of those was New York fashion legend Dapper Dan.

When Gucci Creative Director, Alessandro Michele, was asked about plagiarism accusations, the company responded, “Alessandro is interested in a collaboration with Daniel Day that would celebrate the influence his creations had on fashion and hip hop culture in the 80s.” Now, claiming plagiarism as appreciation poses the question of whether or not plagiarism is always negative.

There is a stark difference between appreciation and appropriation. Appreciation suggests you’ve taken the time to have a dialogue with that culture, research it, and then maybe decided to work together. The end result should always be a win for all parties, and the brand should walk away having enlightened both itself and the other party.

That being said, the consumer’s disdain for appropriation is palpable. Authenticity is paramount in the age of social media, and only the brands that stand for something will survive. That is why we see brands like Everlane, Stitch Fix, and rag&bone thriving, while other brands struggle to find their footing.

A dialogue between brand and customer is the only way to guarantee that authenticity.

The days of ‘expert trend forecasting’ are over and the time of consumer-influenced decision making is on the horizon.

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