If you're like me, you may shop stores like Zara, H&M and Forever 21 because they essentially sell affordable "trickle down" versions of designs that originated on the runway. 
I never stopped to think about how this constant cycle of imitation impacts the fashion industry until I stumbled across a fascinating TED talk about the fashion industry by Johanna Blakley, who heads up the Norman Lear Center (a media-focused think tank) at USC.  It got me thinking about the crazy fashion industry that I find exhausting to keep up with at times. 

As you may or may not know, there is very little intellectual property protection in the fashion industry.  There is trademark protection, but no copyright or patent protection exists.  Anybody can copy any garment and essentially sell it as their own design.  One would think that as a result, fashion as an industry would become stagnant, recycling and reusing old ideas as innovation declines.
Blakley asserts that a lack of copyright protection in the fashion industry has actually enabled fashion designers to elevate their craft.  Fashion continues to be a rapidly innovative and creative industry because designers are privy to using each others' designs.  And because of the transparent nature of the industry, designers like Stuart Weitzman, Tom Ford, Diane Von Furstenberg, etc. know that they must continually push the envelope and innovate to stay ahead of the imitators at their heels.  

“One of the magical side effects of having a culture of copying is the establishment of trends. People think this is a magical thing. How does it happen? Because it’s legal [in the fashion industry] for people to copy one another.”

The proof?   Below, charted from left to right are the gross sales (2007) of the following industries: Food, Cars, Fashion, Furniture, Film, Books and Music.  Notice how the industries with virtually no copyright protection on the left (food, cars and fashion) have higher overall sales than the industries that have heavy copyright regulations (film, books and music, on the right).

(Source: "Lessons From Fashion's Free Culture", Johanna Blakley, TEDX USC talk)

For the original talk, click  here


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