Is it ethical to buy 'knockoff' fashion?


Fact Box

  • Knockoff’ is defined as “a copy that sells for less than the original.”
  • Psychological research involving subjects wearing knockoff fashion reveals that “‘Faking it’ makes us feel like phonies and cheaters on the inside, and this alienated, counterfeit ‘self’ leads to cheating and cynicism in the real world.”
  • A consumer study conducted by Uswitch reports that the top ten “most in-demand designer knock-offs of 2022” were: Rolex, Gucci, Yeezy, Louis Vuitton, Crocs, Balenciaga, Air Jordan, Converse, Vans, and Chanel.
  • In their book, The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation, authors Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman argue that “creativity can not only survive in the face of copying, but can thrive.”

Bethany (No)

Knockoff fashion may be cheaper, but it's certainly not ethical. The quickly produced copies of authentic runway trends steal the hard work of those who pioneered the products in the first place (and countless people from that point on). The designers, manufacturers, stores that carry the products, the employees of those stores, and so on are all affected when knockoff fashion wins the sale. 

Purchasing knockoff fashion hurts the brands in the same way that illegally downloading music hurts the artist. Likewise, if one were to use someone's photography for their own business without paying a fee to the photographer or buying the photograph, this could put that photographer out of business. If no one is paying for the things they genuinely enjoy and wish to have, the economy crumbles

Aside from the ethics of copying intellectual property, knockoff fashion also affects the retail workers selling the original brands. In a retail setting, employees' hours are based on store sales. Higher sales result in more hours for the employees, while lower sales take hours away from them. Knockoff fashion, therefore, negatively affects the take-home pay of certain employees.  

There are also consequences for the consumer. Knockoff fashion's quality is often considerably lower than the originals, meaning they will not last as long and may not even be usable from the moment they get purchased or shortly thereafter.

Finally, the most significant ethical dilemma associated with knockoff fashion is that sweatshops and similar facilities are often utilized to lower costs during manufacturing. No amount of price tag savings can justify that. 

Maha (Yes)

For many, knockoff fashion allows individuals to afford trends without fearing the hefty price tags designers usually slap on their products. And the best part is one can shop guilt-free since dupes are far from unethical. 

First of all, there's a difference between a dupe and a counterfeit item. Dupes have similar qualities to a designer item but don't copy logos or trademarked features. Meanwhile, counterfeits are fakes that copy trademarked details and logos to trick people into believing it's the real thing. So, whereas counterfeit fashion is illegal, knockoffs are within legal boundaries--especially as copyright laws and other areas of intellectual property law barely protect the fashion industry.

One reason for fashion's lax copyright laws may be the fact that everything in the fashion industry is connected in a way. Designers influence and inspire one another, even decades later. That's why much of today's 'new' fashion brought back popular vintage trends from the past. 

And let's be honest--big fashion brands themselves have used the lack of copyright laws to create their own dupes. For instance, Old Navy's 'Raising the Future' shirt is a dupe, copying the graphic tees of the much smaller Mère Soeur brand. Zara, Forever 21, and H&M, too, have their own dupe controversies. 

Luxury brands are also rumored to behave unethically during the production cycle. Therefore, knockoff buyers try to support underpaid workers who use leftover materials to replicate original designs and subsidize their low wages.  

So, while ethically, there's no match for simply not purchasing something, dupes are still a choice that won't burden fashion lovers' consciences.

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