This essay examines the contradictory politics around the appropriation of cultural material in the fashion world. While fashion does not qualify for copyright protection, a common set of copynorms based on socially accepted racial constructions of authorship, originality, creative property, and cultural impropriety define, adjudicate, and support some fashion-copying practices while stigmatizing others. This essay begins with a historical perspective of fashion copynorms. It then examines one case study — a dispute between a small ecoconscious design firm, Feral Childe, and a large clothing store, Forever 21 — to demonstrate how cultural frameworks and values about fashion copying are informed by and contribute to racial biases and blind spots.
Feeling Appropriately: On Fashion Copyright Talk and Copynorms
Minh-Ha T. Pham is assistant professor of media studies at Pratt Institute. She is the author of Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging (2015) and numerous essays in academic and popular periodicals about the intersections of fashion, media technologies, and power. Her second book (in progress) is “Social Legality: Mediating Race, Morality, and Piracy.” For more information, see bit.ly/PhamNYC.