Online retailer Boohoo is being accused of ripping off the work of a young Black designer who has issued a cease-and-desist order to the fast-fashion brand.
Boohoo was accused by Fisayo Longe, in a now-removed viral post on Twitter, of ripping off one of her signature prints from her growing women’s brand Kai Collective.
“They are notorious for this and it's just, like, again? When is it going to be enough? When do you stop leeching off of the ideas of other people?” Longe told BuzzFeed News.
Boohoo has since removed the items Longe listed in her complaint from its website.
A spokesperson for the company declined to comment.
Longe, 28, is the creative director and owner of the London-based label that she launched in 2016 and described as her “dream.”
Kai Collective has become a popular brand among influencers and celebrities, including beauty influencer Jackie Aina and rapper Saweetie, but it was last year's launch of its marble print, now known mononymously as the "Gaia,” that Longe’s designs became a must-have item.
Last month, Boohoo promoted new arrivals to its website and Longe shared how she quickly found herself tagged in several posts.
“There were tweets and then people were tagging me on their Instagram post and when I saw it, even though I shouldn't be shocked, I was shocked. Usually, they cut me in a way that you can't be like, ‘Yes, for sure, like, you copied me. This is the same print.’ They're usually smarter about it, so I was really surprised when I saw just how similar it was,” she said.
Longe said her initial feeling of “disgust” was replaced with optimism; she had gone to extensive lengths to legally protect the Gaia print last year, shortly after its launch, and was granted the copyright in November.
“I knew that I had that registration with the Intellectual Property Office, so I felt optimistic,” she said. “I'm actually not going to keep quiet about this because Gaia is just such a big part of our identity now, so I knew that I was going to have to fight it, but at the same time, who wants to deal with this? I'd rather spend my time on stuff that benefits my business.”
In a detailed thread calling out Boohoo, Longe presented side-by-side examples of four items, including one top and three dresses, and the resemblance they bore to her custom print, which she sells online as a top and a dress.
“When these things happen, people always say, ‘Oh, you should have gotten copyright’ or ‘You should have trademarked your design,’ which is very hard to do, by the way, now we need to know — if you protect your design, is it really protected? Does it really mean anything? So I'm curious to find out all of that and then we small businesses can know how to move forward with that information,” said Longe.
For the brand, which consists of just three members of staff, including Longe herself, the potential of going up against a fashion retail giant isn’t something that she’s looking forward to. Longe admits that she doesn’t believe a legal challenge is “going to be easy.” But she doesn’t intend on backing down.
“I want to see Boohoo pull the items from their websites,” she said. “I want to see them pay off damages and all our legal costs and I want to see them not steal designs from small businesses. I think that if they realize that they can't always just get away with it, they will start to do more of their research, know what they're buying, respond in a way that makes more sense when they are accused of stealing and they'll just be a bit more careful. I want that ethical aspect of making sure that your work is original to be part of the culture.”
The retailer is part of the Boohoo Group, which is owned by British billionaire Mahmud Kamani alongside Carol Kane. The group owns nine market-leading brands, including influencer favorite Pretty Little Thing, Nasty Gal, and Karen Millen.
Boohoo came under fire last year when an undercover investigation into one of its suppliers found that employees were working in unsafe conditions, ignoring COVID-19 restrictions, and were being paid as little $4.37 (£3.50) below England’s minimum wage of $12.29 (£8.72).
Longe’s allegations are just the latest in a long line of complaints against the Boohoo Group, including last year, when sister brand Pretty Little Thing was accused of ripping off streetwear brand DonotSubverge.
More recently, Anifa Mvuemba of Hanifa described Pretty Little Thing as “trash” with a side-by-side of her design from her Pink Label Congo collection and a top on the company’s website.
“I just think that it is so ethically wrong for them to use our ideas to build their own entire empires, they're using our ideas to build wealth, becoming billionaires, and then selling that back to us. That's just so dark to me,” said Longe, who also called on consumers to give more consideration to the brands they chose to support.
“I just want more people to take it seriously and apply more pressure on these brands, to care more about the ethics of these brands,” she said.