Copycats: in the fashion industry, they quickly become the bane of your existence. You’ve worked hard to create a brand and style that is uniquely your own. Unfortunately, when copycats crop up, they can make your designs appear less exclusive–not to mention the fact that someone else is profiting off of the designs you’ve spent so much time and effort creating. Intellectual theft happens–and in this case, imitation is not the highest form of flattery! How should you deal with copycats in your fashion business? Follow these key steps.
1. Protect your designs
Unfortunately, United States copyright law won’t do a great job of protecting you if someone attempts to steal the designs of your clothing. While other clothing designers shouldn’t steal your photos or prints, they can make very similar clothing or designs without legal repercussions. This can sting when you’re faced with a designer providing lower-quality versions of your clothing–especially if it’s an overseas knockoff that’s also stealing your pictures. As much as possible, however, protect your designs by:
Copyrighting any unique prints and design elements. You can’t copyright a functional design–a type of skirt, for example–but you can copyright your unique prints.
Registering patents for newly created items. Have you done something completely unique? Registering a patent for that item can give you some protection.
2. Choose your manufacturer with care
If you’ve already been the victim of a copycat once, take a close look at your manufacturer. You want a manufacturer with an incredible reputation: one who can help protect your designs and ensure that you don’t fall victim to a copycat eager to steal them. Look for a manufacturer who will not resell your designs or leak designs before you even have the chance to sell them, which can help keep your designs private for longer.
3. Differentiate your work
If you’re dealing with a copycat, there can be a big difference in quality between your work and theirs. Often, it’s obvious where these low-quality substitutes come from–but it may be difficult for your customers to tell the difference until they actually have the item in their hands. To help protect both you and your customers, try some of these key strategies:
Make sure your label is easily identifiable. If you’ve been victimized by a copycat, let your customers know how to easily determine the difference between your label and the copycat’s. Use a unique logo, and point out any obvious differences to your customers.
Watermark your images. This will make it more difficult for the copycat to steal your stock images and use them to promote your products. Let your customers know that if they’re really your images, they will have the watermark in place.
Let customers know about the difference between your designs and the copycat’s. Sure, they may be very similar, but chances are, there are some differences between the two designs. The knockoff may have lower quality fabric, or it might have poor stitching at the seams. There might be subtle differences in the pattern of the fabric. Let customers know how to tell the difference between the real thing and the fake–and then let them make their own decisions about who they want to support.
4. Don’t take it personally
Knockoffs are rampant in the fashion world. In many corners of the industry, knockoffs have become accepted as the norm, regardless of who they hurt. If you’re hit by a copycat, try not to take it personally! In many cases, you may lose more money crusading against a copycat than you would by simply walking away from the problem. Instead, take these steps:
Monitor the copycat. If possible, determine where they’re getting access to your designs. A knockoff that shows up shortly after you release your latest design could be a serious problem, while a knockoff that shows up a year later will stand lower odds of jeopardizing your own sales.
Keep designing. One of your best defenses against a copycat is to continue producing unique designs. While it may be frustrating to know that someone else may rip off your hard work, you also get the chance to show your devotion, dedication, and unique creativity all over again. Don’t let a copycat stop you from creating! Instead, take your designs to new heights.
5. Approach copycats directly, when possible
Sure, your first reaction is to go running straight to a lawyer. Unfortunately, American law may not effectively protect your designs, especially if it’s as simple as a pattern that’s very close to your design or a design element that you consider unique. As a small fashion business, you may lack some of the protections offered to the big designers, who have put a lot of time and money into developing those unique elements of their fashion designs.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you have no protections at all.
Instead, consider approaching the copycat directly (or through your lawyer). Let them know that you’ve spotted the problem and that you don’t appreciate their efforts to knock off your designs. Ask them to stop, and let them know that you’re willing to pursue legal action if needed to protect your intellectual property. Sometimes, just letting a copycat know that you’re on to them can scare them off.
6. Take the high road
It’s tempting, when your designs are stolen, to start a smear campaign against the other company. They’re just such jerks for stealing your work! Keeping your client base and maintaining your reputation, especially online, is more important than giving vent to your feelings, even in the face of a copycat. Take the high road! You can let your customers know what’s going on–and, in fact, you should, so they don’t fall victim to the copycat–but that doesn’t mean you should try to destroy the other company. Instead, simply issue a notification, then refuse to engage in smear tactics. In the end, your reputation is worth more than a few knockoff designs.
Dealing with a copycat can be incredibly stressful. With these strategies, however, you can deal more effectively with copycats and keep your fashion business strong throughout the process.