September 26, 2021

‘Black Women Continue to Be the Blueprint’—Is That Why Big Brands Keep Knocking Off Independent Designers?

Maiysha Kai-Thu, July 22, 2021, 5:30 PM

“Black women continue to be the blueprint,” tweeted designer Fisayo Longe on Thursday, after seeing some designs eerily familiar to her own in Fendi’s Resort 2022 lookbook. How else can you explain the fact since the U.K.-based Kai Collective launched its signature, ‘60s-inspired “Gaia” print last year, not one, but two other brands have been inspired to riff on the marbleized design that has been coveted by everyone from Saweetie and Jackie Aina to your very own style-obsessed editor here at The Root?

Earlier this year, Fisayo Longe, the creative director of Kai Collective, called out Boohoo after the fast-fashion company released product that appeared to copy the indie label’s artful proprietary prints. Now, the designer’s bringing attention to the similarities between her work and Fendi’s latest collection by Kim Jones.

Yes, you read that right. A 96-year-old legacy Italian luxury fashion house now helmed by one of the most acclaimed designers in the industry is being accused of ripping off the designs of an accessible Black-owned brand launched in 2016. Wanna know why?

“When we launched Gaia, there was nothing like it on the market at the time. There have since been so many copies but I am really surprised to see a brand like Fendi that I have looked up to for many years, do such a similar copy,” Longe said in a statement to Fashionista. “Getting press and recognition for your work takes years and it’s just insane that when you finally get recognition, it is copied by brands that are much bigger and more powerful than yours. The items are Resort 2022 so if they are released, we will send a cease and desist.

In fact, as Longe noted on Instagram, Kai’s next release, a robe in the orange Gaia print, was due to drop on August 15…”but we already have it ready to ship so should we release it today?” she asked—and for the record, it did indeed drop today at 7 p.m. British Standard Time, according to a subsequent tweet by Longe. The creative director also once again called out Fendi as she added their designs to her post with the caption, “embarrassing, no? Gaia dropped and the fashion industry just ran out of ideas???”

It would seem so…and historically, the fashion industry has been notoriously lax on plagiarism. Thankfully, Longe hedged her bets on her highly addictive print, obtaining the copyright for the design in the U.K., E.U. and the U.S.

Of course, that didn’t stop some folks from trying it—likely under the assumption that a Black brand wouldn’t be wrapped as tightly as a more mainstream label, as Fashionista reports.

Despite these efforts, Boohoo released an almost identical copy of her prints back in February; armed with the proper legal protection, Longe went after the billion-dollar retailer, sending a cease and desist letter and demanding £30,000 in damages and legal fees, according to documents leaked by The Fashion Law. Per The Native, Kai Collective and Boohoo entered discussions and negotiations in March.

“I really really want small businesses to know that we have rights, because right now it feels like we don’t, “ Longe told The Native. “I want them to know that depending on the design, it might be worth spending on protecting it.”

Wishing Longe the best of luck in her litigation. In the meantime, we’ll be donating to Kai Collective’s legal fund by copping a few more Gaia-printed items.

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