We have another instance of potential design piracy on our hands. It appears that everyone's favorite fast fashion retailer, Zara, has taken a page from the book of Ohio Against the World. The streetwear brand, which goes by OATW, for short, was launched last year by 28-year old, Floyd Johnson. The Ohio-based brand has made its name for a few things: its PlusTax tee (below, left), which has become somewhat of a streetwear sensation, even being captured in Bill Cunningham's New York Times street style column; its famous fans, which include Rihanna and Chloë Sevigny; and of course, the copies that the PlusTax design has "inspired" (think: the exact copies on Choies, SheChic and other sites, as well as the camo-print versions and the Proenza 13.99 tees). From the looks of things, we may be able to add Zara to that list.
The Spanish retail giant recently debuted its Plush Dress (above, right), a long black t-shirt, with the word Tokio and 33 '78 in a white box (a la Hood by Air), emblazoned on the front. While it is debatable whether this is an open-and-shut case of imitation as opposed to inspiration (there are certainly arguments to be made for both sides), the internet has taken notice. Individuals are calling Zara a repeat offender, citing "design appropriation," and calling this a "compliment" and "good news" for Johnson and his brand. I'll leave it to you to share your own thoughts (in the comments section below) on what this means for Johnson and his brand. He has certainly noticed the similarity, posting a image of Zara's design to his Instagram account, followed by an image of him standing in front of a Zara store wearing a PlusTax tee with a choice hand gesture for the retailer.
The PlusTax tee is a "parody" of sorts, according to its creator. Of the design, Johnson says: "It’s basically a 'for sale' sign. If you go to a grocery store you see a sticker on a banana or some shit that says 'on sale.' But the prices on the tees are kind of like jokes. 'Givenchy, $19.99! Oh wow and it’s plus tax.' I just put those high-end designer brands on sale. It’s all about advertising it too." As for the legality of the design, Johnson says that he has not received cease and desist letters from Chanel or Givenchy, which is interesting, as both design houses' trademarks certainly extend to t-shirts. However, a lack of action on the part of the Chanel and Givenchy legal teams does not mean that trademark infringement or dilution is not an issue here. It seems that either Johnson was able to sell his limited edition range under the radar of the Paris-based design houses or the tees didn't pose a big enough threat for the house's to take action, or some other reason.
Regardless, the fact of the matter here is that what Zara has done is perfectly legal, in the U.S. (certainly) and very likely abroad, where design piracy laws actually exist. While this comes as a shock to some and as a frustration to many designers whose works have been snatched up by Zara and its fast fashion counterparts, it is worthwhile to point out and discuss. So, as I mentioned above, share your own thoughts on what this means for Johnson and his brand in the comments section below.