'Copycats will always be a step behind'

LONDON - Ah yes, copycats. They are everywhere, and it can seem frustrating.

I have had so many designer friends complaining about this — and witnessed some talented ones quit because they can’t take the stress of it anymore.

But more often than not; when someone is copied, I experience the same reaction — surprise and outrage.

Let us be honest though — it really shouldn’t be surprising when someone copies your designs.

Essentially the whole concept of fashion is based on copying, right?

We all try to emulate what we are told is stylish.

As a society, we don’t encourage brazen copying, whether it’s trademark infringement or your children cheating on a test.

However, proving that a design has been used illegally is a laborious and often expensive pursuit.

The fashion industry does not recognise design as a protected work of art (except in France).

Consequently, copying is rampant within the industry. It also hurts designers who may be unwilling to invest in the lengthy and expensive process of design and frankly, that reluctance will eventually limit consumer choice.

While Africa is a hub of inspiration, it seems we have too many designers and too little design thinking. The same can be said about too many business strategists, and not enough innovations.

Look around us; we see ugly looking products with poor form and function.

When reading these corporate releases, we see a lot of talk about innovation but you hardly see anything innovative coming out from these companies.

Strategists copy each other the same way designers copy and modify each other’s’ designs.

It is very disappointing.

I have often heard designers say, “Good designers copy. Great designers steal”.

Well, anyone who says this is one of three types of designers: One who copies, one who steals or admits that not copying and stealing is hard, but still tries not to anyway!

I disagree, or at least don’t want to accept that notion. You shouldn’t either! Designers who copy are novices who haven’t yet grasped what makes a great design great, and so they imitate.

These people are at the bottom of the design pyramid, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

You have to start somewhere.

They frequent other designers’ websites, pick a design they like and find a way to recreate and adapt it to the project at hand.

This sums up these burglars well. Once a designer has copied another’s design and feel they have a grasp of what makes a design great, their natural inclination is to go and create their own great and unique design.

But they soon discover that doing so is not as easy as the other designer made it seem.

They learn that the dirty secret of many great designers is stealing.

It is a fact that we cannot help, but be influenced by our surroundings.

Designers steal all the time without realising it.

There is a belief that innovation and growth only happen when there are strong protections against copying or duplication.

In fashion trend, copying actually creates demand for new designs and drives consumption.

When I started my brand Vanhu Vamwe two years ago, I had a vision, and I knew I had something unique to share. It has not been a smooth ride, and I know that I only have succeeded by hard work.

I love the creative process and all the hard work before I launch a new collection.

Many hours have been spent drawing, playing with colours while finding that right piece of leather can take weeks (even months).

My bid to be unique and original has been a lot like throwing darts at a target blindfolded. You may never hit the target, but you might just learn something in the process.

The pursuit of originality in the African fashion industry is not a lost cause.

The industry is still young, and some things still have to be attempted.

Theories and conventions are always being questioned, challenged and broken, and they should.

If you believe a better way is possible, you will often find your way to it.

But it is not all bad news — maybe it is worse to be never imitated at all. There is after all the old adage, that goes; Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Here is the important thing to remember; a copycat will always be one step behind you.

They cannot outstrip you because they get their ideas from you. They cannot create, they can only emulate.
If you say that to yourself 10 times when it happens (because it will) and when you get upset (because you will)… then have a cup of tea, because tea fixes everything …Well according to the British!

? Pamela is a Zimbabwean fashion journalist and fashion accessory designer based in the United Kingdom. She can be contacted on pamsamasuwo@live.co.uk