On Teaching Fashion: Counterfeits, Knock-offs, and Plagiarism

One of the toughest challenges facing fashion designers today is counterfeiting and knock-offs.  In teaching fashion, it’s part of my role to explain the difference between the two terms to my students.  Counterfeiting is making a copy of someone else’s design, be it a dress or a handbag, and selling it while representing it as the real thing.  A knock-off is copying another designer’s style, but not claiming to be the original designer item. 

Ever see handbags labeled “Coach” and “Louis Vuitton,” priced far below retail and sold in locations like swap meets, flea markets, and county fairs?  Those would be the counterfeits.  Ever see a handbag with rainbow initials that aren’t LV (similar to the one pictured above), but which looks a lot like a Louis Vuitton monogram handbag?  That would be a knock-off. 

Another challenging concept to explain to students is plagiarism.  According to my institution’s 2008-09 catalog, plagiarism may be any one of the following:

1.       Verbatim copying without proper documentation of the source(s).

2.       Paraphrasing without proper documentation of the source(s).

3.       Unacknowledged appropriation of information or ideas from someone else.

Perhaps even more important than the above three points is that fact that even unintentional plagiarism is still plagiarism, for which students may still be penalized. 

To sum up the definition of plagiarism in a recent classroom discussion, I emphasized the point that what matters most is that we give credit where credit is due.  I’m still waiting to see if Zuhair Murad has given credit to Dior for inspiring Miley Cyrus’s Oscar gown. 

As an aid to your own classroom discussions of counterfeiting in fashion and academic honesty, here are some resources you may find useful:

  • In Milwaukee, “purse parties” (think Tupperware party) were found to have possible connections to organized crime in 2003. 
  • For more extensive reading on fashion counterfeiting, visit Counterfeit Chic, the blog of Susan Scafidi, the first US law professor to offer a course in Fashion Law.
  • On the subject of academic honesty, here is how Computer Science Professor Ethan L. Miller from the University of California, Santa Cruz addresses the issue:  he invokes something referred to as The Simpsons Rule as a means for avoiding collaborative cheating. 
  • For some more concrete tips on how to educate students about plagiarism, and how to avoid it, see excerpts from Barbara Gross Davis’s Tools for Teaching here, at the University of California, Berkeley’s Office of Educational Development. 
  • Finally, having saved the best for last, here is a blog post (from Dim Bulb by Jonathan Salem Baskin) about a South African brand that created knock-offs of its own t-shirts for two years as a marketing strategy to generate buzz and cache for itself.    

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1 Comment

  • Ethan Miller February 28, 2009 12.18 pm

    In the interest of full disclosure, The Simpsons Rule is based on The Gilligan’s Island Rule, which I got (with permission, of course!) from Prof. Darrell Long at UC Santa Cruz. I’ve made modifications (of course), but Prof. Long deserves credit for the rule as well.

    Even faculty (especially faculty?) have to abide by rules against plagiarism….


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