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Fast fashion empire crippled by copyright infringement

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Three independent designers sued Shein for stealing designs of their brands which is in violation of the Racketeer influenced and Corrupt Organizations for copyright infringement.

Popular fast fashion pioneer SHEIN has made a name for themselves in the fashion industry. From hosting fashion shows and pouring millions into influencer culture, they have recently run into hot water as the company was accused of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO), making SHEIN the target of an organized crime lawsuit.

According to TIME, July 11, three independent designers sued SHEIN for stealing carbon-copy designs of their brands. Accusing their actions as a violation of RICO, since racketeering applies to copyright infringement.  

COMPLEX reported SHEIN became a prime candidate for these charges due to their lack of making their designs with unique elements, but rather copied the work of other designers with cheaper techniques.  

SHEIN customer, Andrea Amaya, mentioned how regardless of quality and the allegations, the company has never missed the mark for her.   

“It’s cheap clothing, but (also) you can get a lot of looks for way cheap.” said Amaya. “You know you’re not really getting $100 quality, (but) it’s understandable.” 

She says it became easy for her to become attached to the company due to the big influencers during the pandemic and since then she has built a massive part of her wardrobe with pieces from SHEIN. 

Susan Scafidi, Fordham Fashion Law Institute founder and director, told COMPLEX mass-producing stolen designs is nothing new to this industry, as many fast fashion companies try to stay relevant by jumping on trends and end up offering settlement with original creators. But in this case, SHEIN remains participating in this unethical practice without offering any compensation to the designers. 

Thrift aficionado, Paulina Garcia, explains SHEIN has ruined a lot of people’s thrifting experiences, including her own.  

When I look for clothes, I like to find authentic pieces and unique clothing,” said Garcia. “But they (SHEIN) just reproduce these mass amounts of clothes that are basically the same and their cheap quality doesn’t really benefit the shopper when they end up in thrift stores.” 

Scafidi highlighted that SHEIN’s reputation might never be the same after this case, resulting in some consumers straying from purchasing from the brand, while others’ opinions may not be affected by the lawsuit. 

Amaya says regardless of fast fashion or not, SHEIN’s actions are wrong, but it was inevitable for a big company like this to copy other people’s work.  

“Everything’s gonna be copied at one point,” said Amaya. “Generation wise we copy off the 90s, 80s, and the 2000s, everything comes back because it’s trendy.” 

The article further mentioned regardless of the allegations of slave labor, cheating taxers, and unsustainable practices, the company might not suffer any legal consequences.  

“I believe SHEIN needs a refresher that the world is falling apart,” said Garcia. “Always looking for profit and shortcuts is not valuable.” 

When it comes to lawsuits involving such huge companies, it can be difficult to sympathize and connect with those affected because many believe this argument is just about clothes. The issues underlying the foundation of SHEIN have had huge impacts on the environment, labor workers, independent artists, consumers, and most importantly local businesses. 

Uptown Cheapskate buyer and assistant manager, Breeana Mapes, explained how Shein has become one of their biggest problems at their store.  

“I’ve worked at Uptown for three years now and the longer I’ve worked there the more often we see brands like SHEIN,” Mapes said. “I don’t think people realize why we can’t take (SHEIN) because of the quality (and) because of how inexpensive they are to begin with.”  

This local thrift business is known for their system of purchasing quality clothes from locals and reselling them at cheaper price points.  

Mapes mentions that the increase in individuals who want to sell their fast-fashion items has affected the way people approach the shop when it comes to selling their clothes.  

“We have to be more selective with certain items,” Mapes said.  “Because the more we get, the more we have to say no to it, and the less we get to buy from (other) people.” 

Mapes expresses how sad it is to see how purchasing fast fashion has limited the opportunity of many being able to give their clothes a second shot in life. To help minimize the cycle of fast fashion, she advises customers to stop participating in micro-trends and encourages them to find their personal styles. 

“Trends they come and go so fast and the micro-bubbles pop,” said Mapes, “If you try to find what you like, you will always take care of it.” 

As of now, SHEIN is yet to comment on the lawsuit and artists remain hoping to receive justice for their work. 

Yoali Rodriguez is a contributor and may be reached at [email protected] 

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Yoali Rodriguez
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