Fast Fashion Giant Forever 21 Steals Sustainable Label Feral Childe’s Design

EXCLUSIVEAnother designer knock off in the halls of fast fashion leads to a lawsuit for beloved indie brand Feral Childe.

It’s like some dirty soap opera: An indie designer label gets knocked off by an omnipresent, fast fashion chain. The result? Copied designs are then worn by the unknowingly complicit thousands all over the world, amounting to stolen artwork never meant to be anywhere but on eco-fashion lovers’ backs.

Feral Childe, one of EcoSalon’s favorite fashion brands both for its sustainability and style, has released this statement expressing their disappointment at Forever 21 stealing their original textile design: “Without any consideration or respect for the origin of the artwork, Forever 21’s mass reproduction of our textile design without our permission is extremely unethical, and in direct violation of the law.  It’s frustrating that this enormous company, with over a billion dollars a year in revenues, would dare to poach the artistic creations of a small company such as ours.”

Feral Childe designers Alice Wu and Moriah Carlson’s “Teepees” design is protected by law, and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Because of compelling evidence that they have in fact been victims of design piracy, the duo are taking appropriate legal action to address the copyright infringement by Forever 21.

The fast fashion retailer has had countless problems in the past including controversial knock-offs of larger designers like Trovata and Anna Sui.

As featured in NY Magazine in May 2009. The Forever 21 shirts are on the top row, Trovata’s are on the bottom.

Anna Sui spring 2007 RTW on left and Forever 21’s Maven Top on right.

In the case of Feral Childe, the familiar scenario is the same with the Teepee print at Forever 21 at exactly the same scale and type of mark making as their original. As of publishing time, Forever 21 had responded to the cease and desist letter, but has denied liability and stated that perhaps Feral Childe copied the design from another source. Once the designers received that response, they filed a lawsuit which is currently pending in Federal Court in Los Angeles.

Feral Childe Teepee Print

Forever 21 print

Fast fashion is still a fairly fresh word in mainstream America, but even through our own articles here on EcoSalon chronicling some of Forever 21’s oops moments, the mega brand continues to push a whole new wasteful trend to the masses, mostly teens. The message: $14.99 is plenty to pay for a pretty dress or tunic top. The repercussions of these fast fashion choices are felt throughout the world whether in the form of slave labor, severe environmental degradations or yes, the copying of a design that two young women worked for months on to perfect for a sustainable collection.

According to WWD, the House Judiciary subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet is expected to reveal that a hearing on the bill has been slated for today, July 15. The house subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) is “slated to consider a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), known as the ‘Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevent Act,’ industry sources said. It would expand copyright laws for the first time to include fashion designs that are often the target of knockoff artists who profit from another’s design creation.”

We caught up with designers Alice Wu and Moriah Carlson for an exclusive interview on their copyright infringement and what they’ve learned from this experience.

How do you know for sure the design was yours?

The first sighting was on a passerby in Brooklyn in June: Moriah did a double take when she saw a woman wearing a tank top with what looked very much like our print, but it was from afar and we couldn’t be sure. Then someone we know showed up a few days later wearing a dress in our print – but it wasn’t our dress design! She said she had purchased the dress at Forever 21. Sure enough, it was easy to find the garments at the Forever 21 stores and online. We purchased a few, and compared them with our fabric and garments. The design on the Forever 21 garments had clearly been copied – if you put the Forever 21 garments and Feral Childe garments side by side, the textile design is unmistakably the same Teepees.

The Feral Childe Teepees print idea was developed over several months, starting from sketchbook drawings and then refined and edited in countless email exchanges between us until we perfected the image. This type of markmaking reflects the very particular philosophy of drawing taught at the New York Studio School, where both of us studied. I studied there briefly, and Moriah completed her graduate work in drawing and painting there. So both of us are intimately familiar with this visual language. With that art training as a basis, we have made the image very personal and particular to Feral Childe. There are hidden pictures of teepees and crowns and pennants in the drawing that aren’t necessarily apparent at first glance. How could anyone else come up with that combination?

How could a company like Forever 21 copy you so blatantly and think they can get away with it? Can they?

Whoever at Forever 21 discovered our print and decided to co-opt it wasn’t looking closely and probably just assumed this was just an abstract “scratch print” and didn’t notice our hidden pictures. Our Teepees print screams Feral Childe, if not by name, then by our eccentricities. Feral Childe’s prints are the soul of our collections. Meanwhile, Forever 21’s “designer” was too lazy to come up with an original print idea. Forever 21 is not going to get away with this, because our design Teepees is registered with the Copyright Office and we’re not going anywhere until justice has been served.

Have other designers reached out to you to tell their own knock-off stories?

During the first week we discovered the copying, we researched what other companies have had their designs copied by Forever 21. We reached out to Virginia Johnson, who discovered her prints on some of Forever 21‘s skirts; they settled. We contacted Virginia Johnson about her experience with this matter and told her our story and she was very sympathetic and helpful.  Another designer friend of ours has had her coats knocked off by a San Francisco boutique that ordered a couple of pieces from her, then had them copied cheaply and labeled with the boutique’s name.  There is a lot of lookalike jewelry out there. Copycat cases seem to pop up in the news every few months or so. We just never thought this could happen to us.

If companies like Forever 21 get away with this, what does it mean for other small designers?

Forever 21 isn’t going to get away with this one. We have faith in the law.

Right now there is very limited copyright protection for fashion designers, and it’s never easy for small companies. It costs money to file your designs and to pursue the copycats so we felt totally helpless at first, but our community has been really supportive so far and we are confident in our lawyers. It’s because of copycats that there are some new fashion copyright bills in the works which we hope will benefit designers whether they are just starting out or working for large companies.

What learning experience from you and for others do you hope comes from this?

Document your creative process, and be prepared to defend your authorship.

Image: Wall Street Journal


Amy DuFault

Amy DuFault is a conscious lifestyle writer, consultant and fashion instigator. She resides in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.