An article in Friday's Women's Wear Daily highlighted the ongoing battle that young designers are having in preventing their designs from being copied by much larger mass-market rivals. Hence, the CFDA in the United States is spearheading The Design Piracy Prohibition Act, to protect the designs of American fashion designers for a period of three years and impose a fine of at least $250,000 for a successful conviction of fashion copyright infringement.
While the law is still far from being enacted, the high-profile discussion has shed new light on the scale of the problem. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated that $12 billion was lost due to counterfeiting and piracy in the fashion and apparel industry in 2006.
With formal legal recourse hanging in the balance, sometimes designers have to take matters into their own hands. Aseef Vaza, whose shapely clutches have become a must-have for London's fashion insiders, is one example.
Last year, Aseef successfully defended himself against Arcadia Group, whose copy he discovered in one of those "get it for cheaper" features in the Sunday Times Style Magazine as seen in the banner image above.
More recently, Aseef has taken on Judith Lieber for her Twilight clutch, which he insists is a copy of his own Elsie clutch. Several attempts (via the Lieber Internet site and via telephone) over the past few days to contact Lieber to get their side of the story were unsuccessful.
So, while we can't attest to the veracity of Vaza's latest claims (we'll allow you and the courts to judge for yourselves), we thought it would be interesting to talk to Aseef about his experience with defending his designs, as a lesson for other designers.
BoF: How did you discover the Judith Lieber clutch and what makes you so sure it is a copy? How do you prove that?
AV: A dear friend of mine from NYC emailed me to check the website of a leading NYC based department store. When I checked the website to my horror I saw an example of the Elsie clutch by VAZA being offered by Lieber. I rang the Lieber Boutique on Madison who promptly sent me images of the piece and also told me where in the UK I could find the piece, which was being offered in crocodile and was assembled in a similar way.
The Elsie clutch was created and offered on the market in October 2005 in Paris. It was picked up by US retailers Mix Modern in Houston and Blake in Chicago. The piece first came to press in November 2005 on the JC Report.
BoF: Your lawyer has written to Judith Lieber to file a complaint. What has been the response from Lieber?
We have written a formal letter of complaint to Lieber and are awaiting a reply.
BoF: This is not the first time you have charged someone with copying your designs. What happened the first time around and how did you defend your interests as a emerging business up against a much bigger rival like Arcadia?
AV: I first caught sight of the piece in a leading publication which I presented to my Italian manufacturer who was furious to see both my design and his craftsmanship exploited. With his support and encouragement I contacted a UK based law firm who agreed to act on my behalf after having researched the evidence. Their actions were prompt & efficient to my satisfaction.
BoF: What advice would you offer other young designers who face similar challenges with bigger rivals copying their designs?
AV: If you have the means and recourse to apply intellectual property rights to your products please do so. I would also recommend you join organizations such as ACID.
Photos clips courtesy of Aseef Vaza, Sunday Times Style Magazine and Judith Lieber.
© 2008 Copyright Imran Amed - The Business of Fashion