At Fashionista, we cover designer copycat accusations fairly often, and Forever 21 is the subject of our "Adventures in Copyright" column all too often, it seems. The fast-fashion retailer was most recently embroiled in a controversy with Gucci when the Italian house accused it of trademark infringement for co-opting its iconic stripes. But it gets arguably worse: Forever 21 is currently being accused of copying the design of a T-shirt created in order to raise money for Planned Parenthood. Not a good look.
The shirt in question was created by Word, a woman-owned branding agency based in Los Angeles. It depicts the word "woman" translated into nine different languages and is intended to "represent our belief that feminism and human rights should be intersectional. Women from all races, cultures, religions & economic backgrounds deserve access to safe medical care," reads the product description on the site.
Word posted about the similar design on Instagram on Thursday, (shown above), captioning the side-by-side images of the two shirts saying, "we're not ones to point fingers but this looks mighty familiar. For the record, we created this shirt with a purpose."
People on Twitter aren't happy:
Not only are people expressing outrage about what appears to be a fairly blatant rip-off of Word's design, but they're also noting that Forever 21's version chose to omit the Swahili, Hebrew, Chinese and Arabic representations, making it all the more questionable.
It's disturbing to see a fast-fashion giant rip off any designer's work, but in this case it's especially disheartening, given that the original item had such clear, positive messaging — not to mention Word puts its money where its mouth is, donating 25 percent of the proceeds from the sale of these shirts to Planned Parenthood.
"The Creator Shirt is Word's contribution towards the fight for better women's healthcare in the United States and abroad," reads the product description on the site. "Women are creators, givers of life. The well being of a woman's body should be of the utmost importance."
Word's Instagram post called for Forever 21 to donate all of the money it received from the sales of their version of the shirt to Planned Parenthood. At the time of writing this post, it appears that Forever 21 is no longer selling its version of the shirt.
Should you want to buy the original shirt, you can head to Word's site, where it's still being sold for $25.
UPDATE, Friday, Sept. 15, 3:58 p.m.: Word co-founders Zoila Darton and Angela Carrasco responded to Fashionista's request for comment with the following statement:
At the heart of all this, we want one thing to be clear: We didn't intentionally seek personal attention out of this controversy. We are not designers. We run a creative marketing agency called Word that focuses on lifestyle brands that overall improve consumer experiences. However, we want to use this platform we have been given, and the overwhelming support (for which we are humbled and grateful) to create consciousness and demand respect for intellectual property. We created this shirt to elevate the voices of women and to support women's health. In an ideal world, we would love for Forever21 to donate proceeds of the shirt they sold to Planned Parenthood.
UPDATE, Friday, Sept. 15, 9:22 p.m.: A representative from Forever 21 responded to Fashionista's request for comment with the following statement:
"The shirt in question was bought from a third party source. As soon as Forever 21 was alerted to the issue, we respectfully removed it from our website. Because this product did not have trademark or IP protections, there were no red flags raised at the time of purchase."
UPDATE, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 5:23 p.m.: After investigating the matter further, a spokesperson from Forever 21 has reached out to Fashionista with an updated statement:
"After conducting further research, we found that Forever 21's 'woman' shirt actually pre-dates the publication of Word Agency’s version by several months. While the legal credibility of the claim is in question, we removed the product from our website out of respect for the organization involved and any potential issues. We will continue to celebrate fresh styles and work to deliver the fast fashion our customers love and expect from Forever 21."
Fashionista has reached out to Forever 21 for comment.