When knitwear designer Crochet Bao posted her latest creation to Instagram last May, fans raved about what they saw: a red and white cardigan with gingham check sleeves, chunky accents and large, patterned strawberries across the body. “A lot of people sent me a DM and asked for a pattern, but some people were also willing to pay for it,” Crochet Bao said.
If anyone is interested in the cardigan, they can go to her Etsy store to purchase crochet pattern instructions for $11 or a custom cardigan for $195.
Or they can go to online clothing store Cider and buy a fake vest with a nearly identical design for $32 — unsurprisingly for the full-time designer, who discovered the offer after a follower messaged her.
“It’s like you look every day and then a new design is taken or imitated and copied,” she said.
Fast-fashion companies like Cider and Shein are known to regularly sell designs from small makers. Usually there are very few consequences, as most garments cannot be protected under US copyright laws.
This means that when a small designer like Crochet Bao, who asked for identification with the name of her online store, has her design imitated, all she can do is post about it online and hope that people see that the design is really hers. is. †
The problem is even bigger for knitwear designers, whose products have taken over the fashion world. Since many designers sew their clothes by hand, prices are often high to reflect the quality and time of work. It took Crochet Bao three months to create her cardigan design – she prototyped to make sure her instructions included sizing, made step-by-step videos for the pattern, and had several people test her design and give her feedback. Every time someone orders a cardigan, it takes them 18 hours to crochet the entire piece by hand.
“After all that work, it’s just insane for someone to just take it and sell it for one-eighth the price or even less,” said the 25-year-old Etsy seller.
Companies rarely respond to claims about copying designs. Emma Charlton, who runs an Etsy store called AlaskaCrochetCo, found this out when she learned that Cider was selling a sweater that resembled one she’d edited to work on a vintage pattern. She contacted the company multiple times and even went to the site and responded to comments about the store listing asking shoppers to look at her original work. Cider reached out and said she could file a copyright claim, but she knows she can’t technically claim the pattern.
“I think my original goal was to take it away, but then it just became to draw attention to the fact that they’re not a good place to shop,” Charlton said.
Fast-fashion knock-offs can make the pieces these creators worked so hard on no longer feel like unique, sustainable items that promote slow, ethical fashion practices. Lydia Bolton, a textile designer who specializes in unique clothing made from recycled materials, posted a photo of a jacket she thought could not be replicated because she used a patterned fabric that is no longer sold in stores. Even when many people asked if they could buy the $164 jacket, she resisted customer demand to make more.
Now those potential customers can buy a replica of the jacket on Cider.
“It’s a real shame because it makes this one very special jacket a little less special because now the whole world can have it for $28 on Cider,” said Bolton.
That loss could be worse than the revenue that these makers miss out on. For Bolton, the Cider jacket “will not affect my sales” as she only makes one-of-a-kind items.
Crochet Bao says the different price points mean she’s reaching different customers. “The people who shop at Cider are not the people I think would buy my items in the first place,” she said. “They probably won’t be shopping for a $250 cardigan at the same time.”
Some designers have had success removing these designs from other fast-fashion companies, often after a social media post claiming design theft is going viral. Eliza Hilding, a knitwear designer from Sweden, posted an Instagram reel showing similarities between a sweater vest they made and one that appeared on Shein six weeks later. The video was viewed over a million times and shortly after, they received a DM from the company stating that the vest had been removed.
“They said it’s a third-party supplier that’s responsible, and they’re sorry, and they respect every designer’s intellectual property,” Hilding said.
While removing the design was great, Hilding says the comments that made her happiest came from people who said they intended to stop shopping at Shein now that they knew the brand was stealing designs. For her, this is the real win: helping people move away from fast fashion and be more selective about where they shop.
The problem is that knitwear is expensive, fashion moves quickly, and these companies offer an acceptable product at a much lower price. “We’re all babies of a capitalist society, we see something bright and shiny, we’ve learned to want it,” says Kara Harms, who reviews fast fashion on her blog whimsysoul.
On its website, Cider claims it reduces waste through its pre-order model, which produces inventory in smaller batches and monitors their margins. This model, the website states, helps the company achieve sustainability while keeping pace with the latest trends. But Harms, who has tried to verify this claim, says it’s not easy to find evidence that the company is as sustainable as it appears.
“You can talk all day long about how the jersey feels and fits,” Harms said. “But where was it made? That is actually very difficult to know.” Cider has not responded to multiple requests for comment for this story.
In the knitwear community, the problem isn’t just that big designers rip off the smaller ones. Sometimes makers see other knitwear designers pass on patterns as their own and even sell them for higher prices.
Alyssa Gomez, a knitwear designer who makes cardigans and hats, says people can argue that their designs just follow trends, but when she sees a maker selling a design she made months ago under the same name, it’s clear what happened. .
“I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but it definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth,” she said.
When another creator creates a YouTube tutorial for someone else’s design or sells the same pattern under a different name, the lack of credit means fewer people know about the original designer’s products and name. When Charlton saw that someone had made a free YouTube tutorial outlining her pattern, she thought it was even worse than when Shein took her design because people would use that video instead of buying her pattern.
“The least I’ll ask for is that they add credit to the video description,” Charlton said. “What I really wish is if they remove the video, but most of the time I can’t help it if they choose not to.”
Ultimately, these designers know that they can’t stop small businesses or large fast-fashion companies from taking on designs. So they prefer to focus on helping people make informed choices.
“Just be aware of what you consume,” Crochet Bao said. “Be aware of where things come from. That doesn’t mean you should shop small every time; it just means you have to be aware of what and from whom you are buying.”