Shein, the Chinese fast fashion company making a splash in the west, is the latest Chinese platform allegedly selling counterfeit goods. Now the largest cross-border e-commerce player in China, Shein has seen fast growing audiences in the US, France, Russia, Germany and 200 other countries, but not without controversy.
The explosion of Shein’s popularity has ruffled the feathers of several western brands who are citing copyright and intellectual property infringement. According to data from AppAnnie, Shein reached the top of the app download charts for shopping on both Apple and Google’s stores in May 2021, while it was valued at 15 billion dollars in its most recent known funding round. But a number of brands say Shein’s success has been helped by “deliberate and calculated” trademark infringement.
Dr Martens sues Shein over fake boot
Dr Martens owner AirWair International is one such company, suing the retail giant for selling a fake ‘Marten Boot’ on its website. In court filings the company said Shein has a “clear intent to sell counterfeits.”
In 2018 Levi’s filed a similar claim in a California court, alleging Shein manufactured and sold garments bearing designs that were nearly identical to Levi’s trademarks and were likely to confuse consumers about the source of their products and the relationship between Levi’s and the defendants.
On social media designers have called out the platform for copying smaller brands, said the Financial Times. “Kikay, an LA-based direct-to-consumer earring brand, said it was alerted to its designs being sold on Shein by one of its customers earlier this month.” On Twitter, Kaiami, a fashion illustrator, said one of their pins had been copied by Shein.
I've been notified that my ghostie pin has been knocked off by she*n. It makes me nauseous to know how many people have purchased a knock off. She*in has stolen from countless indie artists. Please dont support fast fashion sites like them and instead, support small businesses! pic.twitter.com/bOdNalzLVz— kaiami® (@Kaiami) December 1, 2020
Hannah Burrows, Trade Mark Attorney, at Reddie & Grose LLP, told FashionUnited: “Counterfeiting is a serious issue, particularly in the fashion industry, and it is important for brand owners to take steps to stop counterfeiters unfairly benefitting from their investment and reputation. The unauthorised use of ‘photographs of genuine Dr Martens footwear’ is an example of this and would suggest to at least some consumers that they are going to receive genuine Dr Martens shoes, at a discounted price, when they place an order from Shein’s website, which isn’t the case.
Fast-fashion brands are well-known for sailing close to the wind with their branding and designs as there is a fine line between taking inspiration from a well-known branded product and straying into trade mark, design and / or copyright infringement. The difficulty for brand owners is that by the time enforcement action is concluded, the allegedly infringing goods are already off the shelves and they have moved onto something else, while the damage to reputation is already done. Court action can also be a costly undertaking and many independent brands may not have the means to enforce their IP rights.”