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Feb 25, 2014

The Ethics of the Home-Sewn Designer Knock-Off



Friends, does copying something you've seen on the runway or in a store feel OK to you?

I mean, assuming you're not mass-producing the item to make a profit, does this set off any ethical alarms? You are stealing somebody else's idea after all (not that they necessarily thought of it first).

While I was busy today not doing my sewing homework for tonight's class (in truth, there wasn't much for me to do), I decided to swing by a new store I'd read about recently, Dover Street Market, on the corner of Lexington and 30th St.

This is probably the coolest clothing store I've ever visited and I highly recommend it if you're visiting New York.  (You can read more about it here.)  Among the many designers they carry is Comme des Garcons, and it's a much more low-key environment to ogle and touch than their flagship store, which I visited yesterday.  Along with their culottes for men, I love their highly inventive shirts, and I couldn't help but take mental notes as I examined the unusual construction, layering of fabrics, and use of patchwork on many of them. 

On a different floor, I tried on the cotton shirt up top, from a small American manufacturer I'd never heard of, Gitman Bros., located in Pennsylvania. 

I recognized the print right away as Alexander Henry's "Home Sewing Is Easy" quilting cotton (You may remember that I own a copy of the original "Home Sewing Is Easy" instructional comic book.)

How about the ethics of the dressing room photo?

I could knock off this shirt so easily -- you can find the fabric for sale on eBay and Etsy (They didn't have it at the City Quilter store near me; I looked).   If you want the shirt above and can't make it to Dover Street Market, you'll find it here in a long-sleeve, and here in a short-sleeve.  NOTE: it's cut extremely trim -- the Small felt too snug across my chest.

So my question is, would you have a problem with this kind of knock-off?  I wouldn't be using something approximating the fabric, it would be the fabric itself.

Here's something else I'd like to knock-off: a leather vest/shirt-thing I saw today by Comme des Garcons.  The black version looks like a t-shirt in front, the white is more vest-like.  Both are secured with a belt in the back.  The leather is soft and unlined; the belt holes aren't even reinforced with grommets.





And as you know, I'm also planning on coming up with my own version a skirt and/or culottes as shown in the spring/summer collections.

Any thoughts about the ethics of copying these items or ideas?  I mean, it's not like I could go out and plunk down $879 for a mens' skirt; I'm not their customer.

On my way home I snapped a few shots of this guy walking in front of me, and regardless of what you may or may not think of the sagger look, his style seemed so effortlessly chic, it made most of what I saw selling for thousands of dollars at the Dover Street Market look fussy and even a little decadent, do you know what I mean?





In closing, readers, three questions:

1) Have you ever tried knocking off designer fashion?

2) Was your project/garment merely inspired by something you saw, or were you trying to make a carbon copy (or close)?

3) Did you lose any sleep over it?

Have a great day, everybody!

109 comments:

  1. "Good artists copy, great artists steal" - Pablo Picasso

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  2. Take a kinda robin hood attitude to it... if it's a big name designer whose pieces sell for $1000s of dollars, you're just one of many who copy their designs (and at least you wouldn't be profitting of it by selling in a chain store). But I'd feel bad about copying a local small name designer, whose profit margins are probably a lot smaller and who work hard to come up with unique designs.

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    1. I'm reading an Alexander McQueen bio. It's shocking how the fame doesn't translate into big bucks. So I'd say perhaps some of them need our compassion just as much as the local small name designer.

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  3. I wouldn't worry too much about it to be honest. I have copied others work for personal use more then once and no doubt will again. I the case of this shirt I think its the fabric not the design that makes it special anyways.

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  4. I suppose it all depends on how broadly you are interpreting the concept of copying. A pair of men's trousers are all fundamentally similar, yet the concept of trousers is clearly public domain. A fabric print is intended to be used to create a garment, so making a shirt out of the same fabric used to make a shirt that you admire is not unethical. I would even go further by saying that devising a similar pattern would not be unethical. The clearly do-not-cross line is creating a garment that looks identical to its original inspiration and passing it off as the original. If you manage to copy an Armani suit, then tell everyone it IS an Armani suit (let alone attempt to sell it as an Armani suit), then you have crossed over an ethical boundary.

    So, to answer your questions... 1 - Yes, but I always credit the original inspiration and admit that I made it myself. 2. Usually inspired by something I saw, but I've never attempted a carbon copy (though I have come close). 3. A hurricane couldn't prevent me from getting a good night's sleep.

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    1. It is not the copying of the Armani suit that is wrong--even Armani has no control over their designs once in the public domain. But, they do have a trademark on the name. Which is why you can't call it an "Armani" suit.

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    2. I agree with Michael and Anita. Plus the fabric is not unique to this designer...it is sold in stores and those stores also sell shirt patterns, the manufacturer/designer can have no illusions to the shirts exclusivity except the quality of their execution.

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  5. I would really like to see this idea put to rest. Telling people they can't copy is just a bunch of fear mongering! What do you think the top designers do ALL THE TIME. Legally, the fashion industry has absolutely NO copyright protection. I don't loose any sleep whatsoever because I'm not stealing anything. A pattern or clothing design cannot be copyrighted--even the Supreme Court has supported this.

    I'll refer you to this TedTalk for a brief review: http://www.ted.com/talks/johanna_blakley_lessons_from_fashion_s_free_culture.html

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    1. But there can be a difference between what's legal and what one might consider ethical, no?

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    2. You are very right the "legal" & "ethical" can be & often are different. I say if you have the skill to knock off a designer - DO IT. Sleep deeply & well.

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    3. I don't actually think that the term "knockoff" applies legally or ethically to a nonprofessional making a single garment without a profit motive. There's neither competition nor damage.

      The most interesting thing here is that the makers of the $875 shirt used fabric that is available retail. It automatically makes it less special. High-end companies (or so I thought) source small runs of special fabrics or design their own fabric.

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    4. Just to clarify, the "Home Sewing is Easy" shirt was about $188; the SKIRT was roughly $875.

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    5. I don't think it's unethical. Copying has been part of both art and design for a long, long time - Rubens, van Dyck, Picasso, the list goes on... Art and design is evolutionary.

      I've certainly made copies of designer pieces. Some of them have been really nice. I doubt anyone would call them exact - and in fact, the cut and details were made to suit me. And as Michael said above, I never tried to pass it off as the designer original.

      Designers get up in arms about knock-offs, but even high-end designers get "inspired" by other designers. Marc Jacobs was accused by Oscar de la Renta of copying a coat a number of years back - and Jacobs admitted it in a backhanded compliment which suggested that de la Renta may have also had his "inspirations." And notably, de la Renta copies '60s designs frequently - sometimes quite obviously (a number of years back, Stephanie Seymour pointed out that some de la Renta dresses where really nice, but that she owned one the original 1960s Balenciaga dresses, and that one was nicer). Miuccia Prada has also admitted several "inspirations" over the years. These are just a few examples that come to mind.

      You're thinking about making a menswear shirt, from a pattern you obtained legally (purchased, self-drafted, or free-download), in a fabric that you can obtain easily and legally, following a trend that you can see all over the place - modcloth is full of these novelty print pieces. I don't see a problem.

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  6. To expand a bit on what Pablo Picasso said, you may be copying the first time, but that may inspire new ideas for the next time you sew something, allowing you to push yourself even further! I saw Picasso's "copies" of the famous Las meninas painting in Spain, and not only did it allow him to explore his own art form, but to have a sort of conversation with the original artist. As you may well know, copying famous art is a great way to learn and be inspired!

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  7. Great question. A novelty print shirt, especially when the fabric has so obviously been made into other garments doesn't really feel like something one should feel guilty about making, especially when the choice to buy would leave you with a fit that is less than desirable, regardless of price point.
    Personally, the times I would feel I couldn't just up and make a copy usually are those times when I see truly handmade items on etsy. Yes, I could probably source the same materials and make a close copy, but I would feel like I really was stealing their business (OK one customer, myself, but if i wouldn't shoplift it , then i shouldn't be depriving them of the sale another way) especially for things where sizing isn't an issue such as purses.
    As far as knocking off true designer fashion, most high-end designers don't seem to design and produce for my size and shape, so they aren't losing my business if I do copy their designs. I can't think of a specific time I've actually done this, but I retain the right to choose to do so without guilt in the future.

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  8. I have definitely knocked off designer fashions. The fabric is always different from the original, because it's not available. If I have a designer fabric do I go and look for the garment that was made from it? No. Do I feel guilty for doing it? Hell no. Aside from the prices being utterly ridiculous they don't ever come in my size anyway. I certainly don't lose sleep over it! Most of the time the designers fashions are inspiration, not exact copies.
    I read an article some years ago about designers sending their assistants out to buy vintage fashion magazines to use as inspiration. Do you think that all designer fashion is really original? It can also just be inspiration for your flights of fancy which really seems to be what you are doing lately. I love the skirt and leggings btw. It seems that the more experienced you are getting the more you've expanded your sewing horizons. Menswear is so boring most of the time. What, sew another shirt? Another pair of pants?

    out of good fabric unlike those knock off houses like H&M.

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  9. I have definitely made things that were inspired by other garments, either because the original was unobtainable or just prohibitively priced. Usually my garment ends up being unique in some fashion, either in design or fabrication, but even if it was an exact copy it would be no different than the big-name designers who copy from vintage or from each other.

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  10. Designers would not waste a moment sweating or losing sleep about stealing an idea off you so I feel that way about home made knockoffs

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  11. There was an interest TED program I saw that pointed out that while many different businesses/industries have copyrights or patents fashion designers do not. This was the reason why fashion designers put their logo (protected by copyrights) on everything. I don't care to wear another person's name on my clothing or handbag.

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  12. we do it because we CAN. No need to worry

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  13. IIRC, Coco Chanel was once asked if she objected to local dressmakers in towns across France copying her designs. Her reply was something to whit, "Where else are they going to get their fashions?" (Of course, that was quite different than large-scale manufacturers knocking off her designs even before her's made it to the stores.)

    I've made up a few designer patterns, but, of course, in that case the designer has sold a design for the express purpose of being copied. Even then, if you don't have access to the exact fabric and findings and so forth, you're not going to be able to make an exact copy of the retail garment.

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    1. Chanel also had licensing agreements with establishments outside of France that allowed them to reproduce her clothing, although they didn't use the Chanel name. If a store had a wealthy clientele it was easier to negotiate a license than to steal a design outright.

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    2. As well as giving them a certain cachet if they labeled it as an authorized Chanel design and that allowed them to charge more than if it wasn't.

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  14. As long as it isn't made for resale, you shouldn't worry. The readymade shirt didn't fit. Any shirt you make will fit. Designers steal details from other work all the time. Once upon a time I deliberately copied vintage Barbie doll clothing, trying for the Charlotte Johnson fit. I could do it, but after awhile I began to fix things that annoyed me about the originals. In other words, you worry too much. If you like the shirt and can make it better than the one in the store, do so.

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  15. If the idea is merely to make a shirt with a regular shirt pattern using a fabric you saw used by someone else in a shirt you liked, I wouldn't call it stealing at all or even copying. The fabric is for sale for us to make clothing out of. The first person making a shirt out of that fabric doesn't own the idea. It's be horrible with fabric stores if they did!

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  16. A lot of the garments I make are (heavily) inspired by things I see elsewhere. I keep a massive folder of pictures with dresses or design details I want to use, and don't see anything wrong with this as long as I aknowledge I got the idea from somewhere else and don't make a profit of it. I find it harder to take ideas from fellow sewing bloggers, and feel like I should ask them first before I make something inspired by someone else's handmade garment!

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  17. Is $875 for a cotton skirt ethical? Are sweat factories ethical? That is all.

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    1. Well said!!! And the fabric used was already commercially available before this shirt....have at it!!!

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  18. I haven't copied whole garments, but I have borrowed ideas and used them in my own way...

    ...no, actually, I lie.

    I have twice made dresses that were replicas of a vintage dress I loved that didn't fit me, and I'm currently in the process of sewing a suit that is a replica of a suit that I loved and didn't fit me.

    Mind you, these are garments from the 40s and 50s, so not commercially available now.

    However, I don't think anything would stop me copying something currently being sold if it wasn't available in a fabric/pattern that I liked....

    And as an aside... how does that dude keep his pants up?????

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  19. The SIL dress of yore...any qualms?

    Many of us chimed in, conspired, if you will. No greed or ne'er-do-well intent fueled us on, and any lost sleep was over the clarity of how that dress was constructed.

    Until there are fashion police, there will always be replicators and imitators. No shame in that game; typically any sleaze factor is mitigated by the copies being altogether cheaper (trading downward - fashion rarely goes upscale over time, who's going to pay top dollar to be so-year-before-last?).

    Between outright thievery, and a beautiful homage (all things Laura Mae), don't most us at home aspire toward the latter?

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  20. Umm, I think someone copied my shirt and was trying to disguise it with using that fabric in a fitted style. http://sewessentiallysew.blogspot.ca/2012/01/vogue-8748.html

    Stop it! Lol.

    I'm kidding, go for it. I think the print is quite fun.

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    1. I was wondering why they used my jacket lining for a shirt! http://ellecsews.blogspot.ca/2013/11/my-minoru-sung-to-tune-of-my-sharona.html

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  21. I'll knock off in a minute and won't thing two bones about it. Why? Mine will fit me and I have the option to make it a nice or as cheap as I want.

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  22. People have been copying and improving other designers' ideas since the Fig Leaves. I always figure my version will look better on me than theirs would

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  23. I've never seen anything I wanted to copy directly. Parts, sure, but never the whole thing. And I don' t sleep over it because even if I couldn't fudge it, I more than likely couldn't afford it. They're not losing money on me either way. I've yet to see anything in clothing (anything wearable, at least. Over the top haute couture aside) that wasn't copped at least in part from something else.

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  24. As long as it's simply for personal use I don't see a problem at all. In general, I look at copying the way it is viewed in the world of Asian painters (and in the era of the Old Masters). It's one of the most effective ways of learning techniques. It allows you to explore facets of your media in a way that you don't really get if you are intent on creating something "completely original". You have an existing design, and are therefore free to focus your energies on execution and technique. Copying is a tool, not something shameful.

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  25. PUH-LEAZZE, Peter... just see the way that CDG shirt fits you. And, it's a SHIRT. Nothing original about it AT ALL. And, the unspeakable QUALITY (or should I say, LACK of quality!) of a lot of these commercial clothes! And they have the unmitigated BALLS to charge $875 for it? You copy whatever you want to copy, and don't give it a SECOND THOUGHT.After all, how many people can sew? And sew well enough to be able to "knock off" a designer item? And, generally people who sew AREN'T going to have (or to be crazy enough)to spend $875 on a SHIRT , anyway! So nobody loses anything. So rest easy, Peter! You are making it for YOURSELF. If you were making them and selling them in quantity, THEN you are definitely "crossing a line". People who rip off small-scale designers on Etsy should be shot, drawn, quartered, and pissed on, in my opinion. But some big Corporation-owned designer? Meh.

    Oh, and Mr. Sagger, there? You can't be serious. Having your azz hanging out in public (other than on a beach, maybe) is NEVER "chic".

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  26. I do not have any problem with copying if it is not for profit. I just think it would be SO awesome if someone could make a sewing cartoon fabric (like on spoonflower) with characters from your blog : Peter, Cathy, Michael, your mother, friends bloggers, etc!

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  27. It might be 'splitting hairs' but I tend to get 'inspiration' from clothes I see...rather than copy them.

    BTW - the belted at the back shirt inspired thoughts of straight jackets...

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  28. Didn't they have copies of Kate's wedding dresses for sale within days of her wedding? Even Simplicity (I think it's Siimplicity?) had a pattern for the dress within months. It is the evolution of fashion and style.

    As for that man's pants, when I was a teacher I called that past the point of no return. I threatened my oldest that I would make him underwear that said "Momma's Boy" if I caught him sagging. He stopped when his pants fell too low and he fell playing basket ball.

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  29. Mass producing someone else's design would bother me as I am sure it would any creative/talented person, however, reproducing one item? not really. Actually when I was in fashion school in Italy we were encouraged by the teachers to stroll through designer stores and replicate apparels we liked and I think I did that with 90% of my assignment, so I guess you can say it doesn't even cross my mind if I am -recreating something I like, for personal use.....am I without morals? Hmmmm, I wonder.

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    1. Rubbing-off garments is a minor exercise in the curriculum of some fashion design students. It may be necessary for work in the industry. You can't do it well without a significant pattern making and construction foundation so it's taught at the very end of the program.

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  30. There's nothing illegal or unethical about trying to reproduce a design for your own pleasure, as long as you don't sell it. (My husband's an intellectual property lawyer, and I play one on TV.) Basically, the other party would need to sue you and prove that you have caused financial harm to them, and you wouldn't have, if you just made the item for yourself, and didn't sell it. I just spent the day trying to knock off a Chanel 2.55 bag for myself, and quickly learned why the bags cost $5,000. It's a great intellectual/sewing exercise. Go for it.

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  31. If you look at the pattern companies, they are putting out patterns of what's popular right now. If designers were worried about people using their ideas and fabrics then they'd better copyright both the patterns & fabric used by 99% of home sewists. Just my 2 cents :-)

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  32. If the fabric is available, what you choose to make with it is your own business. You would probably tweak it anyway. Yes, you were inspired by that shirt and you can tell anyone who asks you. I for one would appllaud your ingenuity. One of the main reasons one sews is to make what we want. There is nothing that new under the sun.. Happy creating.

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  33. I see nothing unethical about imitating other people's ideas for personal use as long as you don't lie and say you invented it. If I liked a dish I tried in a restaurant, why wouldn't I try using a similar combination of ingredients at home? If I went to a fitness class and liked how an instructor did a set of cool-down stretches, why wouldn't I use them again at home? If I liked the way a garden landscaped with orange roses, why wouldn't I buy orange roses for my backyard? The restaurant, fitness instructor, or landscaper don't make their living by hoarding their ideas. They make it by doing the heavy lifting to execute the idea well (they cook it and provide service and atmosphere, they motivate, coach, and correct exercise form, they source good specimens and plant them according to lighting and drainage.)
    Yes fashion designers may have an idea for a new artistic aesthetic (although they very often knockoff other people and cultures, the ikat trend anyone?) But their product isn't just an idea- it is the execution, the sewing that someone else did, the pattern drafting for individual sizes, the durability of the good at you are purchasing, the snob cache of owning the label. If anyone else can achieve the same execution of the article of clothing for 5% of the designer's price, then I think the designer has a pricing problem.

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  34. Last month, I knocked off a BCBG Max Azria top. It looked more like the original than I intended. But I'm not losing sleep.

    I tend to think that there is almost nothing new in fashion. Lower end retailers are also knocking off high end fashion, and some fashion designers themselves offer patterns through Vogue and BurdaStyle. So, it's hard to feel bad about knocking things off.

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    1. I guess my question to you -- and to myself -- is, am I hoping people mistake if for the real thing?

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    2. Ah. Well. Who's your audience? The only folks who might mistake it for the real thing are the folks who are paying for the real thing. So is this is a class issue? Let's say someone thinks you're wearing the $800 skirt that they have in their closet -- do you want to say "I made this!" or "I'm so clever I have this skirt and didn't have to pay $800 for it (the way you did)!" or "I'm like you"?

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    3. Peter - years ago I made a skirt from some $2 a yard fabric that I found in the garment district that looked almost like the fabric used in an Ann Taylor Loft skirt. Of course the skirt wasn't made in plus sizes...but I made the skirt, wore it proudly and one day crossing Fifth Avenue I passed a woman who was wearing the original Ann Taylor skirt. It was a little surreal and she definitely did a double take but no I didn't feel guilty. As has been said repeatedly here, all designers work is knocked off, it's the nature of the fashion business. So sew away and but those ethical concerns away - you're fine!

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    4. Now that is the more interesting question, and one I have no answer for.

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  35. Hi again! Nothing ethical at all, as noted above. Sew at peace. For the kid's pants, ere will always be kids that push the limits. Can't let it bother you (unless it's your kid!)

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  36. The percent of people who even could recognize and mistake it for the real thing in probably sooo small in overall worldwide census that it negates the concern.

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    1. That would go to consumer confusion, not ethics, although I don't think there's an ethical problem.

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  37. My answers are: Yes, yes, no. Designers take inspiration from everywhere, so why not me? If a manufacturer is making retail clothing from fabrics available to home sewers, then they are asking for their designs to be ripped-off/re-interpreted. My observation has been that when I sew a designer-inspired garment, it's never exactly like the retail garment. Fabric selection (fiber, color, and weave), alterations, buttons, zippers, etc are all personalized for me. I think that if you were to interpret the CDG t-shirt/vest, you would probably make alterations to suit your body and personality.

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  38. Just to clarify, my assumption is that you're talking about replicating a design for yourself or for one person. I also assume that you are not buying a garment just to rub it off and then returning it. I further assume you're not sewing in fake labels of an established company and claiming you're wearing an ____. With those assumptions, I have no problem with it.

    Someone at your school, I can't remember if it was a teacher or an alum , told me that people in the industry often do rub-offs of other companies' work. But I'm sure the rub-offs are just a starting point and that the patterns and designs are adapted to fit their core customer and style.

    Home sewer's hubris notwithstanding, it is difficult to copy any kind of professionally made (non-bespoke or couture, excepted, but then you must have truly exceptional skill and experience) garment and have it look exactly like the original. You need the pattern, the fabric, the notions, and the techniques (which may require professional machines).

    Secondly, if you are cutting a pattern for an individual, some interpretation will always come into play.

    1) Have you ever tried knocking off designer fashion?

    --Not line for line, but I do regard wearable designer fashion as an inspiration and hope that one day I will be able to mock up a pattern from an image. Moreover, if I could find beautiful (non-couture) clothing that really fit me it would probably be cheaper to save up to buy it on sale than to learn to sew. Sewing is a fascinating, but not terribly cost-effective activity.

    2) Was your project/garment merely inspired by something you saw, or were you trying to make a carbon copy (or close)?

    --I have tried to copy garments that I own to replace them and to apply skills I've learned. The process revealed many subtleties in the original garment that I hadn't expected. I save images of any garment with a detail that interests me even if the whole garment doesn't appeal.

    3) Did you lose any sleep over it?

    Nope.

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  39. Some years ago, I got into a discussion over this with the original Ethicist for the NYT magazine (not violent enough for the magazine proper). I shopped for a wedding dress with a friend; she tries on god knows how many, we determine what style suits her and plan a pattern from there. His take was: it's wrong to try on clothes you have no intention of buying.

    I disagree. It's wrong to try on clothes to copy them and profit from them (and making your friend a wedding dress is not a profitable venture; we aren't on speaking terms anymore). I am not obligated to buy everything I try on. I didn't have to marry every guy I kissed.

    Now, what would be wrong is for me to take the pattern I've knocked off of the super cute Rei Kawakubo dress from the Future Fashion show and sell it. And I will not. I will make myself a second one, but even considering it's from the 1980's, it's still Not Mine To Sell.

    Hey, I may not be ethical, but I know what's right.

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    1. Your wedding dress ethics is kind of a different question, though, IMO.

      Peter's talking about using one or more non-distinctive pattern(s) with a commercially available fabric. No harm.

      Whereas trying on clothes, making appointments with commissioned sales people to use limited space and resources to try on clothes purely to interact with unique design elements which you'll then use without paying for--I don't know. I come down on the side of maybe not, here, for the combination of manufacturer, store, and sales person, none of whom are there to be free research.

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    2. Do mean like going to a car lot and test driving a car you have no intention of buying?

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    3. I felt weird even examining the fabrics up close in the store -- like, I figured they just KNEW I was thinking how I could copy it!

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    4. I'm guessing you'll start with a pattern from around 1973 and change a few aspects of construction to methods you prefer. I think even in the strictest sense, Peter, you're not ripping off anyone here.

      As for the test drive, I suppose how I see that depends on whether you're going to pop the hood and reverse engineer (as Karen mentions below in a different context) the engine. There's intent in trying on specifically in order to copy, and there's more direct damage done to the shop (rent isn't free, the time in the dressing room isn't inherently free, the sample garment has a limited number of tryons before it needs to be replaced so it's not free either) and the sales person.

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    5. I walked into a John Varvatos shop in SOHO and was carrying a Paron fabrics bag with some yardage. A sales person recognized it, and we walked around the store looking for design elements to steal. He was a budding designer

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  40. None whatsover. In fact that is part of the reason why I started to sew. I'll never be willing to spend say €1,000 on a dress so you bet I'll happily copy designer's and wear it proudly. Mass productions however is a different thing, I do believe that is breaking the rules, both ethical and legal.

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  41. Wow....... I love this post. And I've been paying homage to this sort of designer appreciation for years. It's kinda legitimate if you take into account the Issey Miyake pattern wardrobe thanks to Vogue Patterns. But I also include Vivienne Westwood and Paul Smith to name a few that I have payed homage to in my stitching adventure spanning the past 3 decades. And I made it up to them by purchasing there overpriced garment when I can. So mix it up a little.

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  42. Personally, I'd have an issue with copying anything 100% and trying to fob it off as the real thing because I just find that a tad tasteless. That said, copying 99% of the idea and saying you were inspired by xyz but made it yourself is fine. Best example I can think of in the sewing community is the Cardigan jacket. Loads have been made and that is a testament to the longevity of the style. I'm sure Coco is loving the continued appreciation. Sewing in a Chanel label and telling everyone it's real seems a little different to me. But then Princess Diana used to pass off fake gems as real and I thought that was cool.... Hmm, so maybe it comes down whether anyone is losing out by your copying of the idea. In the case of Etsy sellers, this is quite possible. Chanel, not so much. (But I don't agree with the mass produced fake handbags)... Ha! Confused much? Rachel ☺

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  43. Where do you think high street stores get their ideas? The Designer has a fashion show, high street stores take the inspiration and create a budget version! Also you arn't paying $800 for a shirt, you are pay for the name on the shirt. Sleep like a baby :-D

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  44. Every designer I worked for had me spec-ing out vintage garments, store bought garments (which were then returned after we took all the measurements and photos) and sourcing all sorts of info from magazines and other designers images. Does it sometimes make me a little queasy? yes, sometimes...especially the Japanese shops that you can take an existing garment into and they fabricate samples for you out of your fabric (exactly copying the source garments you sent). Over all, the client and designer usually end up tweaking things enough so that by the time it hits production, it could be considered original. Is it lazy and uncreative, yes, I believe so. For my part in it, I was a poor studio assistant that had to pay my sad little rent and eat so I did what was asked but I won't pretend I wasn't shocked and I don't lie about how the industry works. All that said, don't feel bad for "borrowing" ideas or concepts from designers for your personal use. If given the opportunity they would do it to you in a second and make a profit off it too.

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  45. I got into sewing because I wanted a shirt that was expensive (about £125) and thought I'd have a go at making it myself (It can't that hard- right?).
    Liberty of London has great slim fit shirts in their own cotton prints of which I owned a few but they also sell the same fabrics.
    To cut a long story short it took me a lot of time and effort to be able to make a wearable shirt. I made it for myself, some people recognise a Liberty print when they see one but most people are more impressed than I made it myself.
    In the end the time and effort that went into the shirt was probably worth more than the £125 price tag in the store BUT I loved learning how to make something for myself that fits and in small ways is unique, and of course I've gone on to sew more garments.
    As for the sagging pants below the arse that style has now thankfully vanished from the streets of London, it's all about ultra skinny jeans for people with legs like pipecleaners.

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  46. Since they used a designer fabric that IS available, I see no problem with copying it using the same fabric to make one for yourself. You are still designing it yourself and making it work. This is not at all like photocopying sheet music.

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  47. Hi Peter, interesting post. Dover Street Market NY is a branch of the original Dover Street Market here in London. It is a great source of inspiration. In the London branch they have the most gorgeous Peter Pilotto dresses, where the cloth is high-end and unique. Quilting cottons for a designer shirt - they are having a laugh!

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  48. Is any idea really original? Designers are inspired by everything around them. That being said like you I am not the designers customer, I cannot afford a Channel suit but with the help of a Craftsy course and a silk tweed fabric I can make myself one!

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  49. I don't see any issue with copying things for personal use. It is not like you are selling fake gucci bags or anything, For decades in fashion this is how women got by, taking the latest inspiration from Paris shows/ magazines, and making it for themselves, and I think it is wonderful. I do see passing it off as designer is a bit unethical.I would be the first to admit to someone that I made something and point out the flaws.

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  50. Buying a product, reverse-engineering and duplicating it is copying. Seeing a product and making your own interpretation of the idea is not copying. There are few original ideas under the sun, a concept that many etsy sellers have trouble with.

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  51. I never really thought about it. I've never copied anything exactly myself, only because I can always think of something I want to do a little differently, but as long as it's just for yourself or a member of your family I don't see anything wrong with it. You're not taking any money out of anyone's pocket.

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  52. This is fascinating! I've never liked anything rtw/designer so much that I didn't think I could improve upon it for my own version. However, I can understand the question of "Do I want people to mistake it for the real thing" being the real crux of the issue. For me, it's definitely a Yes, so that I can feel smug when I say "Um, no. I made this bad boy, thankyouverymuch."

    Having said all that, I don't feel bad at all when individuals copy designer threads for themselves (i.e. not for sale). However, I was outraged when The Gap stole Oona's neon/gray blazer: http://www.oonaballoona.com/2014/01/say-say-oh-eeeeeeeenemy.html
    Obviously there's the whole for-profit issue, but I don't think that's what really angers me about that. It's the fact that the big guy ripped off the little guy (like that Kate Spade book-purse fiasco). So logical, ha!

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  53. I'm late to this party and haven't read the comments yet but I do want to say that I think it's ABSOLUTELY OK to make your own knock-offs of RTW. I mean, you're not selling the results. The joy of being able to sew and fit and make things is in doing whatever you want and clothing yourself as you see fit. One perspective is that, by making something that looks like an item from the shops, you're actually advertising for the brand you've knocked off. Very few things in this world are original. As long as you don't financially profit from the result, I see no harm in enjoying your own creative experience.

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  54. I don't think you really can copy anything to be honest. The designs have been done to death and what makes them different is fabric and textures. I have seen the same style/pattern dress made in several different fabrics, blocking, etc and you could say by looking at them that they were different styles, but they weren't.
    This is how I made clothes for my daughter. I would get a basic design that fitted well and I created the look with my own take on the fabrics and embellishments, People actually thought they were different dresses and tops. I am sure certain designers have a "style" that they are well known for, but you can probably buy a pattern that is similar.

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  55. I knock off EVERYTHING. It's the reason I started sewing!

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  56. Let's flip the question: How do you feel about designers copying the clothes of the kids they see on the street? I'm asking as a woman who had a whole outfit (hair, bracelets, shoes, and head to toe outfit) ripped off by a designer and presented as his own. His model even looked to much like me, I had to take a good look to make sure it wasn't me (how sick is that?)

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    1. It doesn't speak well of my character I know, but I would *love* to see a picture of the outfit.

      I'm no expert at couture (I *can* tell Wranglers from Levi's & that's about it....), so I wouldn't be able to tell who the designer was.....

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  57. Watch this TED talk, it's on this exact subject and super interesting! (Sorry if someone already posted this, I didn't read every single comment)
    http://www.ted.com/talks/johanna_blakley_lessons_from_fashion_s_free_culture.html
    Basically, in fashion the only thing that can be copyrighted is a logo. Everything, EVERYTHING else is fair game to be copied, even if you ARE going to turn around and sell it.
    I don't feel bad about copying other clothing at all. I love sewing and I can make it for myself and make it closer to the exact thing I want instead of settling for something at the store. So don't feel bad, Peter, you make that shirt!

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  58. I'd copied a few pieces L.A.M.B. clothing but mainly because 1. it cost too much or 2. it didn't fit right (arms/legs not long enough)

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  59. Once upon a time the New York manufacturers sent flocks of copyists to Paris to scoop the latest couture collections to be knocked off for sale as ready to wear.
    Stores like Orhbach's made a business of selling knock off copies of higher priced clothing.Today Zara copies high fashion garments to sell as disposable fashion for the masses. You ask if is unethical to copy a ready to
    wear garment. Copying is a tradition in the fashion business. Its an industry where ethics are non existent

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  60. I'm not a huge follower of fashion but I kind of thought that the big designers turn up at london fashion week and show it off and sell it high and the design gets watered down and down until it's in Asda (Walmart) by varying degrees. Should a sewist then be worried about making a shirt in a commercially available fabric. No, because a shirt is a shirt is a shirt the fabric is available to sew.,there is no profit. I don't think there is a problem. Also is there anytthing new out there or only different ways of putting things together?

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  61. Do it Peter! Knock it off, and it WILL look like the real thing, but it will fit. Read the book You Got Nothing Coming...about an innocent man incarcerated. He claims the saggy drawers are a style from prison. They just hand you whatever size is available because you don't matter.

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  62. SeamsterEast (at) aol.comFebruary 26, 2014 at 5:09 PM

    I have a different issue, an issue of practicality.

    Copying the shirt is not unethical nor illegal. A shirt is a shirt and the fabric is not licensed nor proprietary. It does, however, make for a serious practical issue. It plain doesn't likely fit the total outfit.

    Let me use a bespoke shirt as an example (because I recently considered such). Here in NYC a bespoke shirt will go maybe $400 to $600 each, minimum order of three.

    Let's say I make an EXACT copy of the bespoke shirt. And then wear it with my $21 haircut, $50 jeans, $70 Timberline shoes, 1950's wrist watch, as I drive my 2001 motorcycle or sail my 1977 (small) sailboat. My fine, fine shirt looks like cavair on a hot dog. I just don't look like a guy who spends $2,000 on shirts a couple/three times a year.

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  63. Peter, if you are still in doubt, try using a variation of the fabric like this home sewing is easy part2 : Hawai http://www.etsy.com/listing/178673252/home-sewing-is-easy-part-2-hawaii-100?utm_medium=sem&utm_source=thefind&utm_campaign=experiment_2013_EnUs

    But in general I would never give it a second thought, being able to construct garments inspired by the runway looks is one of the main reasons I am learning to sew. And if you look at companies like H&M or Zara, the do it all the time. I just bought a T-shirt in the latter and it would totally blend in on Versace runway. So my advice is : just go ahead with it.

    Tony

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  64. I love that fabric!
    Last year I made two shirts for myself and two men's shirts in that same print. This year I wore one of my shirts to MAGIC in Las Vegas and got lots of compliments on the fabric.
    Go for it, Peter. With your sewing skills it will look way better than the one you tried on in the store.
    It's a standard mens shirt and commercially available fabric. How is that copying?
    My question is... can you put a " vintage" tag in a reproduction print?

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  65. I heard somewhere that shops like Zara look at current designs and do knock-offs.

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  66. You know I look at designer garments as ideas - more like a place to start. Some of these designs are specifically designd to get the eye of the fashion magazine editors, who have (let's be honest here) seen just about everything there is to see, and seeing something outlandish is a way to get their attention and thus easy press for the designer's line of clothes. So this sort of design almost always needs to be tamed down, and then from there, it's hard to get the exact fabric but fun to vary it a little using what the designer has taken and worked and from that take the good parts and leave the bad on the cutting room floor. Don't feel guilty about it at all, as I've worn designer fabric done differently to parties where that designer was there. It's sort of fun cause they look like, "Gee I don't remember doing that in that fabric, but I guess I did," and then I start laughing and they start laughing. Truly creative people really don't care if you knock them off, cause they most likely have a gazillion other ideas that they are into by the time their designs get to the street. As a designer myself, seeing my things knocked off just confirms that it was a good design to begin with - imitation is the sincerest form of flattery or something like that.

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  67. This post is totally relevant to a current situation. I sew for my living. I received a request for two flower girl dresses, accompanied by a link to a photo of a dress available from an independent designer. I'm no dummy. I don't think it would be right for me to knock them off as this is one or two people only trying to make a living. So I promptly quoted twice the price (which would be fair for my time since I"m not making a dozen at a time). That oughta take care of it. But if someone asked me to make a version of a big designer garment I'd definitely consider it.

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    1. Instead of charging twice the price to copy their design, wouldn't it be fair to send your client to purchase them from the independent designer? If they are just one or two people I bet they can work with your clients fabric. Will you double your price on a "big designer garment" because you're only making one?
      I don't have a problem borrowing ideas, there's nothing much new under the sun. Just the logic of who you can and cannot copy.

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  68. When we learned to trace off garments to make patterns in a pattern drafting class, the instructor told us that it is a standard industry practice to do the same. Knockoffs are part of the game. It seemed sketchy to me in that case. But if we're doing it for ourselves, not for resale, I see nothing wrong with it.

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  69. 1) Have you ever tried knocking off designer fashion?
    Yes. And CdG especially. I was a big fan back in the days. In fact, trying to recreate designer fashion that I can't afford and/or don't fit me well is probably the biggest reason I sew.

    2) Was your project/garment merely inspired by something you saw, or were you trying to make a carbon copy (or close)?
    Some are inspirations. But many are attempts at copying. Sometimes it's impossible to copy exactly - complicated design, time-consuming details, custom fabrics, imperceptibly distinctive fit. One Gigli coat I manage to copy the applique embroidery by enlarging a closeup photo from Paper magazine. That coat took me a decade to finish! And it fitted my friend better than it fitted me. Damnit! }:-)

    3) Did you lose any sleep over it?
    I do feel guilty to some extent. But as you said, it's not business that they'll have anyway because they're simply beyond my means. And those who can afford their designs - well I'd imagine many are fickle and won't worship your design like fanboys and fangirls do. (I find it sacrilegious that the famous & rich are expected to wear such work of art only once.)

    I did try to save up and buy the odd less expensive CdG items though. My first summer job earning was spent on a CdG scarf / shawl I've worn to death and am still wearing.

    If the designer would release sewing patterns I'd buy them - if they're signature looks or fit rather than designer stamp on bog standard designs. It doesn't even have to be current season - I'd happy sew and wear designs way past the sell-by date.

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  70. Seems to me that 'designers' are just as guilty of copying themselves .....

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  71. Guilty, I have shamelessly and willingly knocked off designer fashions. Why? She paid me to do it!!! I temporarily worked in a prominent but local designer's atelier. Her modus operandi was to shop at Barnet's New York, return here with the really good stuff, and have it copied. I fondly remember the simple but beautifully elegant LBD by Lanvin, simple but a real bitch to pattern. A few days later the seamstress had sewn a finished sample and the pattern I had done had already been sent to the contractor for production.

    She'a great designer, she steals from the best! And I helped!

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  72. Have I copied designer garments? Let me count the ways... I started out by copying Ladybug and Villager skirts in the 60s during Jr. High. Only I used Liberty fabrics which my mother had given me, so my skirts were nicer. I graduated to copying a Carol Horn dress while in college. I had tried on the dress in a small shop, couldn't afford it, but did buy a marked down Carol Horn blouse. Lo and behold, Vogue had the dress pattern, Vogue 2951, which I proceeded to make twice in two different colorways in a lovely rayon challis printed with seashells, which I liked better than the fish print Horn used. I always received compliments on the dresses. Really, every time you sew a "Designer pattern" you are, in essence, copying. By the time I was working, Geoffrey Beene was my go to pattern source. I have made Vogue Beene pattern 1278 repeatedly. In mohair, it is an exact knockoff of Beene designs. I made Beene 1494 in Jasco wool doubleknit - looked exactly like the original. I always told people who asked that I made the dress; only other sewers wanted to know about the pattern etc.. I can't imagine telling people I had bought an original, when I am proud of my sewing skills. Often people who don't know me doubt I sewed the garment.

    When my daughters had proms, I drafted dresses from scratch, sometimes copying an Oscar dress, other times adapting an idea in my daughters head. The Michael Kors matte jersey gown I drafted from a picture was my proudest achievement. I put a lot of stabilizing elastic into it.

    I would like to point out that Butterick has patterns for many of the outfits worn by Michelle Obama, including an ensemble similar to the lemon colored Inauguration ensemble designed by Isabel Toledo, who once was under license to Vogue patterns. Why not go back to Ms. Toledo for the design? Butterick also came out with the Pippa Maid of Honor dress pretty quickly. I , for one, would love to see Vogue ink a deal with Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen! I would also love to be able to buy patterns for Vivienne Westwood suits. Vogue even has had a pattern which was a total knock-off of a Prada dress worn by Jennifer Aniston.

    I don't see any problem with copying the shirt, as long as you are not going into business with your copies. In my experience, your copy will automatically be different, constructed to your specifications and made to expressly fit you. Go for it!

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    1. I love, love, love that you say you can't imagine telling someone you bought an original when you are proud of your sewing skills. What a brilliant insight to this question! Particularly in light of the fact that so many designers produce paper patterns of their looks for precisely the purpose of us sewing them up. Well said!

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  73. Not surprisingly, there are a zillion replies to this question, and I didn't read every one of them. I will say what I suspect many of them pointed out: an idea cannot be copyrighted; a design for a garment has no legal protection, only the pattern pieces used to sew it; and the fashion industry has a long history of taking another designer's ideas and reproducing them. All visual artists are ENCOURAGED to directly copy the work of the Masters, to train their technique and give them boundaries and a foundation from which to grow their own unique style--I see "knocking off" designs from shops, the runway, catalogs, or people watching in much the same way. Hone your chops, then refine your style. With the caveat that you be transparent and not try to pass off the design as original to you, admit when you have been inspired, and be honest with yourself about how much you are challenging your skills and ideas, I see zero ethical issues with making a shirt that is more or less identical to a shirt you walked past on the street. Go to town!

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  74. Yes I have knocked of designer and other fashions. Sometimes it is almost exact, usually it is merely inspired by something else and has my own unique additions or modifications.

    I do not lose any sleep over these copies because I am not producing it to sell to someone else or earn anything. I am producing it for my own personal use. I know what you mean about pretentious clothing. My budget would never allow me to make one of these expensive purchases, but there is a lot of satisfaction knowing that I can own it if I like because I can make it myself. I probably would not take a photo in the dressing room, but I might save a sales flier/catalog image or web photo for a reference or make a quick sketch for later.

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  75. Designers look to street kids, vintage fashions for inspiration, so a round robin is a-okay.

    I bet you would match up the comic book print more nicely in the front in your version. It bothered me that it seemed disjointed in the dressing room photo.

    I loved culottes in the 70's, nice to see them back again. would be nice to see them in charcoal or a dove gray for you, similar to your inspiration photo. Looks too girlish otherwise. The pleating on the back of the muslim seemed off, also the rise was too high?

    The toile would be nice as pillow cases or curtains.

    Like the jacket with straps, way to add some room to a too tight jacket, although may be drafty on a cool day.

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  76. This one is easy for me - if you copy the creativity of others for your own profit - that's not on! If you make one copy of an inspiring style for your own pleasure, very acceptable. You are in fact paying homage to a fab style/designer and not compromising their profits. Celebrate creatives, don't steal from them. Home sewers are not the problem, fast fashion is the problem. :)

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