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Catwalk copycats an increasing concern for Canadian fashion designers

Canadian designers are showing their new clothes at Toronto Fashion Week, but the rise of "fast fashion" knock-offs is increasingly threatening the fashion industry, with designs getting ripped off around the world.

As Toronto Fashion Week struts on, some designers are fighting 'fast fashion' ripping off their work

'We're designers, we want to create. We don't want to spend our time fighting in court or finding ways to protect what we do,' said Mackage co-creative director Elisa Dahan, seen with label co-designer Eran Elfassy. The Canadian brand is just one of many labels who have experienced their designs copied by others. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

The classic quote states that "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," but in the world of fashion — where creativity is a designer's greatest commodity — this kind of flattery can hurt the bottom line.

With the rise of so called "fast fashion," smartphones that can instantly capture and share runway looks as well as consumers who demand what they've just seen translated as cheaply manufactured knock-offs, the prevalence of catwalk copycats seem to be on the rise.

With web-enabled smartphones able to share runway looks immediately and consumers demanding cheaply made fast-fashion knock-offs straight away, catwalk copycats seem to be on the rise. (John Minchillo/Associated Press)

That's a concern for fashion lawyer Ashlee Froese, a partner at Fogler Rubinoff.

"There are some designers resigned to the fact that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. As an intellectual property lawyer that makes me not so happy," she told CBC News on Wednesday. 

"The more impact that digital media has in Fashion Week — and the displaying of their designs immediately — the cheaper it is to manufacture in other jurisdictions. The more globalized that our economy becomes, the easier it is to rip off other designs."

Christian Louboutin has filed lawsuits against many companies for alleged copying of its famed red-soled shoes. (Cliff Owen/Associated Press)

There are some well known international cases involving high-end designers.

For instance, Christian Louboutin has sued a host of brands (including Yves Saint Laurent, Charles Jourdan, Alba Footwear, Zara and Van Haren) over what they saw as a copy of their distinctive red-soled shoes.

Call for stronger copyright laws

The Montreal-based design duo behind Mackage, who show their Fall/Winter 2016 collection Wednesday night as part of Toronto Fashion Week, say they've also fallen victim to the trend. 

They feel weaker laws in Canada, compared to legislation in countries such as France, make it difficult for them to do anything about it. 

Catwalk copycats

7 years ago
Duration 1:34
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"We would like the Canada copyright to adapt itself to fashion because there's loopholes in it. There are many loopholes," said Eran Elfassy, co-creative director of Mackage. 

"The laws, they're not good for us. They don't protect us in any way."

There are many loopholes [in Canadian copyright law]...The laws, they're not good for us. They don't protect us in any way.- Eran Elfassy, Mackage

Froese also believes that Canada's intellectual property protection is not as strong as countries with bigger fashion industries such as Italy, France and India. However, she says there are methods for Canadian designers to protect their work, although the costs may not always make it worthwhile.

"If you know about what types of intellectual property protection are available, you can start to incorporate that into the design process, so you are creating products that are more suitable and more protectable," she said.

That added pressure might be too much for many designers to take on, Elfassy noted.

"If you want to spend all your money protecting your style, you're not going to be innovative anymore. You're not going to spend your time creating," he said.

In France, when one Mackage design was copied by an internationally distributed brand, Elfassy said the matter was dealt with quickly and the items removed from sale in less than two weeks.

"At the end of the day, we're designers, we want to create. We don't want to spend our time fighting in court or finding ways to protect what we do," added his co-creative director, Elisa Dahan.

"We've created things and they're ours."

If designers learn about what types of intellectual property protection are available, they can start to incorporate that into the design process, says Toronto fashion industry lawyer Ashlee Froese. (JR Bernstein)

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