Saturday, March 02, 2013

Fashion and Intellectual Property

When I was doing my interviews for my thesis, a blogger mentioned that one of their favourite things about the online sewing community was that it's OK to copy other people. It's OK to make a carbon copy of someone's garment.

I agree, it's a wonderful aspect of the online sewing community.

But also of the fashion world in general. Johanna Blakley did a very interesting Ted Talk: "Intellectual Property in the Fashion Industry" where she shows that the practice of extensive copying and a lack of copyright in the fashion industry has actually made the industry MORE innovative. I cannot recommend it enough.


I will add to this, that in the age of the internet, the nature of creativity has evolved. Things are moving much, much more quickly. To the point where we've evolved from a model of creativity rooted in the isolated individual, to a model of creativity focused on group thinking, communities and cross-pollination.

I was discussing these ideas with a painter, a while back, and she argued that copying original ideas, even the smallest detail of a painting she's seen, is to her equivalent to stealing. To avoid that, she said she avoided looking at other people's work as much as possible, so as to not be "contaminated".

To me, looking at other people's works is half the fun! How can you make art, without simultaneously consuming art? I know for myself, looking at other people's work really is what keeps my creative juices flowing. I'm totally addicted to Pinterest now, and find that I'm getting more and more design ideas the more I pin (I'm here, if you want to follow me!).

I will fall in love with something I see, and feel compelled to make it myself. Or a variation of it. And in the process, most often than not, a mistake happens -- or a new discovery happens. So the end result is always a little different, a little more me. This is the creative process: a conversation that happens between me, you, and the objects we make.

I also don't think that this painter was truly uninfluenced by the art of others -- Her work is still rooted in a tradition, and in a community of artists. She went to art school, where she learned the techniques and the rules -- whether she chose to respect them or break them. And she now works in a huge studio space surrounded by other artists.

The fact is, we never create in a vacuum. By definition, creating is taking different parts, different elements, and putting them together. Think of the creatures that seemed so original and otherworldly in our youth: the unicorns, the ugly monsters. These are nothing by a combination of different existing animals.

Source Source - Source
For myself, this boils down to one thing: produce, produce, produce and not to think about it too much. Like Andy Warhol said (quoting from memory) "I don't listen to what people are saying about my work. When they are talking about something I did, I've already finished my next project." It's all about being more do-think-do, as opposed to think-do-think. (BIG challenge for me!)

If you yourself have a blog, do you sometimes run into people asking you: "Aren't you afraid of putting all your things out there? Aren't you afraid that people will take all your ideas?"
Short answer: No.
This should be the least of our worries. The only attitude to have is to focus on coming up with new ideas.

13 comments:

  1. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts - it's what I think of when I think of fashion and sewing. It's so interesting how clothing design sits outside of the copyright/trademarking aspects of the 'other' types of design! I hadn't even thought about people taking my ideas. I'm more often than not the taker, and I would be beyond stoked if someone, somewhere, thought it would be a good idea to copy something I pulled together! What did Coco Chanel say? Something along the lines of "If there's no copying, how are you going to have fashion?"

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    1. I love that Coco Chanel quote! But well put, re: the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. That's totally it.

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  2. What a great talk. Thanks for posting. It is amazing to me that fashion isn't caught up in the music world nightmare. Looking at other people's work and coming up with ideas is at least half the fun!

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  3. Gosh but Ted is cool aint it and this is a really interesting piece. Than you for posting it.

    You know, we humans are essentially pack animals following direction from others. How easy is it really to stop observing what is going on around us. Hmmmm.

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  4. What an excellent post Adrienne, I really couldn't agree with you more! Almost nothing is original anymore, especially in fashion/design, we're all influenced consciously or subconsciously...whether we like it or not! Someone once asked me why I don't watermark my images so other people don't 'steal' them....erm, steal them for what I thought?!? I'd be flattered if anyone wanted to use my images as inspiration frankly!

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  5. Very, very interesting and a complex topic. Intellectual Property as owned by a business - a designer or a publisher, for example - is big business and jealously guarded. I personally would never want to abuse IP, because my livelihood working in publishing relies on Intellectual Property being respected! Having said that, I totally agree with your points about individual creativity and being generous with ideas. I think it's really unhealthy and crippling to jealously guard your creativity. If you're good enough at what you do, you can afford to share generously, and that won't stop you having more and more good ideas. There will be people who want to honour your makes be interpreting them (I love that type of cross-pollination), and the odd cad who'll just want to nick ideas. Either way, behave with good grace and continue to engage with your own creative spark. That's the best way to be!

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  6. Another point - sometimes you don't even realise that you've absorbed something else you've seen and are putting your own spin on it! It's very, very difficult to claim anything is truly original when so much creativity is sub-conscious.

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    1. I've been thinking about your points the entire day! In the case of publishing, I suppose what you are selling are ideas and concepts. You couldn't simply decide from one day to the next to become "generous with your ideas" when you are in the business of selling ideas. Your product is so immaterial...

      Then I thought that in publishing too, people borrow and inspire from others. But only once it's out, in the same way that fashion designers do. For example, once Twilight came out, it opened the door to a whole string of other vampire books for teens. In a way, that too is copy. Or cross-pollination/collaboration.

      I'm going to continue thinking about your points, though. You're making me curious about the different sides and stakeholders of the debate on IP.

      But it's totally true that a lot of the creativity is sub-conscious. Our reasons for responding to certain things more strongly than others are not always clear to us. As Heather Lou wrote, the most important thing is that you honor your response -- "authenticity".

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  7. Very interesting post! I think there's an analogy with the Free software world here. Software you can take, tinker with, and extend is so much better to work with and style is the same.

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  8. When I was in design school I used to get so enraged when people would accuse each other of "copying". You could take 10 people, give them the same idea, and get 10 results. Completely original ideas are not an infinite resource - we are all basically recycling things in new and different ways, and the arrogance that comes with thinking you "own" an idea makes me absolutely mad. No one says it better than Jim Jarmusch:

    “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.”

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    1. Wow, great contribution Heather Lou! That quote is amazing!

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  9. I agree with everything Heather Lou says! Wise woman.

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  10. This is whole discussion is great. I think it unfortunate the artist you mentioned who never looks at other's art. How much fun she is missing.

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