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Shein’s GCDS plagiarism and the eternal debate on intellectual property in the fashion world

Shein’s plagiarism of GCDS opens the debate on how optimal the concept of fashion is for both consumers and creators.

Shein’s GCDS plagiarism and the eternal debate on intellectual property in the fashion world

The issue of plagiarism in the fashion world is not a much less unknown topic. Whenever a new case arises, wounds over questions about intellectual property or the affordability of luxury goods are opened. While accusations of plagiarism by SHEIN to brands large or small are quite common and other companies such as Inditex also navigate on the edge of legality on these issues, this time the victim has been GCDS.

In an instagram publication on monday, Giuliano Calza declared war on SHEIN for the obvious plagiarism. The designer presented images of Shein’s version of the GCDS Morso Heel that debuted in his “Dracula” FW22 collection and has expanded its sizing so that men can wear it. The shoe in question features a mouth-shaped heel with fangs and is priced at around €785. Shein, however, put its version -or copy if we leave euphemisms aside- on sale for €25.40.

In the publication, Calza shared his thoughts on the matter with a series of sentences and the title: “BOYCOTT @SHEINOFFICIAL or accept abusive behavior, accept theft and accept the planet where you live, to burn in shame and fear. Accept mediocrity (of values) and participate in killing someone else’s dreams.”

Since he denounced Shein’s article on his account, the GCDS dupe has vanished from the map. However, he has touched on hot spots such as creativity and production in the fashion world. “To those who ask me why I can’t make my pieces cheaper…because I respect workers, wages and use an ethical supply chain and materials.” While many people have supported Calza’s boycott of Shein, they have been surprised by the hundreds of comments blaming the Italian firm for its high prices and justifying the fast fashion multinational, thanking it for its democratizing work in making it possible for ordinary people to buy great design at ridiculously low prices.

Thanking Shein for its work in democratizing fashion, however, seems simplistic. Clearly there are people who can’t access these luxury items, looking for dupes with which to achieve the brand’s dream. But it is also clear that no one needs to buy a luxury item, real or fake, to survive. Not to mention how dangerous it is to ignore the environmental damage and gross human exploitation that companies like Shein do to the planet.

This case is the greatest demonstration that in this kind of wars collide factors that make the same fashion system perpetuate itself. The same system that leads consumers to buy dozens of garments a month is the same one that makes them think that wearing a luxury piece is essential to look cool and fashionable. But wasn’t luxury the opposite of fashion? With the cycle of desire accelerated to the maximum, turning everything into a race to the next trend, most of the population is not going to buy an item subject to a fashion for 900€. That’s why they go to sites like Shein to indulge themselves and wear them for a maximum of two months, until the shoes end up in the trash or on their vinted profile, to be optimistic.

Legislation also does not help. As with other artists such as painters or photographers, there should be rights protecting designers. But industrial property comes into play here. The very nature of the sector -because of its mass production and increasingly accelerated temporality- means that it is more complicated to consider something an infringement of originality. The problem, therefore, perhaps lies in the very concept of fashion we are dealing with.

Fashion brands existed, exist and will continue to exist, trends are going faster and faster and imitations will also continue. Anyway, we are in this terrible situation where fast fashion and micro-trends determine the way people dress. A ticking time bomb against sustainability at all levels.

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