ReBA blog series: The paradox of fashion design plagiarism and accountability of fast fashion retailers

Integrating personal interest with academic research

By Dr Charika Channuntapipat, Responsible Business Award academic


Connecting sustainability issues and corporate accountability with fashion is an easy pairing to make. Fashion has been increasingly called out for use of other’s designs and for exploitative practices which harm society and the environment.

The fashion industry is divided into vastly different areas, from high end designers to mass produced fast fashion. There are varying perspectives when it comes to the great debate around responsible business and the sustainability of fashion.

Working with fashion designers, people from different parts of the industry and fashion retailers has allowed insight into how designers get inspiration for their work, market it and how materials are sourced. Independent designers dedicate much time and work to developing unique designs but aren’t as successful at selling their designs as fast fashion brands. In part, this is due to the designers’ inability to compete with the low prices and variety of design of high street retailers.

This project amalgamates studies into how designer brands compete with fast fashion, and the relatively new question of design plagiarism and how brands affect environmental and social sustainability.

Normalised “design plagiarism” causes unsustainability

Although it is commonly thought of as unacceptable for designers to take and copy designs from one another, this is somewhat normalised by the idea of a ‘trend’: the trend is set and designers follow it, rather than admit to design plagiarism.

However, there have been many instances of independent designers (or even well-known luxury designer brands) accusing other brands (especially fast fashion ones) of copying their designs. Largely, these brands cannot be proven guilty from a legal perspective because intellectual property right does not generally cover fashion products. Also, it is difficult to prove whether designs are copied from or “inspired” by other designs. Although copying designs from other brands is in most cases not illegal, it can be unethical.

Hence, this normalised design plagiarism should be challenged, as it is one of the main factors that allow fast fashion business models prosper at the expense of others. Approaching this issue from an ethical and accountability, rather than legal, point of view allows for more flexibility of research. This project explores the possibility that accounting and management tools can help address and alleviate this issue and can affect the sustainability of the fashion industry.    

Support from the Centre

The Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business offered me an opportunity to step outside my comfort zone to raise questions and challenge this norm in the industry. The support the Centre offers through its Responsible Business Awards (ReBA) enables me to challenge these issues; explore different perspectives from relevant individuals; collaborate with like-minded people; and distribute my research progress.          

During my ReBA journey so far, I have noticed that attention from different institutions is increasing. Many are trying to address issues and problematic business model of the fast fashion industry, including the government and the main media channels. I feel that the support from ReBA on this project will help me join the conversation and play a part in addressing, and potentially helping to solve, the problems.

More about Dr Charika Channuntapipat

Watch a video interview with Dr Charika Channuntapipat

More information about the Centre for Responsible Business