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On Creativity versus Copying

Question: If you knew how to draft patterns, would you use that talent to bring your own ideas to life, to create anything in your imagination….or would you copy somebody else’s unique vision?

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In the endless sea of beautiful dresses designed every season, once in a while there is a standout…something so fresh that it can take your breath away. Something like this:


PLEIADES: https://www.instagram.com/pleiades_designs/?hl=en

Now I don’t know the designer of this indie children’s brand, “Pleiades”. I have no clue where her concept came from, to incorporate an enormous eye-catching rainbow DIAGONALLY placed on the skirt of a child’s high-low hem casual-wear maxi-dress. Until Plieades, every rainbow piece of apparel I ever saw was either:

  • vertically striped across the garment (left to right)
  • horizontally striped across the garment (top to hem)
  • a full arched rainbow motif placed center-front (for example on a tee)
  • a repeat print of smaller rainbows

As somebody who loves to upcycle vintage linens, I can guess that the design inspiration MAY have come from the iconic Wamsutta bed-sheets that graced countless design showrooms in the sixties:


https://www.ebay.com/i/113721871523?chn=ps

This dress design, introduced in the summer of 2016, hits all of these current trends:

  • the popularity of “rainbows and unicorns” for young girls (when my daughter, now 22, was little she asked for a rainbow-themed party at age 5 and a unicorn -themed party at age 6, and trust me there was nothing available for party decorations/favors or outfits…it was 100% DIY for me and thank goodness for desktop publishing!)
  • the popularity of rainbows as an inclusivity statement (this is the perfect outfit for wearing in a pride parade or to a gay wedding)
  • the popularity of casual-wear maxi dresses for children (even in the sixties, maxis weren’t much of a children’s item…long dresses for kids have traditionally been a special-occasion thing)
  • the high-low dress silhouette (honestly not a personal favorite but that’s just me)
  • the rise of social media and the concept of purchasing a dress solely for the purpose of modelling and posting pictures online (hard to fathom but when my child was born, a hot baby-shower gift was a certificate for a photo-sitting at the local shopping mall with a cheesy backdrop)

…and yet from my own research, nobody had put these elements together in this way before. In short, this is “the Pleiades rainbow dress”.  


PLEIADES: https://www.instagram.com/pleiades_designs/?hl=en

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There’s a double-edged sword to creating an iconic design. It can put you on the map, so to speak, as a creator…while simultaneously drawing attention to your brand from others who want to benefit from your creativity. There have been fashion copyists forever, probably going back to ancient Greece and Rome when someone had a cool new way of tying their toga. At the height of the French Couture, clients were prohibited from bringing sketching tools into runway shows for fear of knock-offs. Nowadays guests bring in i-phones to fashion shows and the designers have been somewhat forced to embrace the trade-off in social media publicity.


PLEIADES: https://www.instagram.com/pleiades_designs/?hl=en

When designers express concern that their work will be duplicateded, a common response is to say “You just have to stay ahead of the game and keep designing new things.” And if you go to the Pleiades website, or follow their Instagram you can see that they DO create new versions, in fact many new variations on a theme. Yet this iconic dress continues in popularity, probably because it is simply a fantastic dress:


PLEIADES: https://www.instagram.com/pleiades_designs/?hl=en

Probably the biggest concern that independent small-business designers have currently is that their concept will be produced by an importer who can manufacturer mass quantities in a big factory with little overhead:


https://moonlightbundles.com/collections/girls/products/rainbow-stripe-summer-dress

But what if the copier is another small business?  What if it’s a pattern seller instead of a garment seller? Does it make a difference? You could say that the copies (whether mass-produced or made at home) won’t affect the original designer because they are aimed at a customer who can’t afford the original…but doesn’t that also show how much the factory copy and the home-sewn copy are similar in purpose?


https://www.thewolfandthetree.com/products/abbys-rainbow-dress-abbys-rainbow-skirt-bundle

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As a seamstress, I get requests to sew “inspired by” items all the time. I wrote a post about this before, concerning the “Chloe” dress from Tea Princess. Sure enough, I was asked to make the rainbow dress from the indie sewing pattern above. A client showed me a photo of the pattern from a sewing blog. The blogger’s version* of the dress was almost identical in coloration to the original Pleiades pastel rainbow. I had never heard of this pattern company until then.

(* I put no fault on her. Obviously the average home-sewist may be unaware of these high-end designers, whose dresses range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. If you don’t know the original design, how would you know the pattern is a copy? )

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 The original Pleiades dress is made from a rainbow-printed fabric, and the sewing pattern is executed by cutting panels of fabric in a rainbow of shades. Yet isn’t it the same dress, in the legal sense that  an average consumer might confuse the two?

  • same front bodice (same neckline, same straps)
  • same skirt (same high-low hem, same hem-band)
  • same side-seam pockets
  • and most critically, same rainbow size and placement which is the factor that distinguishes this dress from all others on the market 
  • (Note: although a silhouette cannot be copyrighted, a logo can be trademarked, and in my mind the Pleiades rainbow is more akin to a trademark: literally a “mark” of the trade, or business)

PLEIADES: https://www.instagram.com/pleiades_designs/?hl=en

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We all want to assume the best, and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Possibly the design was licensed to the pattern-maker for sale to the home-sewing community….much like designers do with Vogue or Simplicity patterns. Anything’s possible, right?

So I emailed the pattern seller and asked if the pattern was made with a license from Pleaides. After several inquiries with no clear answer, she told me to check into Title 17 of the USC:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Capture.9JPG.jpg

I’m not going to read 310 pages of government legalese, but I do know the basics of copyright and trademark law from working in the garment industry for 2 decades…plus college classes in merchandising where professors would have us debate these issues:

  • Since it’s very difficult to copyright a garment, does that make clothing fair game for duplicating line-for-line?
  • Just because something isn’t technically illegal, does that make it morally okay?
  • Is taking something that isn’t yours, whether it’s an object or an idea, ever justified?

I emailed the designer for Pleiades and received a quick and thankful reply. No, the design was not licensed out to any one for pattern selling:

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Working in the creative fields requires being careful to toe the fine line between inspiration, and copying. I’ve seen the connection and overlap explained this way , in a great essay by Petra Raspel entitled ” Creative inspiration vs. imitation – when does copying turn into plagiarism?”:


https://artistsense.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/creative-inspiration-vs-imitation-when-does-copying-turn-into-plagiarism/

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I couldn’t make and sell a dress from this pattern. I advised my client to purchase the dress directly from Pleiades.


PLEIADES: https://www.instagram.com/pleiades_designs/?hl=en

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Footnote: I would like to thank the designer of Pleiades for helping me understand the beauty of the high-low hemline. After looking at tons of photos of her beautiful dresses for years, I played around with draping a very modified high-low skirt, tweaking the “Augusta” dress pattern from Little Lizard King. This is what is meant by inspiration…not making an exact copy:


https://www.etsy.com/listing/710839061/high-low-girls-maxi-size-56-one-of-a?ref=shop_home_active_1&frs=1

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Bottom line: Do you want to be known for being creative, or copying?

Janet

26 Comments

  • indigotiger

    I very much appreciate your nuanced discussion about inspiration or copying. (As an enamelist I have had people contact me about using motifs I have developed)

    I will say though, as someone who sews most of my own clothing, that I must be one of the few people that have no appreciation at all for the appeal of the hi-low hemline, whether on skirts/dresses or on tops/blouses. I understand that it is the current thing, and has been for a while, but other than preventing children from tripping over a long dress, I don’t understand why it is “attractive”

  • Julie

    So you are saying that this home sewer owns the rainbow design? I’m sorry but I think you have your panties in a bunch,the rainbow has much higher designer.
    Pleiades customers are not pattern company customers. Many homesewers have never heard of her before. I hadn’t before your hate campaign.
    She also most certainly did not come up with the high low skirt design that has been around much longer. So for you to bash pattern designers seems a bit harsh and uncalled for. The world has much bigger things to worry about than a dress design.
    I think you made this post to justify yourself in any perceived wrong doing. Believe me I will never purchase things from someone so filled with hate as you.

  • [email protected]

    Backwards: the home sewer is innocent. Follow the link to her blog. She did not know the design was a copy. Oh and I never said “hate”, you did. “Your hate campaign”, “so filled with hate”. Your words not mine.

  • [email protected]

    Thank you for seeing the nuances of the discussion. The sewists who purchase the pattern probably have no idea that it’s a copy.

    High-low hems: to show off shoes? I do appreciate the way they prevent falls in children…I’ve always thought a maxi dress was a bit dangerous for a child, unless worn for a short time in a ceremony.

  • Karen

    Thank you for this post. I choose not to shop at retailers known for knocking off designers and I should extend that reasoning to sewing pattern designers as well. (Although since I rarely buy either RTW or sewing patterns I don’t think anyone will miss my business!)

    By the way, I saw no hate in you remarks, only education, and I really appreciate it.

  • [email protected]

    Thank you Karen, I would never use the word “hate”.

    Disappointment maybe (in patternmakers who feel the need to do this)…..frustration possibly (for the sewists who get caught up in this and had no idea the design didn’t belong to the patternmaker).

    But I never ever said that I “hated” anyone or “hated” what they had done. Sometimes I think there are people who look for hatred when it’s not even there.

    I appreciate your comment.

  • Amanda

    Did you write an entry about the LLK pattern as well? It is the same pattern as the TWT Rainbow pattern, which includes the plain skirt in straight or high & low hem options.

    It does seem that your blogging style is quite critical, rather than demonstrating inclusivity and celebrating sewists and designers alike. We are all one the same team.

    XxX

  • Amanda

    I would also like to point out that the LLK is the exact Pleiades dress-as the dress skirt is a solid piece with the rainbow printed onto the solid skirt.

  • [email protected]

    I haven’t seen a LLK dress with a Pleiades-style rainbow.

    Yes my blogging style is objective rational critique, in the format I learned in design school. That seems to be unusual in the sewing community (except for Kathleen Fasanella of course.)

    I don’t play favorites, I take no advertising revenue, I have zero affiliations, I don’t get sponsored, I do not accept free items for review.

    I don’t know the patternmakers (which is why I don’t test) therefore it’s impossible for me to write about them personally. I’m only reporting actions. So while I can absolutely agree that sewists and designers are all on the same team, if a patternmaker plays AGAINST an original designer, that’s not playing fair.

  • [email protected]

    Hi Amanda, I haven’t seen a rainbow printed LLK dress. I just looked through their FB group, their website, Pinterest. I’d be glad to look at it if you sent me a link.

    I did however bring up in the FB Pattern Review group last week, that the just-released LLK Soho shorts are line-for-line copies of Lacey Lane circa 2012.

  • Malea Holm

    You have used my photo in this post and you do not have permission to do so. I worked really hard on this dress and photography and you do not have my permission to use my photo. Take it down please. If you have an issue with the designer of the pattern maybe try talking to her.

  • [email protected]

    The photo is published in the pattern, making is open to use under Fair Use Doctrine for product review. However at your request it has been removed.

    I did contact the pattern designer, multiple times, asking if the pattern was licensed from the original designer. She would not give me an answer.

  • Sharon

    I find your blog and the technical comments and discussion, drawing on your experience in the fashion industry, very interesting and informative. I was not aware of Pleiades, but their design copied line for line is definitely not something that seems ethical, even if it is legal. I agree inspired by and outright copying are two different things. People seem outraged when a company from China takes their home sewing photos to mass produce something, but if a US based company does so to another small business, then it’s justifiable? Copying is copying. Yes fashion tends to repeat itself, but this is a pretty unique combination as you mentioned.

  • Angeline

    I have been carrying on the conversation with you mostly in the comments on my own blog since my post was linked and my pictures were used without my permission (thank you for removing them) but I thought I should break my silence here as well.

    Just for the record, I have not edited my post since this was written so no, I didn’t remove references to Pleiades. I believe you only knew the inspiration was Pleiades because I mentioned it. The links may be broken because I’ve been blocked from Pleiades’ IG account as a result of your communication with the designer, an unfortunate result that I shall be resigned to. I was simply an admirer of her designs and had no intention of copying them outright — choosing rainbow colours in pastel shades is one of the more obvious choices and it was what my daughter picked out of the options I gave her (and she chose pink straps because that’s her favourite colour).

    Below is a copy of what I wrote in my last comment on my blog post:
    You yourself made a version of the LLK Augusta dress for sale and modified it to have a high-low hem and bottom band, not unlike the Pleiades dress but without a rainbow. Incidentally (or not), Augusta has a high-low option with dramatic cascading tiers that looks a lot more like Pleiades dresses, which don’t always have the rainbow and/or bottom band. I agree that the rainbow dress design is unique to P but most people would not have excess to vintage Wamsutta sheets or any other fabric with rainbow stripes painted across it. My point is, it’s not always easy to pinpoint when imitation starts and inspiration ends. No one designer can lay claim to a strappy bodice, back ties, high-low hem or bottom band as their own creation. The TWT designer did have to exercise her creativity and come up with a solution — piecing — to create the rainbow, and the resulting pattern is the fruit of her labour too. There may be an overlap between creating a pattern for sale and creating an item for sale — even based on someone else’s idea — but they are not one and the same.

    To be frank, I don’t think the Pleiades designer will suffer any losses from the existence of this pattern. They are dealing with largely different markets. Or P could end up with a bigger market (some home sewers may want to buy a one-of-a-kind handmade dress but it’s less likely for people who typically spend huge sums of money on designer dresses to turn into home sewers, I think).

  • Saskia

    I always find your blog posts interesting and this particular subject more so.
    I knew of the original dresses and was a little concerned when I saw this pattern release. My instant thoughts were ‘that’s a blatant copy’.
    It’s most definitely one thing to try to make a dress at home for yourself, and another to create a pattern for hundreds to do so.
    I always found the discussions interesting in the FB review group too, but for whatever reason I have been blocked? Basically I have to follow snippets from your blog now.

  • Amanda

    Regarding the LLK dress- the print of the fabric is irrelevant. The rainbow is printed onto the fabric. If both the Pleiades dress and the LLK dress were both made from solid white fabric they are the same dress, line-for-line.
    This is the designer that should be under fire.
    The Wolf And The Tree has color blocking designed into it, with seam allowances and band hems, which is much more work, to design and sew, than just making a solid piece skirt, which happens to have a rainbow printed on it.

  • [email protected]

    Exactly, that’s the difference: creating a pattern for profit when it’s not your concept. That’s why I brought it up for debate. Thanks for your input.

    I have no clue about the FB group, have you contacted a moderator?

  • [email protected]

    Actually I’ve been following Pleiades since 2016 and remember their first rainbow dress release that summer.

    So, I didn’t learn about Pleiades from your blog, but I did learn about TWT there. Anyway I’ve removed reference to your blog from the post.

    Possibly it’s a different market (which is the reason that designers issue licensing agreements) however you could say the same thing for the mass-produced copy: both versions of the dress serve the same purpose, to have the rainbow dress without paying for the original.

  • Sara

    This is a really interesting discussion. And I believe you’ve, as always, approached it very fairly. I know it’s directed at children’s clothing but what are your thoughts on patterns for adults? There’s quite a few popular independent women’s patterns that are extremely similar to current RTW styles out there at the moment. I feel that there is far less garment sewing for money in the adult pattern market (compared to children) and one argument could be that RTW sizing is often far less inclusive – so if a pattern designer releases a garment that is very closely inspired by a RTW range that is not so it is allowing more individuals to affordably wear great fitting and on trend garments….. what do you think?

  • Bunny

    Your informed, experienced and educated opinions are always appreciated whether I agree with them or not. Please keep up the awesome, uninfluenced work! It is a bright beacon in an often sycophantic sea of blogger/designer/indie pattern company flotsam.

    I guess for me, copying any original design is fair game as a sewist. I’ve been doing it all my life as I can’t afford the real thing and I so want it. But taking that skill and turning it into a pattern of someone else’s original design, without their permission, I just find offensive.

    Keep up the great work, Janet.

  • [email protected]

    Thanks Bunny, I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with me, I just want to open up a discussion. There is more depth to sewing than just “Oh isn’t this pretty!”.

    Copying a dress (or whatever) for your own personal use, absolutely fair game. “Home Economics” classes (sewing and cooking) are all about living on a budget.
    Copying a dress to re-sell dresses for profit and pretending it was your original design: VERY different situation.

    But what about copying a dress to sell PATTERNS for profit, pretending it was your own original design? What happens to that sewing pattern?

    Is the pattern purchaser making a dress for herself or her child? Again, the purposes could be to save money (or for creativity, etc)
    Is the pattern purchaser making dresses to sell to the public? VERY different situation.

    In effect, the original designer can be hit with a double-whammy here: not only is another patternmaker profiting off of a design that is not hers (by selling patterns), but also some small-business dressmakers can also be profiting at the expense of the original designer (by selling dresses)…and doing so in complete innocence, not knowing the pattern design was a copy.

    So while the pattern seller may justify their actions by saying “Oh I’m just making a few dollars a pattern, and I’m not hurting the original designer anyway because I’m not selling to her upscale market, I’m just selling to the home-sewist on a budget, I’m doing a good thing by bringing fashion to the masses”)…..in reality she might be enabling a dressmaker to actually sell to the same upscale market as the original.

    Just something to think about…..

  • [email protected]

    Hi Sara,

    Absolutely a big bonus of drafting patterns for adults is to be accommodating to more bodies who are under-served in the ready-to-wear market. It’s also one of the biggest challenges, since shapes change with age and life events. Our muscle tone decreases with age, weight is distributed more unevenly, our posture ages, and for women’s patterns there are the effects of childbirth, breastfeeding, and menopause. Even patternmakers who make a sincere effort to extend their size range can face criticism that they haven’t been inclusive enough. I’ve read blog posts explaining the challenges involved in grading for a variety of sizes and shapes, and I believe the writers are sincere in their efforts not only to make more sewists happy but also to help people understand that this is not easy to do.

    Children’s patterns may be used more by small-business makers than adult patterns are, for several reasons. Not only are Kid’s clothes easier to fit (our bodies tend to follow a fairly predictable growth pattern during childhood), are less expensive to make (less time and fabric), they are also highly visual and fun to sew….that’s why you see handmade kids clothes often at outdoor markets or on Etsy, etc. Since kids patterns are often used for reselling garments, there is a double-whammy if the pattern was copied from an original designer, because not only is a PATTERN seller profiting off of the designs of somebody else, but so is the GARMENT seller. For that reason (that more adult patterns are being used by the purchaser herself, not for resale garments) possibly it doesn’t seem AS harmful if the designs are copies.

    Yet the issues of copying (the legal and moral questions) are the same for kids and adults: copying a silhouette that is on trend is very different from copying a specific detail that is the mark of a particular designer. You can’t protect a shape from being copied, but you can protect a logo. The Nike swoosh, the stitching on the pocket of Levi’s jeans, the intertwined CC on the buttons of a Chanel jacket: not okay to copy. So whether the Pleiades rainbow was copied for the kids market or the adult market, that would be a more substantial issue than copying the dress silhouette.

  • Marisol

    “But what about copying a dress to sell PATTERNS for profit, pretending it was your own original design? What happens to that sewing pattern?”

    In response directly to this quote: Would you have been less critical if it was a free pattern? Would you have been less critical if TWT designer stated it was “inspired by” in the description? Would you have been less critical if Pleiades or TWT said that permission wasn’t granted but also maybe wasn’t denied? Would you have been less critical if there was a disclaimer on ANY of these product listings stating they are for personal, home use or gifting finished garments only and not for profit?

    Would you have been less critical (specifically of TWT’s pattern) if the hi-low option was less dramatic, the straps slightly wider or more narrow, the band at the bottom more narrow, wider, or a ruffle, maybe even a binding? What if it was a lined skirt instead of a single layer?

  • [email protected]

    Free? The dressmaker can still sell garments that are copies of the original, even if she didn’t pay for the pattern.
    “Inspired by”? That would have been more honest.
    Permission wasn’t granted but also maybe wasn’t denied? That sounds like someone’s trying to avoid a legitimate business agreement.
    For personal use? The pattern seller has no legal right to make that claim.
    If the silhouette was changed? The more important issue is copying an original visual design (the rainbow size and placement).

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