London-based Knots & Vibes designer Luci Wilden recently was spending some down time casually scrolling through her Instagram feed and was startled to come upon a page featuring a reproduction of her “Skin Out” cover-up dress, like exact-exact, copied down to the number of crocheted rows within each stripe.
When she reached out to the page owner about the image, she wasn’t surprised to hear it was pulled from Fashion Nova, an online retailer known for its roster of curvy influencers along with a a rapid fire approach to copying and reproducing designs by labels big and small. Wilden found the dress on the site, but it was already sold out. Her shock turned to anger.
Knots & Vibes launched just three years ago, but quickly grew a reputation for beautifully-made, sexy garments taking inspiration from the design themes of Jamaica’s dancehall scene, which Wilden grew to love during a period she spent living on the Caribbean island. Like a lot of creatives, what started as making one-off garments for friends grew into an indie label
The popularity of the label came with a built in conundrum for Wilden: keeping up with growing demand as squared with the hours it takes to make a hand-made crochet garment. Rather than outsource, Wilden has chosen to fit in the hours to run the label between two jobs.
As an independent, not wealthy creative, Wilden knew from conversations with other independent labels that attempting to take on giant fast fashion retailers for copycat designs is not only costly, but also futile because it’s virtually impossible to copyright a garment design element. At the same time, Wilden has received some push back because she wasn’t born on the island her designs are inspired by. She counters that she’s always been open about her place of birth (in our email exchange she immediately corrected our assumption that she was from Kingston) and has committed time and resources to a Jamaican organization that provides teen mothers with skills to be self sufficient.
In an email exchange, Wilden illuminates the non-glamorous life of an independent creative who gets landed on by a fast-fashion retailer and how in the end she figured out how to make some lemonade from the lemons.
Check out the exchange below.
Snobette: How did you discover the Fashion Nova knock off of your design?
Wilden: “I saw the image on another crocheter’s Instagram page. She had posted it as an inspo pic. I asked her where the pic was from, she told me Fashion Nova. I then went and found it on their website. The item is actually sold out so I’m not sure how long it was up there for!”
Snobette: What was your initial reaction?
Wilden: “First I was shocked that such a massive brand managed to copy me and my small, one-woman brand. Then I was angry because I couldn’t believe they didn’t even change any details. They literally copied it down to the smallest details like the edging on the cups. It’s pretty normal in fashion for designers to copy each other or take aspects of certain designs and change them up, but in this case it was an exact copy, on sale for a third of the price of my version.”
Snobette: I know you attempted to reach out to Fashion Nova management. Have you heard back?
Wilden: “I have only heard back from their customer services team who at first were very dismissive and told me ‘they have many vendors from around the world where they source their pieces,’ and then tried to palm me off on the PR department who have not replied.”
Snobette: You’ve said said that crocheting can only be done by hand. Can you explain how factories mimic crocheting? Also, are you able to see the difference in an image?
Wilden: “There is such thing as a knitting machine, there is even something they call a crochet machine or a ‘warp knitting machine’ that can produce something that looks similar to crochet, but there is no machine that can make the kind of crochet we make by hand. I’m pretty confident that any experienced crocheter can look at a garment or even a picture if they zoom in and tell you if it was made by hand. It’s a bit long to try and explain but this post has some technical details if you want to better understand.
Snobette: As you pointed out on Instagram, part of the issue with fast fashion is that it causes people to have unrealistic expectations around the amount of time it takes to create hand-crafted items. Can you help readers understand the need for time to make things by hand?
Wilden: In terms of crochet, I can easily spend anywhere from three-hours-to-20 hours on one piece depending on what it is, and what size it is. I think people often forget that a lot of the things we buy in high-street stores are usually at least partly handmade, and the only way that they can be sold so cheaply is because of cheap labor in other countries and often unethical labor. One real advantage of hand-crafted items from people like me is that you can get custom colors, custom lengths, custom sizes etc. The bespoke nature of it really makes it worth the price!
Snobette: How did you learn the art of crocheting and when did you set up your store?
Wilden: “I started learning in March 2016, got really obsessed with it and launched the brand in July of the same year. It was never my plan to make it a business, but a lot of people were messaging me asking to buy things and it just gradually grew from there. I lived in Jamaica for a while and have spent the last few years going back and forth, and that is how the brand has developed to become a celebration of the culture–especially the dancehall scene which is my main inspiration.”
Snobette: Can you explain the challenges in scaling your business aka making more items at a faster rate?
Wilden: “With crochet it’s very difficult because for me to employ people, I would need to up my retail costs massively. For example, I would need to make my production price (including materials and labor) around 30 percent of my retail price. So let’s say a top takes four hours to make, if I was getting them made in the United Kingdom, I would have to pay something like £7/hour minimum. That’s already £28, plus £5 for materials, which is £33. Now you times that by three and your retail price for a top is £99.
“The only other option is going to a country where the cost of living is lower so you can get away with a lower hourly rate, but unless you are right there with them you have no control over their working conditions, the quality control of your garments or how the workers are being treated. I’ve thought about it a lot but neither of those options sit right with me.”
Snobette: In addition to the label, you also work full time at two jobs. How do you make the time to work on Knots & Vibes?
Wilden: “At the moment, it honestly feels like I have no time. There has been times in the last two-and-a-half years where the crochet has been my primary focus and I’ve worked less hours in other jobs,but in truth my other jobs pay better and I can’t afford to dedicate all my time to the brand. Since I launched it, I’ve been working 24/7 which means having no social life–that’s really the only way to have time!
“Working several jobs really isn’t easy and I’ve been thinking about only accepting orders at certain times of the year (for example, in the run up to Notting Hill Carnival, Trini Carnival, etc.) and making it more of an exclusive thing. I also want to focus more on philanthropic projects in the Caribbean as opposed to selling clothing.”
Snobette: Your supporters want to start a GoFundMe campaign to help you sue Fashion Nova. Can you explain the challenges in suing a company like Fashion Nova?
Wilden: “First of all I know it’s difficult to prove you own a clothing design in the eyes of the law, especially when it doesn’t incorporate any logo or graphics. I’m pretty sure you can’t copyright or patent any designs like mine. Secondly, any massive brand has a team of very good lawyers who will just submit all kinds of counter paperwork and completely drain your funds until you give up. It’s a lovely gesture for these supporters to say they would donate, but like I said on Instagram, I would much rather they donate to a worthy cause and support my crochet students.”
Snobette: You have a program working with girls in Kingston, Jamaica to teach them how to crochet. Can you explain how people can donate to the program?
Wilden: “In December , I spent nine days teaching a group of teenage mothers how to crochet in Kingston, Jamaica. This was through the Mustard Seed ‘Mary’s Child’ program. The organization provides secure housing and much needed support that enables the girls to stay in school and teaches them how to become self-sufficient. I wanted to give the girls a skill they could develop and eventually use to earn an income. There aren’t enough employment opportunities for young people in Jamaica, and it’s even harder for teenage mums!
“Now that the workshops are over, I want to make sure the girls can continue crocheting so I have been asking for donations of yarn that I can send to Jamaica. I’ve just managed to send 20 balls via my friend’s Auntie who’s flying out this week. To donate you can either send money via Paypal, send yarn (DK weight) to my address in the United Kingdom or send/take yarn to Jamaica yourself, just email me for more details.
“At the moment I’m not sure if/when I will be able to do more workshops but it is definitely something I want to continue. I’d love to be able to train girls in Jamaica that could make my designs but that would definitely require some external investment and a very strong business plan…maybe one day.”
View this post on Instagram
Didn’t even want to post this on my feed cause it looks ugly but I’m so mad 😡 @fashionnova have ripped off my ‘Skin Out’ dress DETAIL FOR DETAIL 🖕I designed the green version of this in 2016 & this colour in 2017. They’ve mass produced this with a retail price of 40USD!! That makes their production price around $13, meaning whoever crocheted this was paid less than $1 per hour. (Real crochet can not be replicated by any kind of knitting machine, this was made by hand and anyone that crochets can recognise that) Not only are they stealing my design but they’re using it to exploit people and profit from it which is the opposite of what @knots.and.vibes stands for! They’re so lazy (and arrogant!!) that they didn’t even bother to change details of the design, it’s the same down to the number of rows in the stripes. They know us small time designers can’t afford to take legal action… I doubt this is going to make much noise but if anyone happens to have any direct contact details for employees of @fashionnova I at least need to complain directly to them… 😢 #fashionnova #ripoff #supportsmallbusiness #supportindependentartists #supportindependentbusiness #handmade #fastfashion #ethicalfashion #supportindependentdesigners #buyhandmade #buyindependent #slowfashion #crochet #buyethical #boycottfashionnova #nofastfashion #boycottfastfashion