As the popularity of DIY fashion continues to rise, especially with pins and patches, indie artists are increasingly subject to getting their own work heavily copied by bigger brands. Such is the case for Montreal's Stay Home Club, founded by Olivia Mew, and Los Angeles-based Tuesday Bassen. This week, the two illustrators called out high street retailers River Island and Zara via social media for selling obvious rip-offs of their original patches.
A U.K. fan of Stay Home Club took to Twitter on Sunday, alerting Mew to a River Island men's T-shirt with a patch that is eerily similar to her "Too Bad" iron-on, embroidered design. That same day, Mew took to her Instagram to call out 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 over email. "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."
Mew has no plans to pursue legal action against the retailer due to costs, and similarly-sized brands have advised her that it's not worth it financially to "go up against the big guys."
"While we own the trademark to both 'Stay Home Club' and our logo, going after redrawn copies of other designs is very difficult even when it's blatant," said Mew. We reached out to River Island for comment and reps did not respond by press time.
Bassen also received attention across social media, as well as on various online news outlets, due to Zara copying a number of her designs over the past year. Though the artist did take legal action — spending $2,000 to hire a lawyer to send a cease-and-desist letter — the Spanish company's response was was rather discouraging for Bassen's case.
"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,” said Bassen in an interview with The Fashion Law. The artist plans to copyright the rest of her work, another high-cost feat, and further press charges against Zara.
Mew also brings up the fact that small brands like Stay Home Club often license work themselves from other illustrators and artists, which involves fair payments with royalties and credit towards their work. "This is part of what makes our products slightly more expensive, as well as obviously manufacturing in smaller quantities and often producing higher quality items," she says. "To see these companies with vastly more financial resources grab designs as though it's a free-for-all and sell them for dirt cheap — when the rest of us follow the rules — is a further slap in the face."
UPDATE, 7/25/16: Refinery29 reports Zara has suspended sales of items brought up by Bassen. "Inditex's legal team is also in contact with Tuesday Bassen's lawyers to clarify and resolve the situation as swiftly as possible," said Zara's parent company in a statement. Artist Adam J. Kurtz has also started the Instagram account @shoparttheft to continue to bring attention to Zara's intellectual property theft from indie artists.
UPDATE, 7/20/16: On Wednesday afternoon, Ohio-based brand These Are Things, which has garnered a following for its unique pins and patches, has also come forward with evidence that Zara has knocked off one of its designs. "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," wrote the These Are Things on Instagram. "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."
We'll be watching this story closely and will continue to update with future developments.