The “copycat” epidemic threatening Australia’s fashion industry has affected designers at the helm of international labels and small home-run brands alike, and as the line between what’s genuine and what’s replicated becomes increasingly blurred, the question on everyone’s mind is, what is Australia going to do about it?
The creative industry is one that thrives on freedom from limitations as the free flow of ideas generates the trends of each decade, the cinematic magic we witness on the big screen, the written works we teach in school and the very buildings we see and exist in every day. So it may present an oxymoron to suggest that the creative realm is in need of legal parameters to monitor and essentially police it, but like everything, creativity is not immune from human nature.
ABC’s Lateline this week delved behind the scenes of Australia’s fashion industry to reveal the very real issue of “copycats” – individuals and businesses openly stealing the original designs from brands big and small. The situation has become such that the original proponents of the industry, Fashion Week attendees and small businesses alike, are afraid to continue with their craft for fear of thieves reaching into their minds and literally picking their brains to pieces.
Where there are good ideas there will be malevolent and opportunistic individuals waiting to pounce and profit. Angelique Woodburn, creator of Howi Clothing in Melbourne, runs her business from home and says it is absolutely heart-breaking when she discovers her designs have been stolen. “What I am hoping for is that there will be more laws to support small businesses and their intellectual property,” she says. “And that they will cater specifically for small businesses, making them more affordable and accessible. I am hoping that we will have more power to take action against the online stores selling our counterfeit products, without having to spend a fortune.”
Fellow Melbourne-based designer, Kate Corleison, creator of Paperkrane, the original soft sole high top baby booties, agrees it is about time something is done to protect Australia’s creative industry both for its veterans and those preparing to enter its ranks. “I really hope that Australia takes the EU’s lead and moves to introduce the 3 year copyright protection for creatives/designers,” says Kate. “It would mean you would have time to be unique, without fear of being copied so widely, and also give you the chance to develop your next idea inside those 3 years! Being able to register a design and test it first would be major!! I hope they can put through some changes ASAP. Protect our creative industry, because Australia really doesn’t do that at all.”
The fear is that the local fashion design market will cease to exist as existing and up-and-coming creative talents refuse to risk their originality in the face of a system that allows Intellectual Property theft to continue unimpeded. The accessibility of the internet and social media certainly gives aspiring designers a tangible platform to kick start their businesses, however it also sits them atop a hell-mouth ready to open and unleash the evil of imitation at any given moment.
Jimi Hendrix was once quoted as saying, “I’ve been imitated so well, I’ve heard people copy my mistakes.” Isn’t that a lesson right there? We’re taught from a young age that copying, otherwise known as the act of plagiarism, is a punishable offence; schools and universities decreeing expulsion and the disqualification of theses must be exacted if the work of others is proven to have been replicated.
Australia needs to treat its creative industry with the same stringency it reserves for education, only then will designers have the freedom required to turn their original concepts into original creations safe from the claws of the copycats.