For it's March issue, Vogue featured an article about "Golden Gal" Sophia Amoruso and her seven year old venture, Nasty Gal. Amoruso is hardly a novel subject. Countless publications (including Forbes) have given her Los Angeles-based fast fashion e-commerce site a nod, but Vogue? That's a little bit problematic. The magazine's glowing take on Nasty Gal is perplexing at best. The article calls attention to the obvious: the $40 million investment from Index Ventures; the company's 2012 revenue ($100 million); the "full 30 percent of pieces that are designed in house"; and the "lively parties they've become legendary for." What Vogue's Molly Creeden seemingly failed to mention is the other thing for which Nasty Gal is notorious: Copying and/or stocking suppliers' copies of the original designs of others, many of which are emerging designers and young brands.
We have chronicled quite a selection of Nasty Gal's dalliances with design piracy. From copying Givenchy's Rottweiler tote (and subsequently pulling it a couple days later) and an array of indie jewelry designers to replicating the likes of NYC-based brand Grey Ant and Marc Jacobs for its "Designed by Us" in-house label, Nasty Gal Collection.
The company's response to what appears to be the frequent stream of complaints from designers: "The [item] for sale on our site was not designed or created by Nasty Gal. We purchased this design from a third party. We had no knowledge that this necklace was allegedly a copy." If this sounds familiar, it is because it is the approach that Los Angeles-based fast fashion giant, Forever 21 consistently relies on, as well. And while we can absolutely understand that a retailer's buyers are not always cognizant of the fact that something is a copy, we have posed the following question in the past: At what point does this claim become negligent or willful ... or at least obviously a lie?
We are rather strongly of the belief that Nasty Gal's buyers know what they are doing (the nearly non-stop pattern of stocking copies is quite telling in my opinion), but we must be clear about one thing. A large portion of the copies available for sale on its site are legal in the United States, as U.S. law provides relatively minimal copyright protection for original garment designs (the laws of our fashion capital counterparts outlaw design piracy). Nasty Gal, like Forever 21 and H&M, etc., has managed to find the loophole in American intellectual property law and profit from it. But having said this, these copies are copies derived from the work of others, nonetheless.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America (a close ally of Vogue's in the fostering of young brands and original design in the U.S.) has long worked to introduce legislation to protect original designs from companies that profit from design piracy. And worthy of note: quite a few of the designers that the CFDA and Vogue champion (namely via the annual CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund) have been copied by Nasty Gal and/or it's suppliers (think: Proenza Schouler, Cushnie et Ochs, and Alexander Wang - just to name a few). As such, by writing a glowing article about Nasty Gal (or any similarly situated retailer for that matter), Vogue is essentially undermining the work of the designers whose original designs are copied and/or stocked by the e-commerce site.
Nasty Gal should be free to provide inexpensive, "aspirational" wares to its audience per the laws (or lack thereof) in the U.S., and to a large extent, I admire Amoruso's entrepreneurial spirit. But, I would argue that there is a difference between allowing the company to function and praising it in the bible of American fashion.
As we have addressed in the past, Vogue has the power to make a designer's career (take Joseph Altuzarra, the boys of Public School, Prabal Gurung and Tabitha Simmons as relatively recent examples), which is part of why it is such an unmatched force in the American fashion industry. Its status as such, however, makes it rather disappointing to see the bench mark of fashion publishing pieces like this and ultimately endorsing such questionable practices. With non-American cities (think: Paris, London, Milan, Berlin, etc.) consistently solidifying their places as fashion capitals and others, such as those in the Far East, beginning to develop strong young brands of their own, it doesn't bode well for the U.S. (a very young player in the grand scheme of high fashion) to embrace fast fashion and thus, design piracy, to the detriment of original design, and instead of focusing more thoroughly on fostering emerging designers.
So, here is to hoping that the "Golden Gal" article was an oversight on the part of a Vogue editor and not actually an endorsement of a company that actively stocks copies. On the same note, here's to hoping there isn't a raving review of Forever 21 in next month's issue.