LOS ANGELES — On November 30, independent artist Kaia Tseng, better known as Kaiami, tweeted that SHEIN, a famous fast-fashion brand, duplicated her design for an enamel pin.
The company was selling the counterfeit at a fraction of the original price on Tseng’s online store.
The dupe has since been removed from SHEIN’s website, but the damage has been done: Tseng’s creative property has been stolen, and, to add insult to injury, she would not be compensated for the profits generated from the fake product.
Tseng told INN24 that she will not take further legal action against the fast-fashion brand, as it “requires time and finances, which is difficult for independent artists such as myself.”
Ghostie the Ghost enamel pin by Kaiami (PHOTO: Kaiami)
Although the forged product was removed, the design theft is still endemic in the fast fashion industry, often unbeknownst to consumers.
“It makes me nauseous to know how many people have purchased a knock off,” wrote Tseng, who goes by she/they pronouns. After the tweet went viral, the artist received no shortage of support from Twitter users.
I've been notified that my ghostie pin has been knocked off by she*n. It makes me nauseous to know how many people have purchased a knock off. She*in has stolen from countless indie artists. Please dont support fast fashion sites like them and instead, support small businesses! pic.twitter.com/bOdNalzLVz— kaiami® (@Kaiami) December 1, 2020
According to Tseng, it was one of her long-time followers who first alerted her about the dupe, at which point she promptly contacted SHEIN to remove the listing.
“While it’s not a good feeling to know your work has been stolen, I feel very grateful to know that there are so many people looking out for me,” said Tseng, who had studied fashion in New York.
Tseng revealed that “SHEIN makes it surprisingly easy to contact them for removal,” referring to the company’s webpage dedicated to intellectual property infringement reports.
“SHEIN respects the intellectual property of others,” the page read. “If you believe that your work has been copied in a way that constitutes trademark or copyright infringement, please submit your complaint by report.”
Once she emailed the company, Tseng was connected to the company’s legal counsellor, who helped her remove the product’s listing. However, the very existence of a Copyright Notice page left the artist skeptical.
“It seems that the page exists because copyright infringement is so ingrained in their business that allowing copyright owners to contact them saves them from being subjected to potential legal action,” said Tseng.
It seems, though, this was not SHEIN’s first-time offence.
In August, independent designer Emma Warren had accused the fast-fashion brand of coping the embroidery design of one of their garments, according to the Independent.
The UK fashion line posted two side-by-side images on Instagram, comparing the original and SHEIN lookalike: the Emma Warren grey sweatshirt features two embroidered bees flanking a red heart, while the SHEIN copycat is a white drawstring hoodie with a vinyl t-shirt print of the exact design.
Screenshot of now-deleted Instagram post comparing SHEIN dupe with the original product (PHOTO: @el_cartlidge on Twitter)
“It’s literally exact, they’ve just taken it and put it on something. I think they’ve printed it to make it a little cheaper, I suppose,” Warren said in an Instagram story. “That’s fast fashion for you. It’s infuriating because they’re selling it for a third of the price as well.”
Likewise, SHEIN’s facsimile of Tseng’s “Ghostie the Ghost” was a carbon copy of the original design. When placed adjacent to one another, the two pins are nearly indistinguishable, but for Tseng, the low price begs the question of what compromises were made elsewhere in the supply chain.
“Think about how much it costs for a custom mould, cost of metals, cost of labour, and cost of shipping,” she said. “If a pin costs a dollar, think about where the costs are being cut to get to that price point.”
Tseng modelling her “strawberry connor” face mask, now sold out (PHOTO: @kaiami on Instagram)
“Ramen Stand” (2019) by Kaiami (PHOTO: Kaiami)
Tseng works as an independent illustrator and character goods designer and has been showcasing her work online for the last 19 years and selling her art for 13. Her work is characterized by muted pastel palettes and an animesque style, often depicting cute characters in whimsical scenes.
In addition to enamel pins, Tseng sells prints, stickers, keychains, stationery, and assorted apparel, among other things, on her online shop.
Despite almost two decades in the online art landscape, she is yet to find a way to avoid design theft. “While prevention may not be possible, artists can still protect their work,” she said.
To this end, Tseng keeps detailed records of her process as corroborating evidence that her work is indeed hers if she has to report copyright infringement.
“I often document my work by taking photos and collecting timestamps of when a design was created, which helps as evidence when reporting a stolen design.”
“Art Nouveau self-portrait” (2013) by Kaiami (PHOTO: Kaiami)
She also cites American copyright laws, which protect intellectual property from the moment the idea is executed in a concrete form.
“Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device,” according to the US Copyright Office.
While there is a legal apparatus in place to protect artists and other creatives, consumers can also do their due diligence when shopping to ensure the merchandise has not been plagiarized from an independent creator, according to Tseng.
“As a rule of thumb, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is!” Tseng advised. “The first thing you can do is to stop supporting SHEIN and companies like them.”
A piece from Kaiami’s “Postcards From Nowhere” series (PHOTO: Kaiami)
The seasoned artist encourages consumers to consider the provenance of an item as well as the cost of production before purchasing, insisting that the price is the amount it is for a reason: it goes into the quality and human touch that comes with a homespun product.
“While purchasing from independent artists and small businesses may cost more, you are not only purchasing a higher quality product that was designed and created with care, you’re also making a difference in our lives as each purchase is directly contributing to rent, groceries, and our ability to create more.”
Tseng is currently collaborating with Vigour Games, creating illustrations for an upcoming board game called Bad Koalas. She is also preparing new merchandise for the Kaiami store for 2021.
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