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On The Catwalk: Plagiarism in The Nigerian Fashion Industry – What’s The Way Forward?

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On The Catwalk’ is a new column by BellaNaija’s former fashion writer and critic turned fashion publicist and vlogger – Richard Akuson, that explores the length and breadth of the emerging Nigerian fashion industry, weighing in his thoughts on happenings within the industry, one issue at a time.

bellanaija-tope fnr82016_

Original dress & FnR version

It was exactly June 16, 2016 when Twitter NG and the internet literally broke down over a Tope FnR dress scandal with a client of the brand. Twitter was unforgiving.

The designer was dragged through the mud and filth for failing to make an exact replica of a designer dress she’d charged N105,000 to make for her client, which is funny, because while the rest of the internet was apparently basking in the joy of Tope FnR’s “misfortune” of failing to deliver an impeccable imitation of the designer dress her client wanted, I found myself re-evaluating our values as a people and an industry.

I asked my self, why will a “designer” agree to replicate a design that is not hers in the first place? Definetely she’s bound to get something wrong!

Tope FnR was clearly ‘unlucky’ to be caught in the act of imitation as I imagine that’s something that she and a lot of other Nigerian designers do in the name of bespoke. So we’re clear, her’s was not an ode to the designer. Or any form of flattery, as the intent was not to be inspired by the said dress but a complete attempt at copying and pasting another designer’s hard work and creativity.

Ade Bakare

Ade Bakare

It wasn’t long after the Tope FnR saga that designer Trish O couture was in her own imitation squabble. She was called out on multiple blogs for making an exact copy of a signature Ade Bakare Couture coat. In this case, Trish O Couture and internationally acclaimed couturier Ade Bakare were both slated to show at the most recent Africa Fashion Week Nigeria when Trish O Couture’s fashion transgression was exposed.

In the spirit of most fashion weeks, AFWN sent out a list of their headliners which had the likes of Ade Bakare Couture and Trish O Couture, and in that press pack was each designer’s promo picture, and Trish O Couture’s only happened to be an exact replica of a classic Ade Bakare Couture piece. Trish O couture spared no detail in the imitation as the silhouette, bell sleeves and beaded neckline were copied and pasted in their entity, save for the colour that differed.

The result? A more affordable version of a couture coat that might have taken Ade Bakare months to conceptualize and make to specification. What’s more? Trish O Couture had plans to show the particular coat as part of her………wait for it, Spring/Summer 2016 “Haute Couture Collection”!

Trish O Couture

Trish O Couture

All these might sound far-fetched to a lot of you, but I’d experienced something similar during my time at BellaNaija. At the time,  my attention was drawn to the fact that my lookbook reviews were always copied word for word and published on several fashion blogs and publications. These bloggers/fashion writers would go as far as sharing excerpts of my writing on their social media platforms without any form of consent or credits.

I couldn’t have approached all of them, but I remember writing to one who I felt had gone overboard with his plagiarism. I wrote to him asking he take down all my work that he’d shared on all his platforms without my permission or any form of credit or I’ll have to take every necessary action to ensure he does.

To put this in perspective, I remember writing a review about a lookbook and a few hours after, the designer’s publicist sent me an email requesting I edit my review as I lost the message of the collection in my review – which I declined to as I insisted I only wrote genuinely what I felt about the collection and not about what they set out to achieve – consequently, “every other blog” had followed my lead.

Ade Bakare

Ade Bakare

And for the rest of my time at BellaNaija, I continued to find blogs either repurposing my articles covertly or overtly copying it and publishing which felt like a ripoff on my intellectualy property. But let’s shift the lense away from me; if I felt that way about my writing, how much more Ade Bakare whose couture design turned Trish O Couture’s or that other designer that had his/her dress destroyed in a failed attempt at imitation by Tope FnR?

As an industry, we cannot grow if we continue to regurgitate the very same things. We cannot forge ahead if we lack creative minds that are willing to put in the work and CREATE. Ours is not an established industry with a proven track record of excellence, No. On the contrary, we’re only emerging – and what we do today will definitely define our tomorrow. Therefore, we cannot afford to tolerate imitation/replication of any level or kind. We simply cannot!

Then again, how can we completely rid our industry of such?

Please share your thoughts.

Richard Akuson is founder at The PR Boy a boutique media and press relations agency for fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands with a specialty in raising the overall awareness of a brand, product or image of a company or person. Richard is also a weekly columnist at Bellanaija.com ('On The Catwalk' and 'Collection Conversations'), he's also a party host at The Front Row and a vlogger at Get Pink with Richard . Want to reach out? Follow @richardakuson on Instagram and @richardakuson on Twitter or send an email to [email protected]

43 Comments

  1. Spirit

    August 12, 2016 at 11:02 am

    Based even on the writer’s experience, it appears the larger problem here is a society’s lack of respect for and knowledge of intellectual property rights. This can only be curbed when there is greater reward and respect for originality and innovation.

    • Damilola

      August 13, 2016 at 5:04 am

      I don’t know much about fashion and all the ethics that goes into it. And I understand, ideas can be recycled and it’s not only entitled to one person because each person can put their spin on it. And you can like something, be inspired by it and want to do it as well. However, Nigerians take this whole copy cat to another level. It’s not even coded but very blatant almost insulting borderline embarrassing. It’s done with such boldness and confidence.. You do bootleg designing, only to sell it at almost the same price as the original. “Maybe” it will be a little bit better if the purpose is to make it more affordable.
      I believe, we Nigerians have become too complacent. Our brain is allergic to innovation and original creativity. We see one way to success and money and we just stick to it.
      This is the reason, the economy is downhill. Oil is where the money is, and we used it up until it’s not ended as much. Now we are stuck. We see education as the only way, we just all stick to it. Now it’s entertainment, and we just stick to it. Everybody will do it until that thing itself rejects us. We don’t look the other way.
      .

    • Naijatalk

      August 13, 2016 at 12:17 pm

      Sister you’re right on the money. Nigerians have been led (in every sector) like one way traffic cattle, so it’s no surprise that this same attitude infiltrated the budding fashion industry. However it’s not too late to set standards.

  2. Las

    August 12, 2016 at 11:13 am

    I am not sure why this is an issue, Zara, one of the world’s largest fashion retailer is known to deliver copies of catwalk designs within a period of 6 weeks. Also, remember that there is hardly any competition between high-end and low-end fashion retailers because their customer bases are worlds apart.
    The ‘copy cats’ are simply filling a gap and as long as it is done cleverly, it should not be an issue.

    • Olori

      August 12, 2016 at 11:33 am

      So because Zara does it is should not be an issue? Wow Las, wow, how profound!

    • Las

      August 12, 2016 at 11:42 am

      No time…so here’s a quote from Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada “This stuff’? Oh, ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean. You’re also blindly unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic “casual corner” where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of “stuff.””

    • Olori

      August 12, 2016 at 11:54 am

      So because Zara does, it is not an issue wow, Las, wow. Very profound.

    • Nahum

      August 12, 2016 at 3:21 pm

      I get your point, Zara has built an industry by taking high fashion clothes from the runway to the high street. But I think what the writer was referring to is the fact that one high fashion designer has blatantly copied the work of another high fashion designer. This is different from Zara. Zara makes high end clothes accessible to the masses but this designer will sell her jacket at the same price as Ade Bakare’s.

    • *Real* Nice Anon

      August 12, 2016 at 5:11 pm

      I wouldn’t call Zara “high end”. It is better finished than say H&M which is their competition. Zara is fast fashion done well. I wouldn’t call it high end though. Heck, I’d call COS a much higher end than Zara.

    • Las

      August 12, 2016 at 5:22 pm

      I totally get your point Nahum and I agree to a degree, however, I think you will also agree with me that most of the ‘copycats’ listed in the article above are in no way designers. They are tailors, some better than others.

      Most high-end designers have 2 sections to a collection – Haute Couture and Pret a porter. Pret a Porter is usually the interpretation of couture into a ‘wearable’/off the runway version. Historically it took 6- 9 months for this to happen, Inditex, the mother company of Zara changed that, which is why Zara, Massimo Dutti, Uterque and many others fill the ‘copycat’ space. This is where the so-called designers need to align themselves.

      To be clear, I am not in favour of out right appropriation, but I also believe in finding gaps in the market and taking advantage of that.

    • dj

      August 12, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      I am not in support of “copy cats” but we should all know that in fashion designing no designer can totally say this is my work cos no defined patent rights. designing is based on inspiration therefore patenting rights arent exactly defined.

  3. Big Tee

    August 12, 2016 at 11:17 am

    Some people are too lazy to create new ish, some feel that being original is too risky, why not go with something tested and trusted while earning your bar? unfortunately we see this everyday,… music beats, start-ups, story line for movies, blogging, vlogging…..even OAPs copy each other…. shior…

  4. Prince

    August 12, 2016 at 11:23 am

    This is so true. I remember Kehinde Bankole’s outfit to the AMVCA was also a failed attempt. Meanwhile, i noticed almost all the blogs have the same thing. as it they copied it from the one source

  5. artklub

    August 12, 2016 at 11:42 am

    corruption is not stealing….padding budget is not corruption….copying is normal….he doesn’t need a proof of certificate….he does not need to debate with jonathan…..sounds familiar? you get the leaders you deserve and you get the service you deserve. and you get the quality of life that you deserve. when you CHANGE your standards and walk your talk, then the rest will follow and fall into place. thanks richard for the article.

  6. Olori

    August 12, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Most (not all) Nigerian designers copy foreign designers most especially that of Lebanese designers. It’s quite sad because these people see our work and don’t take our entire fashion design industry seriously. All dem Toju, Kunbi, Ejiro and those I can’t remember (luckily for them) all copy. Copycats! I mean nothing is new under the sun anymore and even our highly revered designers like Prada and Lagerfeld etc reference past work of previous years designers but what our own dear designers do is to PHOTOCOPY outright from the previous season. Continue.

    • Forbisi

      August 12, 2016 at 8:21 pm

      Don’t mind them. Creativity is lost. Ejiro does a lot of copy. Luckily for her, her work is neat, so people don’t mind, or they don’t know. Whatever. But as for kumbi, she is the queen of copy and paste. She said toke’s wedding dress was her original idea, wn she was busted, she started claiming she got inspiration from a designer. Meanwhile, d exact dress is all over aliexpress.

    • NoNo

      August 13, 2016 at 10:03 am

      LMAO @ Kunbi!!!

  7. Jo!

    August 12, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    I believe “plagiarism” is VERY specific to writing.

    • Sky Blue

      August 12, 2016 at 1:39 pm

      I assumed so too, however, according to Merriam-Webster, it is “The act of using another person’s words or IDEAS without giving credit to that person”. So using it in this context is not incorrect.

    • Let live

      August 16, 2016 at 6:47 am

      It is not. In my dance class in university, we were not allowed to copy dance steps from videos. It will be treated as plagiarism. However we could watch and get inspired. Even with that we had to reference the choreographer.

  8. Tutu

    August 12, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    If there is anything I like about Richard, it’s that he’s not scared to get in the faces of these so called designers. Copying is terrible but it’s sort of the norm in the fashion industry even in the global scene. There is a Schutz shoe called Juliana, Steve Madden copied the same shoe it’s called Slithur (ofcourse it’s a much lower price point) now this same shoe has been copied by all and sundry. The exact same! It’s terrible. So when I wear my Schutz shoe, that I got for about 50k from Luxury Street, folks think it’s the cheap ass one. I’m pained!

  9. Xplorenollywood.com

    August 12, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Truth is Richard, nothing can be done about copy. However, if i intend to pay good money for an Nigerian exclusive piece then i better be the only one that has it. Technically, nothing is new other the sun, so if you dont mind wearing a copy then, go ahead.

  10. Bey

    August 12, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    To tell you d truth the key is to give dese Nigerian tailors aka designers styles that are not too complicated, I go as simple as possible cos I don’t trust most of dem not to make crap.
    I use to have a tailor who was German married to a Nigerian in Yaba, but she’s gone back to Germany to be with her kids schooling dere. That woman cld copy anything, she’s more of a seamstress not a designer persay, just give her a picture and she will copy and paste it, everything so clean and neat, seams done perfectly, and she works alone, bcos she doesn’t trust d sewing skills of most Naija tailors. She only has 1 assistant so u need to give her ur clothes 1mnth in advance.
    All dese Nigerian designers, just stay simple that way its hard for dem to get it wrong.
    When I got married I just jejely bought my Reception dress abroad along with d wedding dress and got it even cheaper dan d 200k one designer wld charge me here. To copy a style and not even get it right.

  11. Hashva

    August 12, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    @Las, when reading the article, this exact scene from The Devil Wears Prada came to mind, and I see i wasnt the only one.

  12. Sisi

    August 12, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    Whilst I get your sentiments, there is a big difference when you have a customer base that specifically requests a remake, imitation, copy version of a particular dress/item and a writer who lazily copies and pastes another writers work and passes it of as their own – there is no demand for such, rather lack of creativity and sheer laziness.

  13. Corolla

    August 12, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    Copying works of other designers is wrong! No doubt about that. But “plagiarism” flourishes in this country because of the way our culture is set up-aso ebi! Because we can’t buy ready made asoebi, we scout through foreign magazines to find styles to sew with asoebi fabrics that have been bestowed upon us. This asoebi sewing and copying of styles has then set the tone for fashion design in Naija, and given way to plagiarism and allowed it seep into all facets of fashion design. I think the “designer” label is wrong for some of these businesses, and people like Tope FnR, Kunbi, Peridot, and co should just call themselves tailors and seamstresses, definitely not designers.

  14. Undefined beauty

    August 12, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    The only thing I saw was 105 k for that nightgown that any am learning from my madam can sew! Hain

  15. GigiEffie

    August 12, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    People call TopeFNR and Kunbi designers?! LOL!!! Seeing their work and being told how much they charge I laugh. Kudos to them for taking advantage of the feeble minded. Just to say they have a “so and so” dress. PLEASE. Are those two even properly trained? Some of their dresses are nice but some are really local looking. And to pay that much money for them is a shame.

    If there is no penalty for intellectual theft in fashion, they will continue. After all, that’s their money maker..giving the client what they want. I hardly see sketches from them, mostly just the end product.

    I remember when Louboutin first came onto the scene, Nine West had a shoe that had a red bottom. 59 dollars, get you a shoe that looked like a 695 shoe LOL…Louboutin took Nine West to court and won and they ceased with the practice immediately. Not sure if some Naija designers care to do waste their time to do the same, but it may prove to be worthwhile if it gets out of hand.

  16. Mymind

    August 12, 2016 at 3:53 pm

    Richard, I think it says more about the attitudes of the consumer base in naija toward intellectual property and originality, and what we value as a society/country. I even wonder to what extent our dear “Asoebi bella” helps to perpetuate this attitude. There is serious demand for “copy paste” designs, but I believe that designers who deliberately target the small base that values originality are the ones who will actually move this industry in the right direction, and bring it the recognition it very much needs.

    Why do we wait around for the next best idea to come up to simply steal and profit it? And this is not limited to the fashion, blogs, TV or radio o. Tech nko? @artklub is right to make the connection with our leaders right down to our nonchalant, lackadaisical attitudes towards a variety of things. Something is seriously rotten somewhere.

  17. BlueEyed

    August 12, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    imitation in fashion is an issue every where in the world, not only a Nigerian thing, when you are feeding a masses who want those high end designs at a lower price, there is bound to be imitation. However, when you imitate and charge higher than the actual cost of the original, then you are plain evil.

  18. good girl

    August 12, 2016 at 9:27 pm

    this FNR lady seems to have all sorts of issues..before the issue about reception dress..a friend came crying to me that this same lady ruined her dress that we were to wear for a big event and was very nonchalant about the mistake and even rude…na wa

  19. Von

    August 12, 2016 at 10:05 pm

    Show me one fashion designer who has never copied the work of other designers. Why call out your fellow designers when the European has been copying our style of dress for centuries.

  20. Aisha

    August 12, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    Can we also talk about copy and paste bakers? Yea, I know this is a fashion post, I just am fed up of some thieving bakers.

  21. Cece

    August 13, 2016 at 12:09 am

    Sorry Richard, but your example of Tope F n R is like asking why people show their local tailors a style they would like them to imitate. To me, she is ‘like’ a regular tailor with great talent who just happens to have a great social media presence.

    As for Ade Bakare and the other designer, i agree with you because its shameful to imitate someone else in a competition. Other than that, imitation in the fashion world has become unavoidable. For instance there are so many imitations of the LV monogram bag. They may not have LV written on them but they sure look alike. Its wrong. What can he do but continue to differentiate by quality.

  22. didi

    August 13, 2016 at 12:38 am

    Emmy Collins to the rescue. I remember him calling out Mai and others… Nigerians learn to be original

  23. olorire

    August 13, 2016 at 10:25 am

    factual article…thank God everyone is commenting about it and not the writer! looool

  24. Customer

    August 13, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    In this case, it wasn’t just about this “copy and paste” gone horribly wrong dress. It’s the way she handled the issue after. We have no customer protection policies in nigeria. Basically you can pay a lot of money for a service, then get a very bad product and with no refund, compensation or remorse. Because there are no rules protecting the average customer which makes the supplier feel like he or she can offer whatever product/service. and we all sweep it under the rug until the next victim.

  25. juliettsstyleglam

    August 13, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    It’s a problem everywhere my dear, I live in France the fashion capital and it’s taking a toll on the fashion houses. I believe that designs could be copied but where I draw the line is those copying should mention and give honour to whom honour is due . That shows respect and it tells the person that you admire their work. But downright copying and claiming as yours, SERIOUSLY!!!!. One would say the internet is at fault yes, I agree but the internet also made you make money from it so do the right thing.

  26. consulente d immagine

    August 14, 2016 at 9:30 am

    it’s all about money as usual.
    Art, in every its form, unfortunatly could be copied. It’s a plague for investment in research.
    But the market is the law.

  27. SBM

    August 14, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    I think the major issues I see are copying and not bothering to give credit as well as charging as much as the designer you copied from. High street stores who copy designs from the runway for much less have become relevant to designers because they show which designs do well in the market and may decide to redo those designs in their next collections. It’s about the dough! These high street stores many times show designers what the trends are or may be.
    Fashion recycles itself at least every 20 years. There’s no way out so unless you invent something outstanding like the mini skirt or a bra, you are reinventing something someone else tried or finished. To designers who copy, it’s ok to say you were inspired by a designer’s piece and you decided to add your signature or flaire to it. It’s credible and even more attractive.
    I own a fashion website and if you read a lot, you will find that even Vogue online copies content from other online magazines and all they do is provide links and give credit which is what I do. Providing links or giving credit to excerpts on your work not only gets you some good partnerships but puts your work out.
    If my work was copied anywhere, I’d privately contact the person with suggestions on how we could both benefit from it instead of outrightly asking for my work to be taken down. How many people can you chase? Why not benefit from it?

    • Elorm

      August 14, 2016 at 10:36 pm

      SBM I agree with you. Copying is inevitable in the creative industries but it is important that credit is given where it is due. The best way is to find a way to make it mutually beneficial to both parties.
      My issue with “designers” who copy others, however, is that they should stop referring to themselves as desingers. They are playing the equally important role of tailors and seamstresses and so they should embrace that role. They aren’t designers and so should not be entering competitions and such for designers. Tailors and seamstresses, like fashion retailers such as H&M and Zara have important roles to play in the industry since they provide for a different market than the designers themselves do.
      I was wondering though, what is your website? I would love to check it out. I have an African fashion blog as well: stylesummitafrica.com.

  28. SBM

    August 15, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    @Elorm, it’s called stylebymolekor.com. Checked out your blog, double thumbs up!!!

  29. Kinang katura

    August 27, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Copy and paste is our middle names. We are so lazy that is why. In our higher institutions,it has taken another dimension.

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