When a designer claims their work has been replicated, it is something that is guaranteed to draw gasps and, of course, questions: what happened, is this a case of theft, and the like. Of course, proving that you’ve been copied as a designer, and suing the party that stands accused of doing so, is something that could prove tiresome, and more often than not, it is probably not possible to prove that you are the originator of the design in a court of law.
Not only could it prove to be a complete waste of time, it could prove to be a waste of money, too, and for local designers, who are already cash-strapped, trying to run small businesses in an often unsupportive environment, that money is most probably best spent investing in the business. This doesn’t take away from the hurt and anger that such a situation might bring about.
Yesterday morning, Loin, Cloth & Ashes designer, Anisa Mpungwe, posted a long Facebook status update, alleging that a dress design of hers had been replicated and was being stocked at Maria McCloy’s store at a new retail space at the Newtown Junction Mall in Johannesburg (in case the featured image on this post was confusing, Solange Knowles is wearing said dress). I say “alleging” because, really, it is not my place to decide if that dress was indeed a replica. I can state, however, that the similarity is striking! Said dress has a label on it – Sassy Anna. I’ll leave Anisa’s Facebook post here, unedited:
On the 25th of November, in support of a number of friends opening their own stores, I attended the launch of the new retail space, WORK SHOP NEW TOWN in the Newtown Junction Mall. My stay was short and therefore I wasn’t able to visit all the stores in this exciting space. Later that evening I received a message from one of my team members that a store, MARIA McCLOY, was stocking what appeared to be a replica of the LCA Bow Dress. After analysing photographic evidence (see attached) and after my business partner visited the store for further confirmation, it was evident that the dress in question is indeed a Loin Cloth and Ashes dress. The fabric is distinctive and unique – it was handpicked by me from East Africa. The design features exposed front darts, bow detail, and front slit as well as a semi square/semi circle neck line and detailed racer back with an invisible zip that is synonymous with Loin Cloth and Ashes. This particular style was first launched in our 2011 SS collection and in 2012 the dress was stocked exclusively to Spree and the Loin Cloth and Ashes store. There is no doubt that the dress seen in MARIA McCLOY is an exact replica. The most shocking part is that the dress carries another label, “Sassy Anna” with a retail price tag of R350.00 – 70% less than the original. The dress is reportedly in poor condition with unravelling seams and wear and tear from either being worn or improperly cared for. My initial reaction was that of shock, anger and hurt. After a few days of reflection and counsel, I see this as an opportunity to have an open discussion on this subject. South Africa has a relatively young fashion industry with extraordinarily talented and inspiring designers. Building a brand entails years of hard work and sacrifice which every designer understands. Incidents such as this fuel a paranoia which is ultimately destructive and stunts growth. This does not foster learning or build an environment of where we can compete as equals. It ultimately undermines our credibility as designers and alienates us from each other and the global space we strive to participate in. This is not the first time this has happened nor will it be the last. Copying, counterfeiting and other dishonesties are ever present in the fashion industry. I am not sure why brand MARIA McCLOY decided to do this. I am hoping that this dress has not been bought. If you have been a victim of this deception and are reading this, please return the garment to Loin Cloth & Ashes Store, with the receipt. We will replace it with a well made, proudly African, Bow Dress from its original birth place. We are better than this and we can do better than this. Anisa.
Having read that, as a writer with an interest in the conversation around the survival of our already ailing fashion industry, this, of course, piqued my interest, and I do believe it is a conversation worth having. It is, however, worth noting that the dress is NOT made by Maria McCloy, neither is it sold as a Maria McCloy design. She does have a brand of accessories and shoes, but Maria – as she also duly noted – is NOT a clothing designer. And I quote a response I got from her over the phone: “I don’t manufacture clothes. I source them from suppliers all over the city. What that means, is that Anisa is being copied on a much bigger scale. That’s where the problem is. It’s not cool that she is being copied, and I would most certainly never do that.”
Maria added that she was more than willing to discontinue the sale of the dress.
What is certainly clear here is that the manufacturing and retail of imitations – whether fraudulent or not – is a real thing. Perhaps the fashion industry should be looking at ways of avoiding this in future, and that probably means engaging small business owners like Maria McCloy, working closely with them in trying to find ways to ensure the survival of the entire fashion value chain. It underscores the continued lack of collaboration and the abysmal lack of support for small business, that is eating away at entrepreneurship, and indeed, the South African fashion industry.
By Sandiso Ngubane
Image by Esa Alexander/Timeslive.co.za