We’re Really, Really Disappointed In You, Zara

Photo: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg/ Getty Images.
Update: Turns out, Tuesday Bassen's experience with fast fashion staple Zara might not be all that unique. Bassen alleges in a tweet, below, that the brand has stolen various artists' work over 40 times this year alone. Bassen and Adam J. Kurtz, another artist whose work they claim Zara has heavily borrowed from, are now accepting submissions to a website and Instagram account entitled Shop Art Theft; supposed knockoff Zara items are showcased there. Bassen and Kurtz are discouraging supporters from starting any fundraisers for their cause. Instead, they say the best way to support monetarily is to purchase from the individual artists rather than buying a big-name brand facsimile. Bassen's concerns alone might not prompt Zara to really change much. But perhaps its ripple effect, plus the outpouring of support online from Bassen's fans (who are negatively commenting on Zara's posts, tagging the brand in Tuesday's, and claiming to boycott the store altogether), could get the brand's attention.
Update, July 20, 2016, 3 p.m.: Zara provided the following statement to Refinery29 regarding Tuesday Bassen's accusations that the retailer copied her illustrations: "Inditex [Zara's parent company] has the utmost respect for the individual creativity of all artists and designers and takes all claims concerning third-party intellectual property rights very seriously." The retailer says that it suspended sales of the items in question after Bassen's legal representation contacted the company. "[Inditex] immediately opened an investigation into the matter and suspended the relevant items from sale," according to the statement. "Inditex's legal team is also in contact with Tuesday Bassen's lawyers to clarify and resolve the situation as swiftly as possible." Stay tuned for further updates. This story was originally published on July 20, 2016 at 12:00 p.m.

As much as we love Zara's on-point selection, the Spanish retailer has suffered its fair share of snafus. There's a reason that some of the store's customers affectionally refer to its high-end-looking scores as Zalenciaga or Zalmain: There are some serious resemblances between what we see on runways and what turns up on Zara racks weeks later. But it's not only the multi-million dollar fashion giants being reinterpreted into fast fashion: This week, Instagram-beloved illustrator Tuesday Bassen has come forward with some troubling accusations against the retailer. On Tuesday, the L.A.-based artist took to social media to share her ongoing ordeal as an independent brand going against a huge international enterprise. "Over the past year, [Zara] has been copying my artwork (thanks to all that have tipped me off — it's been a lot of you)," Bassen wrote on Instagram. "I had my lawyer contact Zara, and they literally said I have no [case] because I'm an indie artist and they're a major corporation and that not enough people even know about me for it to matter."
Bassen pointed to a few specific instances where Zara allegedly copied some her signature pins and patches, which she sells on her website. While Bassen plans on pursuing legal action, the costs have already weighed on her — with an initial letter of contact reportedly costing her $2,000 already. "I first noticed the copies in early 2016, when hundreds of fans reached out to me privately to ask if I was working with them or if they were plagiarizing my work," Bassen told Refinery29. She says that since then, she's noticed four of her designs being lifted by the Spanish retailer — but, when approached, the defendant's legal team argued her work was "too simple" to build a case, especially given her brand's reach compared to that of Zara. Bassen isn't backing down, though: This type of infringement "has an awful impact on the livelihood of an artist," she said. "This is how I support myself, and they are diluting my brand by literally stealing from me." The illustrator is looking to get compensated for her designs. Bassen may have a much smaller business and name than the brands that typically provide, well, heavy inspiration for certain designs, but she has amassed a loyal following for her work. (So, 88,000 Instagram followers don't matter, Zara?) Quickly, many responded to the illustrator's call to action to share, repost, and retweet, including bloggers and fellow creators like Nicolette Mason, Tess Holliday, and Akilah Hughes (who may feel strongly about this because of her recent scuffle with BuzzFeed). Other designers also came forward with their own experiences with having their work plagiarized.
Now, let's get one thing straight: We're used to seeing Zara release designs that are eerily similar to those from high-end designers — but seeing work cribbed from an indie illustrator just rubs us the wrong way. (Bassen shared an excerpt from a letter allegedly sent to her by the retailers's legal team, in which they supposedly argue that her case is hard to prove because Zara's reach is so much greater than her own.) Accountability has long been notoriously difficult with the media-shy Spanish company: According to a 2012 report in The New York Times, it's partly because Zara's designers are anonymous — even Christian Louboutin lost to Inditex in court. Bassen could still have a case on her hands, though, because of copyright protection, given the down-to-the-detail similarities between her work and that sold at Zara, according to The Fashion Law. Sure, the fashion industry has plenty of scary-good fakes and knockoffs (partly because of how difficult it is for designers, brands, and artists to actually protect their designs). But that doesn't mean we're desensitized enough to not know when a copycat moment is flat-out wrong. A $100-billion company supposedly going after up-and-comers? It's a seriously upsetting move from a retailer that, to its credit, allows access to on-trend styles on a budget (as our closets can attest). We were rooting for you, Zara, but you're really making us feel a lot like Taylor Swift fans feel right about now: extremely, extremely disappointed.