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Fashion and Ethics

This guide provides an introduction to fashion and ethics, providing a wide array of resources (articles to podcasts), and a select group of case studies at the intersection of fashion and ethics.

Spotlight: Knock-offs

The Issue of Knock-offs in Fashion

Knock-offs are a three-part problem in fashion, they exploit designers by taking ideas and profiting off of them, they affect garment workers by driving down the price of goods, and because the clothes are much cheaper, they are most likely fast-fashion, and thus, not ethically sourced. Therefore, the true cost of knock-offs is to the labor force and to the environment. 

Fashion brands and enthusiasts are fighting back because the issues associated with these counterfeit fashion products actually go beyond monetary losses. In exchange for the cheap price tag, manufacturers of fake goods are damaging the environment ("Why Fashion Knock-Offs Are Bad For The Environment").

Types of Knock-Offs

  • Replicas (illegal knockoffs; merchandise made and distributed by thieves) are unlawful. Replica apparel, accessories, and footwear are created with the intention of fooling the consumer into believing that the item is made by a specific business or brand--when they are not. 

  • Copycat designers (perhaps unlawful knockoffs, though not necessarily unlawful): Many designers are inspired by products they encounter. Thus, some designers may deliberately replicate products they come across, while other designers may unintentionally borrow ideas. 

Fast Facts:

Keywords: fashion piracy, knock-offs, counterfeiting, fast fashion replicas, dupes



Why so many knock-offs in the US?

  • US copyright law positions American fashion as a manufacturing industry rather than a creative one, thereby making fashion outside the purview of copyright law.


While many articles focus on fast fashion copies of luxury fashion, there is also a trend of large fashion companies copying indie designers. Outlined below are a few examples of knock-offs in fashion.

Carrie Anne Robert’s Mère Soeur “Raising the Future” t-shirt and Old Navy’s “Raising the Future” t-shirt

  • Carrie Anne Robert had sold hundreds of her best-selling t-shirt, "Raising the Future," until she woke up one day in 2018 to find that her design was being sold on Old Navy's website. She took to social media to lament the knock-off of her t-shirt until Old Navy eventually pulled sales of the shirt. Robert had not trademarked the phrase, nor the font, and thus had no legal claim to the design.

Side by side photographs of two black shoes.

Adidas Yeezy Boost 750 and Zara’s similarly designed shoe

  • Zara is known for making 'dupes' of designer brands to attract consumers. 

For more examples, check out this article from VOX:

The Shein Case

Shein is currently dominating the fast-fashion game, and is particularly revered by those looking for cheap dupes of designer clothes. In 2022, Shein was the #1 shopping app in the US. However, this domination of fast-fashion comes at a cost. As of 2021, the United States has banned sales from the Uyghur Region because of the ongoing genocide being perpetrated by the Chinese government there. Shein's supply chain is partially located in the Xinjiang region of China, where human rights abuses against the Uyghur minority have been widely documented. Factories have been reported as unsafe, with long working hours (i.e., 17 to 75 hour shifts, no emergency exits, etc.). Additionally, the company leaves about 6.3 million tons of carbon dioxide a year in its trail. Knock-offs, made by exploited workers in unsafe conditions at the expense of the environment, are not to be appreciated for their cheap likeness to expensive designer pieces, but should be critiqued extensively.