The Fine Line Between Inspiration And Imitation – ‘How Close Is Too Close?’

640-AdjSE-Crp-Ret-F6561Designing fashion, like wearing fashion, is all about self expression; breaking rules and having fun right? Well yes, until we receive a letter from a lawyer telling us our design is ‘too close’ and has infringed on another designer’s copyright.

Last Wednesday morning I was honoured to be an invited guest at the ‘Fashion Law Breakfast’ hosted by K&L Gates law firm with IP law Partners Lisa Egan and Jonathan Feder. Fashion panellists were industry heavyweights: Anthony Halas, CEO of Seafolly and Glynis Traill-Nash, Fashion Editor at The Australian newspaper.
After casual hellos during the light breakfast buffet, about 30 guests then sat down to learn about the topic of the day – ‘Copyright law and fashion, how close is too close?’

We learnt about the difference between being inspired and being liable for copying someone’s design through several case studies. And we were showing by samples to pass around.
Seafolly had produced a swimwear range called English Rose, and another brand, City Beach came up with a design, ‘Rosette’ which showed significant similarities in print and colouring to English Rose. Then there were two other designs of Seafolly, the Covent Garden print and a stitching pattern on Senorita. City Beach had something uncannily similar too! The Sienna pattern and Richelle stitching… Seafolly thought their designs had been copied and alerted their lawyers.

Haven’t we all heard that if you change 10% of the design then it’s not copying? Well think again, it seems this is just an urban myth; it’s really not that simple.
Jonathan used Seafolly’s English Rose as an example. The design had been hand painted, then digitised, then the design went through a series of changes and adjustments, all documented and archived by Seafolly and the design team. All of this importantly representing “skill and effort” as Jonathan pointed out. These design steps were shown during the court case against City Beach as proof of originality, something City Beach could not provide. It actually came to light that City Beach repeatedly pushed there designers to make their pattern closer to Seafolly.
Anthony Halas, speaking of Seafolly’s legal victory said “I didn’t do it for the money” “It’s important for us to protect our original fabric designs”.

As the discussion continued we were shown two more case studies, one an iconic jeans brand and another an American Tee shirt company. The cases and items may have been different but the underlying principle remained the same – where did you get your ‘inspiration’ from?
Lisa opined “You most likely start with a mood board..,” “my suggestion to new designers is”, (after making your mood board) “move away from that mood board and start fresh”.
Kent from Street Fashion Sydney asked Glynis a good question, to find out more, simply click here.

For someone who has very little knowledge of fashion law like myself, there was a lot of information to digest and I certainly found this experience very informative and interesting.
If you or someone you know might need legal advice or information regarding Fashion Law; Copyright Law and Intellectual Property, please contact legal experts: Lisa Egan and/or Jonathan Feder Partners of K&L Gates. They can tell you where you stand.

Photography by: Kent Johnson


  1. Very informative posts from you and Kent. Enjoyed reading them!

    (PS. I am totally jealous at all the events you guys make it to all the time! Makes me want to run over to Sydney ASAP. Over here in Gh, I’m practically the only style blogger… it’s not such a lively blog community here. *Tears*)

    • Thank you for your feedback Cara. I’m glad that you find it informative.

      Regarding these events Kent and I attended.., well, Kent receives more invitations in Sydney than I do and whoever has an invite; we ask for a ‘plus one’, therefore, combine the two of us it’d be more launches/events to go to!
      Funny enough; most of my fashion event invitations were sent from the USA – it looks like I’m living in the wrong part of the world too!

  2. That’s an interesting topic. I sometimes wonder how high street chains like H&M and Zara manage to proceed without lawsuits as some of their designs seem to be taken straight from the runways of other design houses.

    • Hi Mitzie, I believe the thought on the day was that the fast fashion chains are ‘smarter’ which I think means they do do there own design with a pastiche of the current season design elements – becoming there ‘own’ style in a way… At least that was my take on it.

  3. Ah copyright, something of a vexed topic to say the least. Given the satisfaction and longer term gain to be derived from creating something original and unique to a company or for the matter individual design house hard to understand the rampant copying and infraction of copyright which goes on.

    • I love your feedback Greg and I agree with you. Sadly, not everyone can be creative and when some design teams from fashion houses only been given average 5 to 7 minutes to come out with a ‘new’ design (yes I heard of this from a fashion insider), I guess it’s hard to be original all the time…

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