In today's fashion market, it has become a right of passage for high street shops to produce bold-faced copies of designer trends and styles. We have seen this with Valentino's Rockstud shoes and even Kanye West's Yeezy Season 3 Collection (by Zara), and the list goes on. However, a week after I wrote about my love for Aurora James and her work with artisans throughout Africa, and now the developing world, I am confronted by Zara's copy of Brother Vellies' Black Tufted Dhara Sandals. Did my eyes deceive me? No! Half shocked, half furious, the impact was undeniable. How on earth could they steal from an ethical brand, whose business runs on the ethos of empowering local communities?

Aurora James captioned her photo: aurorajamesStolen from Africa @zara 😥#DharaSandals
I was not the only one to voice my admonishment at the plagiarism (to be formal), bootlegging (to be accurate). James, the brand's founder, posted a photo on Instagram of the copy to which her followers commented in an onslaught of condemnations towards Zara. In the midsts of some of the comments, one also finds those who were glad that Zara's $59.99 version of Brother Vellies $712 sandals could make their way into their closets at such a 'steal': and a steal it is. 
This is not Zara's first time to the rodeo, a few months back I read an article about artist and pin and patch designer, Tuesday Bassen who made a complaint against the high street brand for stealing her pin designs. She took to social media showing the stark similiarities between her designs and Zara's. However, in her instagram post, she claims that the Spanish brand responded to her complaint as such: "We reject your claims here for reasons similar to those stated above: the lack of distinctiveness of your client's purported designs makes it very hard to see how a significant part of the population anywhere in the world would associate the signs with Tuesday Bassen. Please note that such (third party) notifications amount to a handful of complaints only...millions of users worldwide visit the respective websites monthly." Zara's offensive response triggered other artists, whose work had also been stolen, to start a movemet against such plagiarism. 
Tuesday Bassen Compares Zara's pins to her original designs
Just a ttiiiinnnnyyy list of aritsts' designs Zara has plagiarised

Unlike Tuesday Bassen, Brother Vellies does not solely rely on Creative Director, Aurora James, but also on the plethora of skilled artisans, craftsmen and farmers who make her supply chain one that is sustainable, ethical and empowering. In addition, the designs reference the cultural traditions of the communities she works with in Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya and Morrocco. From the vegetable dyes to the sheepskin that we have come to identify as her signature, every aspect of the production of each shoe goes through a supply chain that is as local as possible (with the exception of the beads used for some her her shoes with come from West Africa or Czech Republic). As a holistically ethical brand, Brother Vellies' shoes are entirely made by the local artisans who receive fair wages and skills training from other local and experienced artisans. It, therefore, seems slightly callous of Zara's to blatantly copy Brother Vellies' heeled sandals, designed with nubuck and fox vamp and handcrafted in Ethiopia with a price tag that reflects in their ability to be an ethical and sustainable company [Zara's version? Made with polyester and synthetic fur]. Of course Zara's version does not come with an ethical component, so you can stop looking for the upside there.
The impact is evident. Underselling a product that, on the surface, makes these beauties accessible to the masses, but takes away from the ethos behind the high price points is the killer. James, in an interview with Refinery29 expressed her reaction to this: "I honestly don’t go into Zara, because it’s not my thing and I know they knock people off a lot...But to see [the shoe] actually on the shelf was very disheartening. I actually felt very sick."And her fans also felt sick as well.
rachellaureneliz So horrible! ☹️ typical@zara
having no respect for true fashion and artistry but only out to make money. 
You have morals, ethics and true fans on your side girl! X
  • Why must indie designers and artists suffer through such disregard for their craft and the craft of those local artisans who are not only sharing their craftsmanship with us, but their traditions and stories as well? How do we make large fashion boards recognise the negative impact such actions have globally and what the continuation of auch practices mean for the local communities? One thing that is clear is that Zara must be held accountable. What are your thoughts?

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  1. This makes me so mad! Thanks for shedding light on the topic