Let’s Talk Knock-offs: Is Copying Designer Lingerie Ever Okay?

Left: Playful Promises ‘Etti’ Longline Bra via ASOS. Originally $78.93.
Right: Frederick’s of Hollywood ‘Sandra’ Longline Bra. Originally $34.00.

Has there ever been a more controversial subject in the fashion industry than this one? No matter your opinion on knock-offs, cheap copies of luxury goods are here to stay. After all, if there’s a market for people who want expensive items for lower prices (and there definitely is), there’s going to be a company that’s willing to cater to that market.

Some of these knock-offs are outright counterfeits and forgeries (i.e. they’re being advertised and sold as the authentic item) but many more of these knock-offs are “inspired by” replicas…where enough of the original design has been kept to make it recognizable, but not so much that legal action is justified or even possible. And it’s that second kind of knock-off that’s becoming more and more popular, even within the lingerie industry.

I know a lot of brands and designers read The Lingerie Addict, so I just want to acknowledge that I understand this post will probably ruffle some feathers (and doubtless bring me a few “You should never have written this!” e-mails). But the conversation on knock-offs (and if they’re ever justified) is already happening among lingerie consumers. Even if the subject is a little awkward to talk about, it’s one that very much needs to be discussed out in the open.

3 of these 6 photos are stolen. Another is a stock image.

Earlier, I made a distinction between outright forgeries and ‘inspired-by’ knock-offs and I just want to be clear that I am definitely not in favor of counterfeit goods. Counterfeits are always wrong, and there is nothing excusable about one brand stealing the images, copy, and marketing materials of another brand in order pass their merchandise off as someone else’s. However, that particular issue is not what this article is about. Instead, I want to focus on two somewhat grayer areas of knockoffs…prices and sizes.

Price Knockoffs:

Left: Marika Vera ‘Nydia’ Bodysuit. Originally $520.00.
Right: Ann Summers ‘Peony’ Bodysuit. Originally £40.00 ($62.00)

Make no mistake: quality lingerie is expensive, both in terms of materials (silk, lace, chiffon,satin, etc.) and in terms of labor. It takes a lot of time and effort to construct a bra, and if you’re one of the dozens of independent designers making pieces by hand or in small factory batches, you simply don’t have the volume to get the lower manufacturing costs a larger brand can. And in the same way a global intimates empire will pass their cost savings on to customers in the form of lower prices, smaller brands have to pass along their higher costs in the form of increased prices. Factor in the increased costs of things like fair trade and ethical production (which are important to many smaller brands, but which many large brands don’t care about), and you’re looking at an even greater price differential.

But, on the other side, it’s true that many women simply can’t afford luxury lingerie. It’s not about what they’d “rather” buy; it’s just not an option. In this era of depressed wages, uncertain job markets, and ever-increasing costs for basic necessities, I don’t blame women for thinking twice before dropping 3 figures on a bra and panty set. And while it would be great if we could all fill our closets with handmade, ethically-produced items, those goods do cost more…and that money may just not be available if you’re on a tight budget.

Finally (and I won’t name any names here) not every luxury brand is worth the luxury price. Whether it’s skimping on quality materials or quietly moving manufacturing to cheaper sites overseas (while retaining the same high prices), sometimes a luxury brand is just a lot of hype…smoke and mirrors produced by an excellent PR team, a beautifully lit photoshoot, and some fancy decorations in a boutique.

Size Knockoffs:

Left: Kriss Soonik ‘Susan Chic’ Body. Originally €159.00 ($212.00). Available up to size US10.
Right: Empress Lingerie Ruffle Lace Romper. Price Unknown. Featured in Plus Model Mag.

No big secret here: the average size range of any one lingerie brand is pretty limited. Whether a brand chooses to focus on standard sizes, full bust sizes, or plus sizes, there is no single lingerie brand out there making everything for every woman of every size. However, it’s also true that women who fit into the traditionally standard size range (approximately US bra sizes 32-36 B-D and US dress sizes 0-10) have many more options available to them than women outside that range. As a size 10, I’m at the outer limits of the standard sizing chart, but I can still assume the average brand fits me. When it doesn’t, it’s an exception…not the rule. For many women though, especially plus size women, the search for pretty underthings is a long, unpleasant, and completely demoralizing experience.

The size thing becomes even more interesting when you realize there’s a link between how expensive a brand is and how many women their size range encompasses. It’s been my experience that more expensive brands have smaller size ranges. Right now, I’m thinking of several high-end European names that I’ve personally tried (no names) which max out at a US size 6/8. That is a super narrow size range, and it excludes a lot of women. Unsurprisingly, women who wear double digit dress sizes want beautiful lingerie too, and so lately several plus size companies have stepped in with larger size knock-offs of popular styles.

There are a lot of good reasons for why a brand can’t abruptly expand their size range. As I mentioned earlier, all brands, even plus size brands, specialize. That’s because the costs of trying to be all things to all people would rapidly drive a company out of business (especially an independent company). It’s also true that making plus size lingerie isn’t just a matter of taking a standard size pattern and enlarging it, but requires a complete redrafting…particularly in the case of complex, supportive undergarments like bras. All of that costs money, and if a company isn’t absolutely sure they’ll recoup the costs, they may decide to focus on what they’re good at…and what they know will make them money.

That said, plus size women shouldn’t have to wear ugly underwear because no one’s making their size. I feel really fortunate that I can buy most of what I like, but if I were to go up a size (which is very likely to happen at some point), I suddenly wouldn’t be able to buy most of what’s out there. And I don’t really want to go back to buying my panties in a 6-pack. Why shouldn’t larger women have pretty undergarments too? Especially if their needs aren’t being met by standard size brands?

The Discussion:

Left: Marlies Dekkers ‘Dame de Paris’ Bra via ASOS. Originally $126.29. Available up to size 40DD.
Right: Cacique by Lane Bryant Strappy Plunge Bra. Originally $40.00. Available up to size 44DDD.

In both of these cases, companies are either unable or unwilling to accommodate all the budgets and sizes of everyone that may be interested in their products. That’s not a fault-finding statement…it just makes sense from both a production/materials/labor perspective and a branding/marketing/advertising one. It’s easier to make and sell a product targeted to a particular group of people than a product targeted to everyone.

So the question becomes…if you have a group of women who’s needs aren’t being met by what’s out there (either because of price or because of size), is it okay for them to buy similar pieces at a lower price point or in extended sizes from other brands?

Most designers and boutiques say “No,” and understandably so. They argue that it devalues the brand, and penalizes small designers for being creative and risk-taking while big brands reap all the rewards of that free market research. But many customers, also understandably, disagree. “If I’m never going to buy from you because you’re not making products for me,” they say, “you haven’t lost any money when I buy from someone else. The sale was never going to be yours.” Some people also argue that knock-offs are advantageous to the industry as they constantly generate new ideas, but the counterargument to that is that small brands will get frustrated and quit (or be outright driven out of business) if their work is always being knocked-off.

As a blogger, I see both sides. Professionally, I spend a lot of time talking to and working with independent designers (many of whom are 1 or 2 woman operations), and it stings when you see all their hard work being stolen with just the slightest reworking. It’s heartbreaking because you know these designers will never be able to sell as cheaply or offer as many sizes as a department store, and they’re being punished for it. And it can very well drive a brand out of business.

However, as a lingerie consumer (and someone who’s always been a little bigger through the hips and a little smaller through the wallet), I understand what it’s like to have to balance fashion with finance. If you know a certain brand is never going to make anything in a size 14 or in a G cup or for under $200, why not take your money elsewhere? Isn’t that how business works?

What do you think, dear readers? Are knock-offs ever okay? Should brands that can’t meet everyone’s needs ‘suck it up’ as the cost of doing business? Or should customers who are left out in the cold just ‘deal with it?’ And how similar or different can something be before it’s not considered a knock-off anymore? I’m really interested in hearing what you have to say in the comments.

44 Comments

  1. Laura
    19/02/13 at 4:52

    I have to say (maybe a little as a fashion design student) that for me the main problem is stealing a art work. That’s how it feels like for me. I do understand it’s also a business, but it still makes me sad to see knock-offs.

  2. Kim
    19/02/13 at 6:38

    At the risk of sounding harsh, if a company ISN’T making lingerie in my size, but IS complaining about the prevalence of knock-offs, that isn’t my problem. It’s hardly fair that the smaller women in the world have access to whatever lingerie they like, while the rest of us are regularly either ignored or told we’re too expensive to be catered to. I’ll take flash undies where I can get them.

  3. 19/02/13 at 7:43

    A mass produced Knock-off will never been the same. One day I am sure I will see on of my individually designed lingerie cases reproduced but they won’t be made by me to a high standard and made to last a lifetime. I say don’t be disheartened and keep designing and making, an original will always have greater value and meaning. Maybe we should be fighting for more rights over our name being acknowledged by the Knock-off manufacturers – what do you think?

  4. Kaitlyn
    19/02/13 at 7:59

    Just last year I discovered Playful Promises brand, and had bought an authentic pair of knickers from a shop close to me. I then looked up the brand online, and instantly there was an eBay page that came up selling them. They were in the same tin, with the same labelling, brand and price as the ones I had bought in the shop. Though when the new knickers arrived I could instantly tell they weren’t from the same maker. The elastic cut in at the thighs, the top was saggy and loose, but still had the same label. I then found the Playful Promises website, and found a pink pair of these pants, with no tin and there wasn’t the colour I had. I went and raised the issue with the seller on eBay, but after that they disappeared. I don’t know if you can block people on eBay, or I was just deleted. Their item didn’t meet with the same quality the real brand items do, and what they do is theft. It’s a knock off being sold at full price which is even more confusing for people trying to avoid such things, so I know I won’t be buying from eBay again for independent brand names.

  5. 19/02/13 at 8:17

    It’s a really tough one. I have worked for a few independent brands and currently work part-time for one and as a fellow blogger as well it does become blindingly obvious and annoying when someone is being ripped off. The problem is that some less freakishly avid lingerie fans often just aren’t aware of the small guys and probably don’t even know they’re buying knock offs (Ann Summers vs Marika Vera is a big example of this).
    Also as a lingerie consumer (and a cash-strapped student) I completely understand how easy it is to fall into the “well it kinda looks the same” trap. I am a pretty average UK 34D/10 though so I’ve never experienced the other side of it but I bet not being able to buy from your favourite designers for that reason can be a real pain.
    Saying that, on the money side of things, I do often manage to coast through by waiting patiently for sales and reductions. I know it’s not always a guarantee but it should be something lingerie customers consider.

  6. Jon
    19/02/13 at 9:17

    A long reply as Treacle’s post raises a number of interesting questions. The short version: customer desires does not serve as a justification for the appropriation of the creative work of others. The lack of options for particular markets does not make appropriation the cost of doing business.

    Your post raises some intriguing questions. The difficulty of the question is that unlike literature, paintings, and other kinds of creative work fashion does not fall under the protection of copyright (although trademarks are protected). That aside the big question is do consumers interests ever serve as a warrant for another producer to appropriate the designs of others.

    I want to acknowledge the points raised particularly the concerns over sizing. It is unfortunate that many designs are only crafted for limited body types. And I agree with the statement from the original post that “plus size women shouldn’t have to wear ugly underwear because no one’s making their size.” Does the fact that designers are not serving everyone mean they need to suck up appropriations as the cost of doing business? Or rather does it make appropriating others work okay because they are serving a market the original designer does not serve? No, for a couple of reasons.

    First design garments for that market rather than appropriating them. If the concern is to serve an under-served market, great serve it by designing great quality pieces. If a designer chooses to serve a particular market (even for the worst reasons) that does not license someone else to appropriate their creative work to serve another. And that is what is at issue the appropriate of someone else’s creative labor. Some else making money off another’s creative work.

    Second, now I will admit I am no expert on the industry, but how many of those appropriations serve only plus size markets? I am going to guess probably not many (I will rely on the expertise of others to correct me). If so no matter how noble the appropriate might be in terms of serving plus size markets, it is not the sole motive if appropriated designs are produced in sizes served by the creator of the design. Of course this can be covered by the question of cost (an argument which I will get to in a moment).

    Finally while Treacle notes the difficulty of recrafting a design for plus sizes, that work does not make the appropriation okay. It still represents the appropriate of someone else’s intellectual and creative labor. Make beautiful garmets for all sizes yes, yes most definitely yes. But why does that have to come in the form of appropriating someone else’s intellectual and creative labor?

    As to cost the reply seems similar. Make great garments without having to appropriate the work of others. Certainly the appropriation demonstrates that great looking items can be produced that reflect lower price points. So it simply due to a lack of imagination? But consumers want the “designer” look alike. Well if it is the brand look then designers should be concerned about their brand integrity. And the reply again seems simple, consumer demands and wants to not warrant the appropriation of others works. What it does mean is that companies that want to produce goods for those markets should produce garments that meet the desire for designer without appropriating others work.

    Now of course the question is: is it possible as creativity would add to expenses driving up the price of garments. And to this I would have to say I am unable to speak to. I cannot say how much of an expense this would add nor how much it would reflect in the sale price. What is true is additional costs mean a higher price. How much? Maybe too much. But if that is the cost of doing business does it warrant the appropriation of other designers work? No. That creativity may cost does not mean that good looking garments cannot produced. It does not mean that those that cannot afford triple digits are forced to go without. Appropriation is not the only mechanism for spurring innovation. But it is far easier to appropriate the work of others in a realm where creative work does receive the same kind of protection as others.

    • 19/02/13 at 12:39

      “Second, now I will admit I am no expert on the industry, but how many of those appropriations serve only plus size markets?”

      A quick note, both Cacique and Empress Lingerie only serve plus size markets.

  7. Kaboom
    19/02/13 at 9:50

    Hmm.

    On one hand, as someone who engages in creative endeavors myself (although not fashion design), part of me thinks that it’s wrong to knock off the designs. In high school, everyone gets ranted at about why plagiarism is bad, and it tends to stick.

    On the other hand, however, all of human history has been marked by people appropriating, borrowing, modifying ideas from other people. I work in the IT industry, not the lingerie industry, but I’m going to use a computer metaphor. Bear with me- it makes sense in the end. It’s often not known that the graphical user interface (GUI), which is often attributed to Microsoft and Bill Gates, was originally taken from Apple and Steve Jobs, who took it first from Xerox. However, Microsoft’s GUI was dramatically different from Apple’s GUI which was almost unrecognizable from its origins at Xerox. However, if it had stayed at Xerox we probably wouldn’t have computers in the way that we recognize and know about today.

    …wow, that really went off on a tangent and had nothing to do with lingerie. Sorry about that. I just really like computers.

    Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that while blatant copying isn’t right, it’s also unrealistic to expect that no one will borrow from anyone else or adapt the ideas. That’s how human innovation has worked since the beginning. But there is a fine line to cross.

    In my (admittedly not professional) opinion, the Frederick’s of Hollywood longline bra and the Ann Summers bodysuit are different enough from the original that I don’t think it could reasonably be considered infringement. They look similar, yes, but there is also a limited number of ways that one can adjust the base pattern of the garment itself. Now, the Cacique bra, on the other hand, looks extremely similar to the original, so much so that I am not completely comfortable with it. But I’m just an IT worker/student, not a copyright lawyer. :3

    Sorry for ranting on and on about this, it’s an interesting topic.

  8. phul devi
    19/02/13 at 11:56

    I tend to go more in the direction of creative commons philosophy. As kaboom points out, people have borrowed from others forever and ever; I think the notion of “owning” an idea or an aesthetic is a little hard to sustain. However, I do find it easier to support this situation when it functions in a more democratizing way: i.e., a lower-priced brand knocking off a luxury look, versus a high-end line ripping off a small, independent designer. But even with that caveat — that creative commons can be open to certain appropriations that I find troubling — I believe the philosophy of open sourcing is, overall, a boon to creativity. We live in an era where sampling and recombinations are one of the primary engines of creative experimentation. It limits creativity to fence off certain ideas, proportions, or looks as the sole property of certain companies.

  9. Erika
    19/02/13 at 11:57

    In an ideal world, either side would have more of a reason to work with each other, whether in the form of royalties, leveraging an exclusive tie-in, or reaching a larger audience. Even in the music industry where laws for this sort of thing are common, theft is the order of the day and I worry that this antagonistic relationship has to continue in the lingerie business.

    This is not to say that a small designer should feel forced to work with a larger company or vice versa. Ethical concerns, quality control, negotiating rights, and creative ownership are all valid reasons to not collaborate, but I wonder if there’s anything we as consumers can do. I don’t want to paint this as a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario, but it feels very much like one.

  10. Jessica
    19/02/13 at 12:39

    I see a great opportunity for collaborations. Lots of designers had products made through Target through their “Design For All” campaign, so that people who want their products could get it at a lower price. Isn’t that better than a knock-off? Similarly, I think a designer could collaborate with a plus size brand, for example. Designers could really capitalize on the fact that there are many types of people who want their products, and make more money off of it, and customers would probably be happy to have an item that is authentic to that designer. Designers should see people who buy knock-offs as potential customers whose needs they haven’t met yet; after all, they clearly are fans of their designs.

    • 19/02/13 at 18:10

      I think this is a really interesting and promising idea for a lot of designers/brands. It’s a good way to meet in the middle and satisfy both the consumers and the designers. I understand that for newer designers, the costs of products are often high because they are operating on a smaller scale, but the bottom line is that few women can afford those items. Having a small-scale designer create a line for a brand that can afford to mass produce the products at a lower price seems like a win-win for everyone involved.

  11. Avigayil
    19/02/13 at 12:49

    It is NEVER ok to steal – I don’t care if you can’t fit their lingerie. In the academic world this is called plagiarism… which is taking someone’s IDEA and using it without giving the original credit.

    This is coming from a girl who would love to own a Dekkers bra but I am outside their band range. But you know what – just because they don’t make a bra that will fit me – I’m ok with that. Because I still don’t condone stealing their beautiful bra designs – I view them as the INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY of Dekkers. I can admire them and then find something else. There are alternatives. Not for the same bra.. but for beautiful bras in general.

  12. Becca
    19/02/13 at 13:32

    If a company doesn’t make my size I take that as a sign they want me to buy knock-offs …and I take my filthy fat-tainted money to whoever can provide me with what I require.

  13. Bonnie M
    19/02/13 at 14:14

    Bra shopping is an exercise in futility for me. I’m a 40C (can drop to a 38 if necessary) and as said, all the good bras go up to 36 (or at best a 38 and usually a tight 38). I’m too big in the band to wear the fun stuff but too small in the cup to go plus sized. So for years, I either get ugly industrial bras, or ones that fit improperly.

    So I have zero sympathy for companies that only cater to the small range that they do.

    In America, 2/3 of women are either overweight or obese. (I’m in the former category). So this pretty much means that lingerie designers are serving only 1/3 of the American clientele. Where’s the logic in that?

    I envy my sisters who can easily get their size. At least when it comes to panties, it’s easier for me, as a 7 or a lg is easy to find.

    But bras. *sigh*

    As for price, I shake my head when I see bras over $50. Really? And panties over $15. Again, really? Less than a half yard of material for panties and some lace and elastic and they want $30 and up?

    Not in my world. That’s a rip off. I know that bras will cost more, but I think it’s nuts to charge a fortune for this stuff. I want to look pretty, but I don’t want to be stiffed.

    • Catherine
      20/02/13 at 11:56

      Most of the cost of things is not in the components but in the time and expertise it takes to put them together. So many people are invilved in a product between conception and the consumer, and all of them put talent, time and effort in the making that needs money in return – and on a very basic level, its often the sewing time that costs the most, not the fabrics. It’s always surprised me that the amount pants cost is not so far off bras, but its because timewise, they’re not wildly different.

  14. 19/02/13 at 14:21

    As someone who sews lingerie, I may have a different view on this.

    I think that copying a garment for personal use – never for sale – is ok. If someone wants to go to the trouble to make a pattern of the garment to fit them and determine and acquire the materials, I think they “earn” their copy. Copying garments can also be very educational as well. Trying to figure out how the designer achieved certain effects and style lines is a good mental and pattern making exercise.

    All that being said, it is more interesting and satisfying to use a garment as inspiration and make style changes based on personal preferences.

  15. 19/02/13 at 14:22

    I think it depends on HOW similar pieces are. If it’s an exact copy, that’s not good (or professional) and I wouldn’t buy it. Famous designers have to expect to be ‘copied’ to some extent though, that’s just how trends happen! Fashion brands do it – they send scouts to the runways to see what shapes, colours and details are popular and then they work those into their own designs – and lingerie is no exception. I’m sure every single person that’s read this blog owns lots of clothing or lingerie that’s been inspired by another, similar design, even if they don’t know it.

    In the top image, the bras are definitely the same style but they’re still totally different, not just fabric but little details like the bows and the lack of piping on the cups and front and in my opinion, they’re pretty different bras. They’re just similar. In image 4 though, I’m struggling to see a single difference between the two and I don’t think that’s right, that’s just plain copying, not ‘being inspired’.

    • 05/03/13 at 6:14

      Without any struggle, I see at least one difference: the Cacique bra has two straps on the strappy overbust bit, and the other bra has three. More importantly, though, I have seen similar bras online, in shops, and on strippers for years, so I am skeptical that Dekkers originated the design.

      • Lynn
        14/03/13 at 19:11

        Image 4 is the lace bodysuit. You forgot about the composite photo above it.

  16. 19/02/13 at 15:40

    All designers start as small businesses and some will grow into household names. We are talking of Knock-offs at a stage when a designer needs recognition to keep a small business going. It is impossible to afford to protect every design and subtle changes make enforcement even more difficult to achieve. If we let the big manufacturers steal our designs we are underselling ourselves – after all if designers were not there the big boys would have nothing to Knock-off and the shopper would be bored to tears. We need creative talent to be rewarded. The large manufacturing companies can easily afford to pay little known designers a one off fee per design – look what they will pay for to celebrities to model or endorse their products.

  17. Lauren
    19/02/13 at 15:45

    The Playful Promises ‘Etti’ Longline Bra is a knock off of a DMU Contour students work from last year I think it was, granted the students isn’t commercial and PP have done a version of, but I also think there’s a problem when work is ‘inspired’ by people who aren’t well known enough to defend themselves and have a voice.

    http://blog.bouxavenue.com/4901/de-montfort-university-contour-fashion-show-2012/

    • 19/02/13 at 19:01

      Hi Lauren,

      I find that claim a bit hard to believe. I first viewed Playful Promises’ ‘Etti’ Longline bra in August 2011. That predates the article you linked to by nearly a year. You can find my mention of them and a photograph here: http://www.thelingerieaddict.com/2011/08/nyc-intimates-market-lingerie-trends-for-ss-2012.html

      Best,
      Cora

    • 20/02/13 at 18:30

      To make the trade shows in August 2011, that bra would have been conceptualised and put into the line for sampling back in Autumn 2010. So basically long before a student had started their final year project, never mind got to the catwalk!

  18. Cadence Ryanne
    19/02/13 at 16:01

    I mulled over this post while I cooked lunch because it is such a weighty question that goes even deeper than just what sort of panties I want to buy (there are quite a few!).
    Since I work in the academic world, I find that I deal with this question frequently. It’s frustrating because I am often explaining the concepts of originality and artist work to students only to be met with blank stares or puzzlement. I have even met with dismissive excuses. Over the course of years, I have come up with several reasons why this is happening and very few answers on how to solve it.
    1. Society does not compensate or support those in public service or artistic endeavors. The values of society are placed on large business and those in power.
    2. Most people have little idea about how the creative process works so while they may empathize with the “starving artist”, they have very little ability to recognize stolen art and realize the impact on that artist.

    I was reminded of the scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Andy comes in to the belt selection and is amused by the idea that the belts seem alike but the discussion going on around her is so passionate. She is confronted by her boss who says something to the effect that the cerulean blue of her sweater had originated on the runways in the collections of designers such as Oscar de la Renta and Yves Saint Laurent where it “trickled down” to the bargain bins where Andy finally found her sweater. She lectures her on the fact that the color cerulean represented countless hours, money, and jobs and that when she got up that morning and made a choice to wear it, there was little choice in it.

    My students are Andy (at that point in her development) and unfortunately few of them get a chance to see the behind the scenes work of these hard working designers. They walk around their world not realizing that everything around them carries some significance, creative passion, or suffering by artists and designers.

    Secondly, as a consumer, I would love to buy the lingerie that I frequently drool over. But I am in a public service job with little compensation. Additionally, I am one of those larger women especially endowed with a large bottom :). I also have a fairly common bra size which means I’m competing with others for the 36c bra that there might only be one or two of on the rack. I do spend quite a bit of time culling through clearance pages on lingerie websites hoping to score a good deal. But I rarely find my size because by the time it gets to clearance, it’s been sold out. Or there never was a large/extra large panty made by that designer.

    I’m also a very picky consumer. You were right when you said that sometimes the larger or luxury brands are not well made. In my small town, very few places carry the brands that I would like to buy (we have one store dedicated to luxury lingerie and the shopping experience there is very snobbish) and I hesitate to order them online because I don’t get a chance to look at them, feel the lace, check out the seams, and try on for fit. Lingerie is an investment but I find that I suffer inexpensive underwear because I am frozen both through the pocketbook and the lack of accessibility.

  19. 19/02/13 at 17:45

    I want to make a point here. It is not only cheaper brands that knock off designer lingerie brands.I can tell you that there are some small designer brands out there that have blatantly lifted another designers product and have totally got away with it.

    If a cheaper high street brand copies you then yes that is terrible but is it less damaging than a designer on the same level.?..thats the competition in that area of quality and price point?That customer wouldn’t buy your higher priced range anyway? Ann Summers is a good example, biggest rip off artists out there!

    In my view no one should benefit from copying another designers work.
    The few that are talented, I take my hat off to you will always be re -inventing themselves anyway.
    There are always the shallow, dull and unimaginative who will copy though……boo.
    My design experience in the field of Lingerie has been 4 years @ Debenhams, 4 years@Myla plus some other stuff!
    Thanks for a truly insightful, honest and solid article.

  20. Michelle
    19/02/13 at 21:18

    As a lingerie consumer, I buy what I like and what I can afford. That being said, I also want quality, and I want to support and sustain lingerie designers who put passion into their work. I mean, I can FEEL the difference between something I bought at TJ Maxx, and something I bought from an independent label. But every day is different, and somedays I want that super cute and inexpensive bra, and somedays I want to wear that outrageously expensive bra for which I saved up for two months. All in all, its a big wide world out there and every consumer has a different approach to consuming.

    In regards to being “knocked off,” my opinion is that there really is no right or wrong answer. I am certain that as long has humans have been around, people have “copied” off each other. If we hadn’t, languages, the wheel, and other art forms would have died out long long ago. Humans gravitate towards things and people who inspire and awaken passion within them, and sometimes humans copy them. Maybe its a compliment, and maybe its an outrage? Either way, an artist putting their work out in the world must assume the risk that their work will be copied. Is it fair? Depends on how you look at it. But then again, that is life, and there is always a lesson to be learned.

  21. Michele F
    19/02/13 at 21:59

    I admit I haven’t read all the replies and I fall within the size range of most designers.

    I have a problem with knock-offs in most cases. It is not only stealing someone else’s idea but it helps put the designer out of a job. Often the knock-offs often do not offer the same materials nor the same ethical standards as the orginal.

    Different size ranged knock-offs? Okay, as long as it is done with the original designer’s permission. Think of it as the lingerie version of a cover tune.

    Knock-offs produced long after the fact? Sure, there are designers out there re-creating vintage styles for a niche market. Obviously the definition of “vintage” will vary from person to person. Does that mean 20 years ago, 5 years ago or last season?

    Lots of good points in this article. Thanks for making us think!

  22. 20/02/13 at 4:14

    I have a very small collection of bras and panties and I’m perfectly okay with it. There are a few pretty pieces I treated myself with, and the rest are pack-of-6 pieces, as plain and simple as possible, but nothing in between. No knock-off. I’d rather go braless (which I often do) than filling the gap with cheap rip-off from mainstream brands. I do the same with clothing, shoes included. And the thing is, while these brands may have their own designs, they have definitively lost my trust. I’d rather see collaborations with smaller brands, the design would be more traceable then.

    I cannot stand the idea of giving money to a brand that didn’t worked for it, it just feels like a waste of money. If their costs were cut by not using the services of a designer, and their knock-offs are priced the same as their own designs, then yeah, you’re giving them too much money for half the work. I’m rather tightwad, I want my money to be as useful as possible, or being spent on things that are worth it (and it’s not a question of material costs, please…)

  23. 20/02/13 at 10:35

    I think that it’s okay and justified for knock-offs with non competing brands. If designers or companies are not going to design or manufacture for certain groups of people then treacle is right it’s no money out of their pocket. Every single industry does it from cars to clothing to everything. I used to work for Coach and I always laughted at how regal or pompous they feel their brand is when in fact the are a Hermes knock off (in some styles) their logos are similar even their story as to how they started making handbags. But they serve different markets as well. Now if companies that are selling to the same customers are using knock off of there competition then that’s wrong.

  24. Johnny Lingerie
    21/02/13 at 10:29

    This is such a very interesting thread and I have enjoyed both the issues raised and their responses. These are two separate issues here: one being not making a product in a full size range and the other is copying another’s work. Tying them together seems to be a way to justify doing something one feels as wrong. Payback for a company not producing product in all sizes is having your designs stolen. I do not agree with this at all.

    As a one time manufacturer, I can speak from experience that some sizes sell overwhelmingly better than others. It was on principle that I offered all my garments in a full size range. And at the end of the season, guess what I was left with: Only the large sizes. Now how can one sell only 2X & 3X? Even close-out stores will not buy something that is not in a full size range. A lot of money lost. One must understand that manufacturers are not malicious or judgmental, but merely driven by bottom line.

    The idea of stealing another’s design is another subject. All creation is derivative. Truly, when was the last original idea? When was something created that had never been in existence before? Fashion is fashion, meaning that trends, looks and silhouettes change and manufacturers must both lead and follow in that regard to satisfy the market. Stealing is what happens with actual imposters where they usually end up in court by a brand protecting their image. A derivative inspiration is simply fulfilling a market need or, at least, hoping to.

    • 05/03/13 at 6:18

      The solution to your size problem is very simple: pay attention to sales numbers and make fewer units of the uncommon sizes, accordingly. You won’t be left with them.

  25. Intimateretreat
    21/02/13 at 12:22

    “The difficulty of the question is that unlike literature, paintings, and other kinds of creative work fashion does not fall under the protection of copyright” Nor does it fall under patents (once upon a time but not any longer) or intellectual property. I sell a lot of vintage lingerie and a lot of modern lingerie houses buy vintage and copy it. Sometimes verbatim. It may not be ethical but it isn’t illegal and that is the nature of fashion – what comes around goes around.

    What the consumer needs to know is that just because it looks the same doesn’t make it the same. In fashion material and sewing finishes are just as important as the look of the piece. Just because it looks the same doesn’t mean it will fit the same, wear the same, wash the same, or last the same.

    I am okay with a company that copies another companies piece but I am not okay with someone selling an outright forgery. That is a different matter all together and illegal.

  26. 21/02/13 at 19:42

    So I have been thinking about this because I am generally more relaxed than most brands about things that look a bit like ours, for all sorts of reasons, but one of the points you raises really bothered me.
    “But many customers, also understandably, disagree. “If I’m never going to buy from you because you’re not making products for me,” they say, “you haven’t lost any money when I buy from someone else. The sale was never going to be yours.” ”

    Last year, I discovered that one of my longest styanding retailers was taking another brands retro style suspnders, labelling them as KMD and selling them online using our branding and imagery. Initially we found out because one of our fans bought one, realised it did’t seem quite right, and tipped us off, and when I tracked it down they were selling size and colour combinations we have never manufactured, which was a bit of a giveaway to this not being an accidental mishap.

    Anyway, solicitors letters followed, and one of their justifcations was “But you didn’t have these products in stock and you don’t do these sizes and they are the same price as you so we wouldnt have been able to give you this sale anyway “.

    Now this was a full blown counterfeit case, but how is the basic rationale any different?

    • 21/02/13 at 19:57

      The points I’m raising are meant to show the discussion from both sides, not to be a personal endorsement from me on either side. I’ve found many customers don’t understand why brands can’t make everything in every size at every price point and likewise many designers (particularly, high-end or luxury designers) don’t consider just how much of the lingerie-wearing population is excluded from the sizes they do make.

      Re: the counterfeit case, the fact that they were selling those products as Kiss Me Deadly items is the most important part to me (i.e. they sold counterfeits, which I indicated my strong distaste for at the very beginning of the article) and is inextricable from everything else about the case. Their logic doesn’t hold up because they weren’t selling those garter belts as their own items under their own name, but were attempting to pass them off as yours.

  27. Amanda
    22/02/13 at 23:46

    As far as I can tell, the rip off is a very common part of the fashion industry. What can’t be copied is quality of construction or material. If I buy a rip-off bra from Cacique I know full well that it wouldn’t meet the standards of the company it was lifted from. What I would most like to see is what Jessica suggested — collaborations between wonderful designers and larger lingerie companies that could afford to produce a beautiful creatively designed bra in my “unmarketable” “too expensive” “not worth it” size. Not producing items in my size is a matter of the market, I understand. Stealing design is about the market too — markets, you see, have no morality. There’s a demand for a product being filled in an unethical way? Well, it’s hardly the first time.
    Thing is, the average piece of ready to wear fashion design is like a recipe. The designer did not, in all likelihood, invent most of the elements involved — a sweetheart neckline, a set of pintucks — any more than Paula Deen invented marinating chicken in buttermilk or deep frying. How can you own the complete design if you didn’t originate any of its elements? You can own the text of a recipe for fried chicken you wrote, and the picture of it you took, but you can’t keep anyone else from making the fried chicken, or from claiming the recipe as their own, making it, and selling it in a restaurant. Intellectual property is an incredibly complicated issue. Music is subject to much stricter copyright laws than most things — you can own lyrics, a melody. But anyone can take your chord changes and write a new melody and lyrics. In fact, only every eighth note of the melody need be different for copyright infringement to be avoided. So the question becomes, what’s an essential design element, and what’s just window dressing? Is this copied design really a copy, or is it just different enough? Should Diane von Furstenberg get fifty cents from every wrap dress ever sold? Do we write the names of the inventors of every design element on the tag? What, exactly, do we want the legal recourse for the morally dubious action of copying a garment to be?
    Isn’t it the finished piece that is the real, fully realized work? Because I can fry chicken from Paula Deen’s recipe, but it won’t be the same as if it was made by Paula herself. And I can sing a song written by Bob Dylan, but it’s going to be pretty fundamentally different from the original. Construction, tailoring, material AND design are what make a finished piece, and those things are quite hard to replicate.

  28. 28/02/13 at 8:40

    Whilst I agree it’s heartbreaking for the original designer, I suppose it’s also very flattering. The ‘real thing’ will always be better quality (it’ll fit better and last longer too so may actually be better value in the long run) and there’ll be people who can afford to pay for that. For those that can’t, I can understand buying something which looks similar. As you say, there’s 2 sides.

  29. Estelle
    01/03/13 at 12:20

    I commented in this blog before but two things today made me come back. Firstly, I overheard some people talking about clothing copyrights today who said that you can copyright logos but not shapes – you can’t for example invent the puffball skirt and then tell the whole world it’s your design and they can’t make a puffball skirt too. In ‘fashion land’ it’s normally said you can use another designers template if you change it 10%. Defining 10% of a design is not exactly easy, but the point is its not much. So do Marlies Dekkers ‘own’ that strappy bit across the cup? No. And as time goes on more and more people will copy it until its just another shape like a plunge bra or a backless bra – someone had to design those first!

    And secondly, Hopeless Lingerie (a brand I love) just released a pentagon bra with elastic pentagon detail which instantly reminded me of Karolina Laskowska’s pentagon bodysuit with the exact sane detail, just at the back. Was it copied? I have no idea (I hope not) but if it was, can it really be counted as copying when it’s not identical – one’s a bra, the other’s a bodysuit – and just because Laskowska was the first to do that shape does it mean no one else can?

    As some famous person said, no idea is original anymore ;) Big brands copy and little brands copy and many brands are ‘inspired’ by vintage lingerie or details they see on clothing and are just the first ones to apply them to lingerie.

    All that said, I’m still against EXACT copies of garments, that’s never right.

  30. 05/03/13 at 7:20

    Often you will find there is a kind of zeitgeist – where multiple designers in different parts of the world tap into the same aesthetic…they may come up with similar styles, but none have been copies. This is in the broader fashion design world and in intimate apparel design. hence the interest in multiple strapping in fashion forward lingerie over the last 3 or so years. this is now filtering into mainstream in the same way that vintage did a few years ago. Unfortunately once your work is out there, it’s out there and people will copy. when you are a fashion forward designer, you literally lead the way, and this is what small maunufacturers do. The smaller your company, the smaller your size range may have to be; it is absolutely impossible to do large runs of multiple sizes. In the past I made larger sizes that did not sell, and my stockists asked me to make smaller sizes ( a lot of my customers were young Asian women). the only way a small company can keep everyone happy is to do made to measure – which is problematic in many ways. not to mention that all your patterns have to be graded etc etc. People who have responded to this post negatively may not actually understand the industry; but if you pay $200 for a hand made bra with bound seams etc…made by an independent designer from an amazing boutique; I guarantee it is head and shoulders above the one you buy at Target, Marks and Spencers, or any chain store/department store. They are two completely different markets. Large manufacturers buy up samples from boutiques across the world, take them back to their product developers who copy them, maybe tweak the fabric and trim a little, then pump them out from factories in China. I have seen it done; the original garments literally stamped with “sample”, everything from Dior lingerie, to small labels. Someone else also mentioned the big labels posing as upmarket boutique – this is also an issue as the price doesn’t reflect the quality. We have one here in Australia called Pleasure State which is an example of that. As someone who has been in the fashion industry a while now, and as a design teacher as well, the only thing you can do is stay ahead of the game. Genuine design as opposed to product development – and really using textiles, colour and trim in new and beautiful ways.

  31. honor
    05/03/13 at 7:30

    From my perspective, these are very different issues.

    Counterfeiting or passing off copied garments as from a recognised brand is against the law; no argument.

    The issue of sizing happens in everything, not just lingerie. I’m tallish with long legs and long arms, I’m not a freak, I’ve had to accept that not everything I like will fit, so I try to find equivalents that do. In lingerie terms, I love KMD and WKD to name but two, but not everything they do is in my size. Que sera sera.

    The cheaper versus more expensive. I work on the less is more concept, in as much as I try to buy better quality, less often. I’ve found well made products, that are well looked after frequently last longer than less expensive copies.

  32. AlexaFaie
    05/03/13 at 12:46

    Just thought it was worth pointing out, since I’d scoured that site the very first image was taken from, that not only 3 out of the 6 were stolen images. The two worn by Morgana are the most obvious of the stolen images; both those and the one in the middle of the bottom row are corsets designed and hand made by Royal Black Couture & Corsetry and can be found:
    here – http://royalblack.at/purple-bows.html
    here – http://royalblack.at/lace-dreams.html
    and here – http://royalblack.at/violet-pearl.html

    Of the remaining, the bottom left and right are both corsets by Timeless Trends. Though this is a “cheaper” off the rack corset company, they still produce their own designs. The one on the left is an old style (I remember the photo, but its no longer listed in their catalogue).
    One on the right can be found here – http://timeless-trends.com/black-cashmere-corset

    The final corset at top right, though a “stock image” is still a photo taken of a corset made by the company run by Suman Bharti (Punk69, CorsetWholesale, Corsets UK etc etc). Yes they are the biggest wholesaler in the world of corsets, but they still come up with their own designs. Though I have seen “inspired by” pieces, none appear to be direct knock offs (Corsets UK do stock some plastic boned things from China some of which were knock offs, but they at least don’t use the original images to sell them). So that one gets seen everywhere.

    That website the photo was taken of had 48 pages where all of the photos were stolen. Some were stolen directly from the designers, some from companies who stocked the garments (and had had them photographed for their sale), and some were even stolen from regular people who had uploaded photos of themselves in their corset online. You know those mirror shots people like to show their friends when they are pleased with a new purchase and want to show it off? Yep, they even stole those. That’s not so much an issue of plagiarism, but it wouldn’t be nice to find yourself selling a product without any form of compensation for having your candid photo used. And then of course there is the issue of copyright theft as the photographer who took the photo is loosing out financially as he/she is not being paid by the knock-off sellers for use of his/her image. Same with the models. Its not just the designer who loses out in these circumstances.

    Aside from that, in the “copies” argument where the designs are similar enough to have been “inspired by” but aren’t downright copyright infringement used to sell counterfeit goods, you could argue that it doesn’t matter much as they are at such different price points that they aren’t detrimental to each other. I’d argue that this isn’t the case. The fact that so many “inspired by” pieces are available for such a low price (in comparison to the original) often makes people wonder why the original costs so much. In a day when everything was made by one or a few people, people understood the costs (in both time, money, primary materials etc), but now, people have become so detached from the process that they can’t understand how something could cost so much when they can buy a multipack of knickers for a fiver. Sure you can bring up sweatshop labour and the general concept of cheaper labour overseas, but that’s the most the general not-clued-up consumer can grasp. Then when they find out that some of the top designers use the same cheaper labour, they’re back at square one with the “can’t compute” mentality.

    The more we get cheaper imitations or “inspired by”s, the more detached people become and the less they understand the process behind the garment. This can lead to people being downright rude when they approach someone who sells their own custom made designs. They’ll spout things like “but the fabric for that only cost x per y meters/yards!!” and that will be as much as they consider. That’s fine, but that is just the most basic element of a finished garment from a small independent designer. In reality, the cost is made up of so many things.
    * The original idea
    * Creating a pattern based on that idea
    * Sourcing the fabrics
    * Cost of fabrics/supplies
    * Making the first sample
    * Testing the sample
    * Making any alterations
    * If for large scale sale (not just one off) then scaling the pattern up and down for different sizes
    * Producing the garment in several sizes / Finding a factory to produce your garment, Paying them, Waiting for the garments to be made
    * Marketing and advertising
    * Cost of a website plus website designer and maintainer costs if not able to do it yourself
    * Photographers and models to show your designs to the world
    * Garment tags and packaging
    * Retail outlet which sells the finished garments – rent, staff wages, electricity bills, security systems etc etc / Wholesale to other stores so loss of money from selling wholesale not direct (though may be more affordable that brick & mortar store).
    * Paying yourself (the designer) for your time. That’s right, the designer needs to be paid a wage before you even consider profit.
    * Cost of equipment and machinery to make the garments if not already included by having a factory produce the garment.
    * PROFIT – because if you only sell the garment at the cost of supplies (or supplies plus man hours) then you won’t be able to afford to make the next garment.

    That is all before you consider such things as quality of construction and things like that. The above list is why large scale production of “knock offs” or “copies” or just “inspired by”s can have quite a huge impact on the independent designer. If you take the “I want it now and I want it cheap” mentality which a lot of us have grown up with because of mass production, and then apply it to independent designers, it just does not work. And suggesting that they are ripping people off with their far higher costs is just offensive. Ok, so they don’t make your size because you are squiggly-bumph XYZ. Can you see a little bit WHY now? They might not be able to afford to make that size for whatever reason. If a factory they are having make the garment has never made size squiggly-bumph XYZ before, do you think they’d be very skilled at it? If you were going to a independent company, would you want to find they stock your size, but the quality is crap compared to the other sizes? No, you’d want it to be just as good. So there would need to be training paid for to teach the people to be able to make size squiggly-bumph XYZ, enough people of that size wanting that exact garment to be able to keep the costs the same for that size as for all the other sizes. Then of course there is the practicality of the garment. Not all styles/shapes work for everybody. Some sizes need more or less support making certain fabrics unsuitable. So in some cases it would fit badly if you tried to make the garment in that size in the exact same style. You wouldn’t make a church out of the same material as a two man tent. You wouldn’t make a two man tent out of the same material as a church. Its not about fairness, its about practicality.

    Sure it can be frustrating that somewhere doesn’t stock size squiggly-bumph XYZ, but if you want that to change, consider investing in the company. Suggest they create one of the many crowdfunding projects out there and “donate” (you get some kind of reward, all these crowdfunding things make that a necessity). I’m pretty sure that most independent designers want to be able to sell to as many people as possible, they just need more financial stability to do so. Why not invest in them instead of being snarky about them not making your size? Then you don’t have to “deal with it” and they don’t have to “suck it up”.

    If it is a case of not being able to afford it, then at least be aware of what goes into making a design for an independent brand. Then its all down to morals which is a grey area. You can either choose to buy a copy/inspired piece or choose not to. I personally wouldn’t as I’d want the original designer to profit from their hard work. If it means saving up for that one thing, then I’ll pick that over buying a cheaper version of it. But if its something which isn’t obviously a copy of something else (I mean, a beige tshirt bra is a beige tshirt bra) then I’m happy to buy from a bigger (potentially cheaper) company. I recently bought some new multipack knickers from Peacocks (cheap highstreet store in the UK) to replace some old falling apart “everyday” knickers from Asda. But if they were knock offs, I wouldn’t buy them.

    • 08/03/13 at 13:11

      Suggest they create one of the many crowdfunding projects out there and “donate” (you get some kind of reward, all these crowdfunding things make that a necessity).”

      There’s a lot of content in your reply, and I don’t want to address all of it, but I did want to speak to this point in particular.

      It is not the responsibility of consumers to teach indie brands how to market themselves or raise funds. Nor should customers be expected to finance brands (i.e. “invest” in them), especially when those brands have indicated that certain customers are not within their target market. This is the business of lingerie. Not the charity of it. And no one is responsible for the financial stability of your business other than you.

  33. Masha
    05/03/13 at 12:56

    I was looking at this because I desperately want the Cendrillon knickers from Agent Provocateur, but as a college student, can’t hope to ever afford them in my life. They’ve got a $190 price tag. Seeing it’s design, however, and having many bits of lace and ribbon and knowing a bit about sewing, I’ve been inspired to recreate one for myself; theirs may not even come in my size anyway. I hope my small action isn’t too huge a impact on the industry, but I am a bit torn because Agent Provocateur ultimately owns the design for these panties.

    • 08/03/13 at 13:17

      Hmmm…I’d disagree with that. Agent Provocateur made the ouvert ribbon design popular, but they’re not the first company to come up with it. They just resurrected the concept.

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