Selling Top Fashion at Low Prices Comes with Its Own Price to Pay … in the Courts

You may or may not have heard of Shein, the fast-fashion company out of China providing its customers with the highest fashions for the lowest prices, but if you haven’t heard of it yet, chances are good you’ll be hearing about it very soon. While Shein might not exactly be a household name (yet), it’s very quickly working its way up the ladder, having just replaced Amazon as the most downloaded shopping app.

The fast-growing fashion company has no intention of slowing its growth any time soon, and going up against Amazon is one of its key strategies. While many manufacturers consider partnering with Amazon essential to getting their products in front of customers, Shein sees greater value in having a more direct relationship with their consumers, and as a result, having direct access to their customers’ data. Access to (and proper use of) that data, combined with their ability to produce cheap versions of clothes and accessories from designer brands in a matter of days, has been critical to the fashion start-up’s success.

Shein’s ability to cheaply reproduce top fashions is not new, but the speed with which it is able to do so certainly is. While other companies providing high fashion at affordable prices, such as Forever 21, have long been accused of stealing designs and infringing on the patents and copyrights of other designers, Shein is the first company with the ability to reproduce patterns and designs from the runway (and even the social media accounts of certain designers and influencers) in a matter of days. They credit their data analysis with their ability to reproduce top fashions for a fraction of the price in a matter of days.

If you’re thinking Shein can’t possibly get away with outright stealing designs from other brands, you may or may not be right. On the one hand, Shein is already facing legal action for allegedly stealing from top designers. Airwair, which owns Dr. Martens, sued Shein in late 2020 for allegedly manufacturing and selling footwear it considers to be knock-offs of its own branded boots.

Ralph Lauren has also sued the fast-fashion company for allegedly engaging in unfair competition and infringing on its trademark – specifically, the company’s famous logo featuring a polo player. In addition to seeking damages, Ralph Lauren’s lawsuit is also seeking injunctive relief, meaning it’s asking the courts to put a stop to Shein selling clothing and accessories that infringe on its brand.

On the other hand, patent and trademark infringement lawsuits are nothing new in the world of fashion. For example, Forever 21 was rumored to maintain a budget, not only for the legal fees required to defend itself against infringement lawsuits but to pay the settlements required to make those lawsuits go away.

Whether these lawsuits will mean the end of Shein as a company or just a new development in their path to dominating the world of fashion remains to be seen. Given the fact the company reported generating more than $10 billion in revenue in 2020 alone, it seems safe to say the company can afford to settle these claims and keep doing business as usual.

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