The Fake Debate – Why It’s Not Cool To Copy

Image credit: Veja

It’s not cool for Primark and Marks & Spencer to knock off Veja’s sneakers, says Vogue Australia’s Sustainability Editor Clare Press Here’s the thing: copycat Vejas are unacceptable. I say this despite the fact that copying has become normalised in fashion. While it’s fun to check Diet Prada to see what flagrant feats of plagiarism fashion will come up with next, we’re generally so numbed to it, that we barely comment. Unless to ask, why buy £650 heels when we can shop lookalikes for £95? We take it for granted that the high street is full of fake runway looks. In our post-modern world, designers even copy themselves.
Much has been written about copyright law, and why the fashion system produces so many counterfeits and pale imitations. But knocking off sustainable brands is, I think, a special case. For not only are the copycats profiteering from the creativity of others without permission; they are doing so without any of the respect for people and planet intrinsic to the original. Frankly, it’s a new – though entirely predictable – low. On Saturday, a post popped into my Instagram feed via The Nu Wardrobe, an online clothes sharing startup based in Dublin. It collaged Veja’s V12 B-Mesh sneaker with an eerily similar style from Primark.  
As a sustainable fashion pioneer herself, Nu’s Aisling Byrne found it galling. Her caption read: “@veja, the pioneers of the sustainable and ethical sneakers, was started by two founders with £10k and a vision to do fashion right. Now the brand has become a movement and educated countless customers on the significance of each and every purchase we make. Like many of you, Vejas were my first ethical fashion purchase.” She encouraged the sustainable fashion community tag Diet Prada and call out Primark’s bad behaviour. Veja is the hot French sneaker brand founded by Sébastien Kopp and François Morillion, on a philosophy of transparency, organic materials and fair trade sourcing, and manufactured in fair factories. David Beckham, Emma Watson and Meghan Markle wear Veja kicks. That presumably makes them fair game for unethical reproductions. Alas, Primark is not the only one to be inspired by the look of Veja. Hello magazine recently reported: “These M&S trainers are exactly like Meghan Markle’s ultra-cool Veja pair.” Considering the great work that Marks & Spencer do in sustainability, the question is whether their customers want them to emulate Veja’s ethics or simply just their designs?  

Veja says their sneakers cost five to seven times more to produce than conventional brands’, but by eschewing advertising they make it work. Their business model empowers the worker as well as the wearer. They’ve become cult heroes by word of mouth, and because their product is authentic and fabulous. Fans, including me, will happily extoll the virtues of their favourite Veja sneakers to anyone who’ll listen. We take it personally. And these knockoffs feel personal too.

On Instagram, The Nu Wardrobe’s post was followed by a rush of comments, ranging from “shame on Primark” to “I’d rather pay more for better quality and sustainable clothing.” My regram garnered more than 240 comments. My favourite? “You can copy the look but you can’t copy the integrity.” 

Veja’s reaction was the best. “Thank you for the love,” wrote Sebastien Kopp to Aisling Byrne. “It is very sad to see this. The first question that comes to my mind is: Where are those nice counterfeit shoes made? I think @Primark got it wrong. They should not copy the style of our shoes, they should copy the way we make them. With organic cotton, with recycled plastic, with more ecological fabrics, in factories where workers are paid decently, and are working in secure conditions. We will explain everything to them in court.”


Read our Life As I know It interview with Sebastien Kopp here.

Listen to the Wardrobe Crisis Podcast with Sebastien here.