I recently learned from a few friends that another boutique is "copying Brass Tacks". On closer inspection, I found similar literature ("focus on fit, fabric and tailoring quality") and their styles had names and similar stories about them (call me hyper-vigilant but you know when someone is trying to imitate your writing style). Most upsetting of all was that a few of their styles seemed like copies of Brass Tacks silhouettes. They had my Patiala Pant (under a different name of course), and an ill-fitting version of my Wide Hem Trouser (called Wide Leg Pants).
It's not the threat of competition that bothers me. What really gets my goat is the blatancy with which Brass Tacks ideas are copied.
A few days ago I noticed, on Facebook, the brand description of yet another designer. She had used the words, "To be understood, our clothes have to be touched, stroked, and worn". How could someone else have come up with those very words that my sister had worked on for Brass Tacks in 2007? A description so unique because it acknowledges the sensual appeal of handwoven fabrics and the focus at Brass Tacks on fit.
|A screenshot of the Brass Tacks homepage in 2008, with the paragraph containing the sentence, "In order to be understood, our clothes have to be touched, stroked, and worn".|
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I bet most creative people who spend hours or days trying to come up with a unique idea that will have commercial success wouldn't be able to laugh that off like a genuine compliment. Copying is easy. Coming up with a new idea is tough.
So what's the difference between copying and being inspired by someone's work? Copyright infringement is a highly debatable and controversial topic in fashion. While copying a logo or site-content can be taken to court, design is a grey area. One simple change- like the colour- makes the style different. Many designers who look to the same sources for inspiration end up designing styles that have a common thread even though their research and work was done independently. What's important to note here however, is that despite the similarity, easy designer has his or her own unique take on the theme.
|Left: An article in the New York Times on the trend of geometric patterns.|
Right: The 70s Maxi from Brass Tacks' Spring 2013 collection.
Many even argue (and I agree), that designers should rely on work done in the past for inspiration and information, because sometimes in order to improve you need to see what's been done before. An article I read recently on the National Post quoted a professor at University of Virginia: "No one creates ex nihilo. And in the fashion industry especially". It's true- how do you create something without any frame of reference at all? And when someone does create something distinct - like Vionnet's cowl - does it mean no one else can use the same technique of draping a cowl, for fear of being seen as imitating Vionnet's style?
I, for one, have certainly relied on the work of many others during my journey with Brass Tacks. I'm not going to get into the obvious (clearly I did not invent the shirt, or the cowl neck), but were it not for other brands whose creations I did not care for, I might not have thought about creating a line of tailored clothes. Were it not for India's textile heritage, I might not have thought of translating those textiles into modern silhouettes. I needed to be surrounded by those particular brands and fabrics in order to gain the point of view that I have. And once I started, I needed to look up to other brands and retailers for inspiration. I've been inspired by Anthropologie's photography, J.Crew's clever marketing emails, and all the creative artisans who supply Brass Tacks with beautiful fabric.
But at the end of it all, I have my story. I have my reason for starting Brass Tacks, my unique point of view and my personality behind every creation. For me, that's perhaps the biggest difference between copying and deriving inspiration. If you don't have your own point of view, then all you'll ever be seen for is knocking-off your inspiration.
And as for me, this is just the kick I needed to get me started on some exciting projects I had lined up for the Summer. Imitation is unethical, but maybe it's what keeps us on our toes, working more creatively to make pieces that are more distinct. Let them copy all they want (I'll work on feeling more flattered) - what they can never get is my energy and passion.