In July, Kolkata-based designer Snigdha Seksaria messaged sustainable fashion brand Doodlage on Instagram: “Hi! This design of yours is uncannily similar to one of my designs from 2016 of the brand Blankslate. I feel it is a copy and would want to reach out to someone to whom I could talk to in regard to this!”

The two designs in question:

Doodlage, which turns “discarded/rejected fabrics and scraps into beautiful upcycled masterpieces”, responded saying, “The print is in a checkered pattern and was developed in-house. It’s part of our menswear 2017 collection which has a series of slogan printed shirts… We assure you that we had no intentions to make this similar to anything that has been created before by another designer, on purpose.”

Seksaria argued that, apart from the basic pattern, the text style, the styling and the silhouette of Doodlage’s design also matched hers. She added that Blankslate, her indie design label, did not produce much in the way of surplus which could be picked up by another brand and used to remake full clothes.

The spat was sparked off by Diet Sabya, a six-month-old anonymous Instagram account that has made it its mission to flag supposed copycats in Indian fashion. With over 100,000 followers today, Diet Sabya is emblematic of a drastic shift in how plagiarism is treated in the fashion industry, both in India and around the world.

The rarefied circles of haute couture are no stranger to the act of imitation (or even outright knock-offs), but historically, public criticism was a rare sight. Not any more—brands, designers and anonymous vigilantes like Diet Sabya and its global forerunner Diet Prada are increasingly taking to social media to call out imitators big and small. (Diet Prada’s rise, in particular, has been hailed as one of the “definitive fashion moments” of 2018, and its cheeky call-outs have earned it the ire of some of the industry’s biggest names.)

The ensuing conflict could very well help reshape the power dynamics of the design world.

Mirror, mirror

In India, pretty much every brand has to deal with cheap knock-offs churned out by factories across the country (and by local tailors at our request, of course). Most companies choose to ignore them, betting their core audience will seek out originals.

But for small artists and brands, when it comes to plagiarism, legal action is difficult to pull off—and not to mention, expensive.

A South India-based designer and manufacturer of fashion apparel who exports his products is currently fighting two legal battles related to copyright infringement, one against a popular international sports brand.

AUTHOR

Chandni Doulatramani

Chandni Doulatramani is an independent journalist and writer. She writes on culture, technology, gender, and lifestyle. Her stories have appeared in publications such as The Caravan, National Geographic Traveller India, VICE India and Mint Lounge. Previously, she worked as a financial journalist for Reuters and Mint.

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