Relatively less is said about fast fashion’s impact on independent designers, but it is certainly emblematic of the persistent struggles that creatives face when trying to compete with larger corporates.

In the present day Millenials-influenced fashion era where the craze of Fast Fashion is gradually becoming a major thorn in the flesh of high-end Fashion designers and independent brands, Aji Ayorinde – founder of luxury clothing brand MIA London – proposes a better alternative ‘soft fashion’ and calls on bigger fashion brands to resist the temptation of copying other smaller designers’ creativity.

“Last week, I observed social media with disdain as somehow yet another independent creative had to resort to a public forum to call out a far bigger brand for creating something that seemed almost identical to a pre-existing creation made by that creative.

In that case, it was Leomie Anderson’s clothing business – Lapp the Brand – taking on the behemoth that is Pretty Little Thing.

I retweeted the tweet in the hope that something would be done about it.

As a designer myself, a title that I took a while to claim, I felt I could relate to the feeling of spending many months investing your time, money and energy into a creation.

I knew that I too would be aggrieved if a far bigger brand with a far bigger platform released a lower quality version of the same product at a fraction of the cost with little or no acknowledgement of such a design pre-existing or credit to the designer(s) that may have inspired the bigger brand’s version.

As an up and coming brand, the value of one’s creations can stem largely from quality and originality, so the very appearance of something so similar but of poor quality can lower the value of the original creations.

Fortunately, in that case, the SKU was removed by Pretty Little Thing and an apology was issued.

Fast forward a week later, and somehow I too find myself in the same position with my own brand, MIA London.

Independent Designers
The silk two-piece and the general silk co-ord concept was our best-kept secret and ultimately has become our bestseller.

MIA London is a fashion brand centered around tailored formalwear and tailored streetwear that I created in 2016 as a way of collaborating with and empowering African based designers to bring my own designs to life.

Made in Africa, Established in London is our motto and feeds into our ethos and approach.

Now in our third year, we have now started to expand into other areas — I now run and co-design with my business partner Ruth Mukete.

We have showcased at Africa Fashion Week London and have been featured in Viper Magazine, Guap Magazine, Metal Magazine and on the BBC and have another major feature on the way shortly.

This year, we were fortunate enough to have been invited by fashion house Oxford Fashion Studio to showcase with them at New York Fashion Week in September, and have spent much of 2019 working on our collection and doing everything that we can to bring that collection to life.

We intend for the collection to have a strong ‘occasion-wear’ angle and to be centred around sustainable luxury.

Not necessarily by means of working solely with recyclable materials, but rather through the use of high-quality materials and creative designs to represent our anti-fast fashion stance and to encourage people to value their clothes again.

With this collection, we will be branching out into dresses, sneakers, trenchcoats and other accessories so that we can offer full looks.

We have already released a mini mesh-bag range from that collection made from repurposed laundry bags and non-disposable vinyl which we had a launch for at The Ministry Members Club.

One look that we were incredibly proud of and were planning to get onto the NYFW catwalk was a silk two-piece – a striped white floral design.

We used this design at the bag launch as a way of also first introducing people to the silk two-piece concept.

Having explored and dismissed printing here in the UK for this particular piece, our Johannesburg-based connect and tailor, Tshepo ‘Gvllvnt’ Rakale, visited several different suppliers across South Africa in order to source suitable silk to allow us to bring this particular design to life.

Independent Designers
Images (Left to Right): Founder of MIA London, former finance lawyer Aji Ayorinde, was listed as one of the UK’s top 100 ‘Creative Changemakers’ by The Dots UK; MIA London’s bestseller design – the silk two-piece concept – is worn by UK-based Afrobeats Artist ‘Nizzy’ in his newly released music video titled ‘Properly’.

Those who have ever sourced anything will know how difficult and time-consuming this is.

The silk two-piece and the general silk co-ord concept was our best-kept secret and ultimately has become our bestseller.

We pride ourselves on being the very antithesis of a fast fashion brand – sustainable luxury to us means slow fashion, focussing on quality, creativity and customer service and resisting the temptation to rush.

Our products are handmade – either in Africa or here in the UK.

Seeing that Boohoo had put out a design so similar using materials of far lower quality and at a 10th of the price – £14 to our £150 for a bespoke piece – several months after the fact was annoying, to say the least.

Whether we can prove that the design was copied or not, it certainly devalues our creation by association.

It is important to acknowledge that this is not new – Brands like Fashion Nova have been caught in the act on a number of occasions.

It is a phenomenon that has swept the industry since its creation but has been fuelled by the growing popularity of fast fashion.

Where before, an innovation or a design may have had time to fully infiltrate the industry before others started to imitate it, the ability of fast fashion brands like Boohoo to produce new lines so quickly has allowed them to undercut independent designers far more efficiently than before.

Fast fashion itself has been heavily criticised on a number of occasions for the part it is playing in destroying the planet.

Only a few days ago, Fashion Nova admitted to certain of its swimwear items containing toxic chemicals that can contribute to birth defects.

Relatively less is said about fast fashion’s impact on independent designers, but it is certainly emblematic of the persistent struggles that creatives face when trying to compete with larger corporates.

Independent Designers
Images: MIA London’s sample draft design template and sketched to design.

It may be the reason that the number of employed jobs within the UK creative industries is growing at a slightly quicker rate than the number of freelancers within the UK.

Unfortunately, according to The Fashion Law, the legal position with respect to copied or imitated designs isn’t too favourable to independent designers.

Both in the UK and US, copyright law generally does not seem to extend to clothing or other items which are considered inherently ‘useful’.

However, there do appear to be loopholes for completely original prints — it is for this reason that we are trying to create our own prints and trying to print our own textiles for the remainder of our collection.

On a macro level, we would like the law to change to reflect a more realistic understanding of the plight of independent designers and how, the way copyright law currently is, we will always struggle against these fast fashion powerhouses.

Coming from a law background, it is something I’m particularly passionate about.

Whilst much has been said about the ways in which fast fashion brands are impacting the planet, we are playing our part by focussing on trying to get people to value clothing again.

We appreciate that the luxury market isn’t for everyone – however, we do feel that clothing should not be treated as disposable, whether purchased from the high street or not.

Hopefully, the undercutting stops and this practice of imitation without acknowledgement stops with it. Hopefully, fast fashion in its current form dies too, before our planet or our industry does.”

Post by Aji Ayorinde – I Am New Generation Magazine has obtained explicit permission from the author to reproduce/reprint this story. This post features new insight and has been edited for editorial soundness and length. The original story (including links) first appeared on Medium blog on 4th May 2019.

Story Intro By Adele Duah Amponsah.

Images Copyright – supplied by Aji Ayorinde and edited by I Am New Generation Magazine

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