Image: via Missguided

“The devil works hard but Missguided works harder.” That was the message that the Manchester-headquartered retailer sent in an Instagram caption late last week alongside a metallic cut-out frock, a dead-ringer for a custom Yeezy one that Kim Kardashian posted an image of just a few hours prior. Curiously enough, Kardashian’s own Instagram post included a plea: “Fast fashion brands, can you please wait until I wear this in real life before you knock it off?”

An example of truly fast fashion or a coordinated marketing ploy between the mega-influencer and the millennial-centric fashion company? It seemed as though neither option was out of the question. The 10-year old Missguided brand – which was founded by Nitin Passi in 2009, who has since turned the independently-owned company into an $200 million-plus brand – has looked to the reality television star and her rapper-slash-designer husband for “inspiration” in the past. Missguided’s recreations of many of the looks in West’s Yeezy Season 6 collection, for example, made their way to its e-commerce site swiftly after West’s paparazzi-themed campaign hit social media in January 2018.

Such attempts to offer up Kim K’s wardrobe-for-less make for a lucrative business. The Kardashian/Jenners have spawned an entire group of women across the globe that aspire to look and dress just like them, and with that has come a pool of retailers aiming to cater to those particular consumers.

As the Guardian’s Sirin Kale noted last month, “Clothing this growing army of Kardashian clones is a fast-growing industry of ultra-low-cost online retailers.” In particular, “PrettyLittleThing, Missguided, Boohoo, Nastygal and the U.S. phenomenon Fashion Nova” are offering up “yards of figure-hugging lycra and cheap lace in neon, pastel, or earthy tones” i.e., “outfits that – if you squint hard enough – could be from a Kardashian-Jenner’s Instagram post.”

At the same time, the Kardashian/Jenners are not without a track record of aligning with mass-market fashion brands. In a November 2018 article for Cosmo, Elizabeth Holmes looked into Fashion Nova’s practice of turning around Kardashian/Jenner-worn looks – at least in terms of preview-able imagery for its site – within a matter of hours.

image: Business Insider

For instance, “Less than a day after Kylie Jenner posted pictures [of her 21st birthday celebration] to her Instagram account fast-fashion retailer Fashion Nova shared a $34.99 dupe on its feed, pairing it with the reality star’s birthday pic,” Holmes pointed out. “The model even mimicked Jenner’s downward gaze and right-foot-forward pose. ‘Coming Soon!’ the caption read.”

Photos of sister Kim have similarly been used by Fashion Nova to market and sell knockoffs of her outfits, including the hot pink Yeezy mini dress that she wore for Jenner’s birthday outing, while a number of the famous family members, including Kylie and Kourtney, have included sponsored posts on their Instagram accounts promoting the company in exchange for compensation.

While it initially appeared that Fashion Nova’s handiwork was a merely demonstration of the lightning speed of modern-day fast fashion copying, the fact that Kim and Kylie’s images were being used to promote the copycat wares seems to suggest that there might be a little more going on. As Holmes put it, “Would Kris Jenner watch quietly if someone was using her daughters’ images to sell something, and they weren’t getting a cut?” That answer is almost certainly no — not only because Jenner is a world-class manager but because such unauthorized commercial uses of a star’s image likely runs afoul of right of publicity law and constitutes passing off in the UK, as we saw in the Rihanna v. Topshop case.

Fast forward to this week and the Missguided Instagram post. According to Diet Prada, this was an example of “a thinly veiled collab” between Missguided and Kim K.

However, that might not be the case. Until recently, Missguided boasted an entire section on its website of Kim K paparazzi imagery paired with copycat wares, along with a blurb that reads, “She’s capable of breaking the internet, her style is ever-evolving and we can’t get enough of her latest blonde reinvention, but it’s Kim’s wardrobe we’re really crushin’ on right now. She’s been rocking camo, all-white and lots of figure-huggin’ fabrics lately so here’s how to get the Kar-sass-ian look.”

Interestingly, that section has disappeared right along with the initial Instagram post, itself, suggesting that this might not be a coordinated effort between the two, and instead, an instance that, paired with the now-defunct gallery of imagery on Missguided’s site, crosses the line from largely lawful garment knockoffs to a case of right of publicity violations.

Either way, the lack of clarity, which goes far beyond the Kardashian/Jenner’s social media activity, certainly makes a case for the need for stronger efforts by both advertising authorities in the U.S. and the U.K. The latter recently made headlines for sending letters to an array of influencers and celebrities. In the U.S., however, the Federal Trade Commission has yet to take any action against the Kardashian/Jenners even though the agency was faced with a formal complaint about the famous family in September 2017.

UPDATED (Feb. 19, 2019): Kardashian has since publicly stated by way of her Instagram account that she “doesn’t have relationships with these sites,” and is “not leaking outfit imagery to anyone” as part of behind-the-scenes deals with them.

As for Fashion Nova, a rep for the brand told TFL, “We have not worked with Kim Kardashian-West directly on any of her projects but have been driven by her influential style.” She elaborated, speaking to allegations from Diet Prada that the brand shot a recent Mugler look before Kardashian even revealed the look, saying, “The 2-14 date is simply the season dated the last time we logged into our photography software. If you look very closely (which we know you did) – the photos themselves of the dress are dated 2-18. We were not tipped off and have no deal with Kim Kardashian – and we have since issued a public apology for any critical feedback she may have received.”