Yesterday (June 8, 2017), Kylie Jenner dropped a full line of camo clothes and accessories, a drop that is generating controversy because (once again) Jenner has been accused of stealing a design concept from a black independent designer. In this case she’s being called out for lifting ideas from New York-based Plugged NYC, a label founded by Tizita Balemlay in January 2016 that’s already been spotted on multiple celebrities.
Is the Jenner theft accusation a fair one that could be legally defended? Let’s start with this. There is no designer that is entirely original. All designers copy and are inspired by each other. There is not a single exception to this rule. And because of this, the law only provides only so much protection when it comes to copying ideas. As a brand, one can protect some designs elements through trademarks (especially logos and other clearly unique design elements), but protecting a silhouette like a jogger or bikini top is virtually impossible.
Making the Old New
Putting aside the law, if you follow fashion closely, it’s quite easy to see when a designer takes an old idea and rejiggers it in a way that breathes new life into it. If the item is powerful enough, it will set off a wave and within a year multiple designers will have taken the look and offered up their version of said item. This happens constantly in fashion and for that matter everything. This is what humans do; they see a good idea and they build on it.
In the case of Plugged NYC, its matching camo tops and cargo pants were a legit fresh item. Yes, camo is not at all new and people have worn coordinated camo looks before, but Plugged definitely put a modern day spin on it by bringing back the cargo silhouette, creating coordinated tops and offering them in jewel-toned camos. We first spotted the label in October 2016 and highlighted its camo sets as setting a leading trend. Rihanna who is know for spotting fresh ideas recognized the statement and was spotted in the label’s camo pants in December 2016.
It’s a good bet that Jenner saw Rihanna in those Plugged NYC joggers, and thought, huh, coordinated camo sets, how dope, and proceeded to take the idea and run with it. Looking at Jenner in the video in which she teased the launch, the set she’s wearing absolutely has the look, feel and sizing of Plugged NYC’s sets. The fact that Jenner’s bottoms are joggers not cargo pants is a minor point of differentiation.
The mind-blowingly shameless part of the story is that the plan for Jenner’s camo capsule probably was already in place when someone on Jenner’s team reached out to Plugged NYC for a knit piece in early May 2017, leaving a trail of receipts (see below). In addition to the email exchange, Jenner was widely photographed wearing a non-camo Plugged NYC top, a point referenced in email exchanges by someone on Jenner’s team.
Plugged NYC Produces Receipts
The black owned company that Kylie stole her camo clothes idea from is posting the receipts of when Kylie ordered from them and I’m LIVING pic.twitter.com/4r0xEwhw6o
— Kelsha. (@kelshareese) June 9, 2017
A Question of Timing
It’s a minor point, but to be fair it’s unlikely that Jenner & Co. took the idea of bathing suits from Plugged NYC, as has been charged by some. The reason for that is simply timing. Plugged NYC announced its swimsuits on May 29, 2017, and for certain Jenner’s bathing suits were in production long before that. Even if Jenner’s were manufactured in the United States, there’s still at least a month between the time the design is submitted to the factory and it’s ready to ship.
One thing for sure, now that Jenner is selling this item, H&M, ASOS and Forever 21 and every other fast fashion retailer quickly are going to follow suit. At the moment, all three sell tons of camo items, but little to none of the bright colors Plugged NYC and now Jenner sell. For Jenner, it doesn’t matter much, but assuming Plugged NYC won’t be able to successfully protect its design idea, it’s going to see its camo set sells even further diluted when the fast fashion retailers use their considerable platforms to sell them at a rock bottom pricing.
It Doesn’t Have to Be this Way
On that note, while everyone lifts design ideas, the Jenners and Kardashians seem to come under attack much more for stealing. Probably that’s because their brand has been built in part by generating controversy, and because of that, there are many people who love them and many people who despise them, and thus when they do something controversial, it often goes viral and is widely covered.
As well, more than any other celebrity, they (and their design team) have their ears to the ground when it comes to spotting emerging street style trends. Nothing wrong with that, except when they do translate trends, they don’t inject a lot of newness. Rihanna’s collections with Puma included a ton of derivative ideas, and yet she put her own unique spin on designs and folded in wholly unique concepts.
In reality, this family has choices. They can continue to blatantly lift ideas from independent designers in an effort to line their own pockets, and do so knowing the law protects them or they could take a page out of Gucci’s book (and Kanye West’s for that matter) and bring the indie designer whose idea they like into the fold for a collaboration. They’ve squandered so much good will, the damage is irreversible for many, but it’s never too late to change for the better.
We’ve reached out to Plugged NYC for feedback and will update if we hear back.
Jenner teases camo set before launch
Rihanna in Plugged NYC