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The largest clothing retailer, Shein, is accused of design theft, leading to legal action. John Hooper uncovers the uncomfortable reality of a multi-billion pound industry.


Sep 16, 2023

Shine, the world’s largest fashion retailer, is currently facing a lawsuit alleging that its activities constitute organized crime. The lawsuit was filed by three American designers – Krista Perry, Jay Barron, and Larissa Martinez – under the U.S. Racketeering and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which is typically used to punish mobsters. Although the designers do not claim that Shine is controlled by the Chinese triads, they accuse China’s fast fashion giants of persistently plagiarizing their own and other companies’ work. They argue that Shine has stolen thousands of designs and engaged in “organized illegal activity” comparable to the mafia.

One of the designers, Krista Perry, claims that she created art that later appeared on Shine’s website without her permission. She initially approached Shine about the issue and was offered a mere $500 as compensation. The complaint states that Shine often apologizes and blames anonymous third parties for any misconduct. Court documents included photos comparing the designers’ original pieces with similar playsuits sold by Shine. The amount of damages sought by the designers has not been disclosed, but their lawyer emphasized that their goal is to deter Shine from copying American designers.

Shine has previously faced accusations of intellectual property theft. In April of this year, Manchester-based nail artist Yan Tee accused the company of stealing her designs. Shine was selling stick-on nails with the same pattern Tee had posted on Instagram, without her permission. Tee’s designs were custom and cost around £40, while Shine’s stick-on nails were much cheaper. The company even used Tee’s Instagram images on its website without authorization. Shine later apologized, claiming to respect designers, artists, and intellectual property rights. The company removed the product from its site following the backlash.

Fashion and organized crime intersect in various places around the world. Naples, for example, is known for its factories controlled by the Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra, where counterfeit clothing is produced. These factories coexist with sweatshops on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, creating clothing for Milan’s House of Fashion. Additionally, the port of Naples serves as a gateway for counterfeit designer clothing made in China, which is then distributed across Europe. Counterfeit goods, including clothing and accessories, account for a significant portion of the world’s illegal trade, second only to drugs.

Counterfeit products pose not only economic harm but also have ties to organized crime and terrorism. The profits generated from selling counterfeit goods can fund criminal organizations and terrorist activities. For instance, officials have linked the sale of fake Nike sneakers to financing weapons used in the 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre in France. Transnational organized crime networks span vast distances and have the potential to reach local markets and boutiques. It is crucial to address these issues to protect designers’ intellectual property rights and disrupt the flow of illicit goods.

By Editor

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