Within the first few years, Mimi Boutique became a popular online destination for designer inspired handbags. Although this was exciting at the time, honestly it came as a big surprise. Since then I have concluded and formed some pretty strong opinions about selling designer inspired pieces online. In this post, I will touch on 3 things you should know about selling designer inspired fashion.
To understand what designer inspired means I believe you have to familiarize yourself with what knock offs are. You can’t understand one without the other because according to some the differences can cause a stir. In short, a knock off is an inferior copy of something; in other words an imitation. Designer inspired refers to an item that has been inspired by a well known designer.
I believe the world we live in is designer inspired; there have been predecessors in all fields that have inspired others to create. Where can we draw the line between designer inspired and replicating? Most will say, if you seek inspiration just don’t copy and you’ll be OK. It is a pretty straightforward concept but in the multi billion dollar fashion industry this subject has never been as controversial as it is present day. To understand it you have to understand the landscape. Some argue that modern day technology has presented greater hurdles for designer brands to hold on to their return on investment when images are shared from runways to street view in a blink of an eye. The ‘open source’ reality presents opportunities for similar style items to be manufactured and sold in the public domain for less and provides no financial credit to the originating designer. It’s vicious cycle that carries on season after season.
You may be wondering where does copyright law fit into this? Here in the U.S. if you are a jewelry or fabric designer you are protected under U.S. copyright laws through your entire lifespan plus 70 years thereafter. Fashion articles at this time are not protected under current U.S. copyright laws.
Beware of the big dogs
On two separate occasions Mimi Boutique was contacted by law offices that represent some of the most renowned global fashion design houses. Attorneys from each designer were in hot pursuit trying to make a case that we were selling counterfeits. To make matters worse, one of the bags that was being cited as a replica had just received some amazing press in NW Magazine Australia. Nonetheless, when a situation like this presents itself you learn a lot about your business, the industry you are in, marketing and how the big dogs operate.
As legal threats of lawsuits were being made on the heels of cease and desist letters, we got past the fear, stood up, represented ourselves on the phone and via letters to lay the matter to rest quickly. Let me be clear, this did not come without a huge expense. At that juncture we had to remove the items in question from the website, we took a financial loss on merchandise, and we had to painstakingly explain to our customers why these popular items were no longer being sold. In the end, we had to re asses our marketing, SEO and content strategies all of which were huge contributing factors to the matters at hand.
Market your items wisely
You don’t know how I cringe every single time I see another retailer hashtagging their items with designer brands while selling an inspired item on social. I always scratch my head when I see a piece of email marketing from the competition promoting their products along with a reference to a designer. In my opinion this is just wrong on so many levels.
Selling a designer inspired item should be marketed on its own merit not in conjunction with a design house or label. These days I find the most effective way to do so is by referencing an ‘iconic look’ or demonstrating it via a celebrity style in an image. As long as it is notated as such you should be in good shape. (Note, if you do this make sure to have a disclaimer on your site.) If you work with other people to market your items, e.g. fashion bloggers you need to make sure that the wording on these instances represent your products in a concise manner as well. You must be vigilant on this front.
To summarize, in the ecommerce fashion sphere, you need to understand the playing field and take stock of your methodologies of selling online. Finding a winning formula that works for you is key, but fine tuning it on a regular basis is equally as important. If you like what you are reading, make sure to subscribe to the blog.