Fashion Morals- Designer Imitations: Toms vs. Bobs

Copying designers’ blueprints and recreating pieces for different brands with lower prices is not a new idea.  Selling knockoff bags on the bustling streets of New York City can end in arrests, albeit the illicit career has simultaneously paved the way for an entire faux Coach and Louis Vuitton accessories industry.

As rapidly as pictures of celebrities in thousand dollar gowns go viral, so too do lower cost copies by companies such as ABS by Allen Schwartz.  The Alexander McQueen masterpiece donned at the Royal Wedding was celebrated with praise and twin imitations hanging in bridal shops the moment the ceremony aired.  Sure, stealing designs is a prevalent problem, but at least high-end designers’ target audience members are affluent, money squandering starlets, not thrifty deal seekers.  When a product is modeled off of a signature pattern by say, Missoni, it might be upsetting that the concept was stolen, but at least the person buying the imitation could probably never afford the real thing.

It is not unusual for me to find items in my closet which look similar to pieces sold at an assortment of shops.  A trend is a trend, so there is nothing suspicious about seeing two different striped shirts with epaulets atop lightly padded shoulders on different floors of the mall.  But then there are those times where the details share such a strong resemblance, you just know one had to be “borrowing” more than inspiration from the other.

Today, as I was scanning a magazine, I came across an uncanny advertisement for slip-on shoes.  Let’s just say I was surprised and appalled when my eyes met the words on the page promoting the new Sketchers BOBS shoes.  The footwear featured before me was almost identical to TOMS shoes in style, intent, variety, and even title.  The flat bottom, the silver sparkle “formal” style, even the striped tag attached to the side– everything was nearly identical right down to the one-for-one campaign.  Since the name TOMS was taken, they chose an even more generic mens name to brand the product, one that lacked creativity and significance. I found myself questioning how the popular shoe branch, which had smoothly burgeoned into a successful company, got cheated by a brand which had been around for long enough to know how to produce novel ideas.  When my laughter and anger subsided I was flummoxed by a surprising emotion.  I felt a sense of compassion.  With the BOBS shoe line using the same pitch, it meant Sketchers had signed on to help people in the very way TOMS had vowed, which also meant more free shoes for those in need.  Maybe it wasn’t fair to complain.  The more children who get the help they require, the better off the world is.  Basic clothing is an essential need, and walking without shoes can expose feet to hurt and harm.

Similarly, in 2011, Justin Bieber unleashed his perfume, Someday, a scent contained in a bottle with a pink and red 3-D heart-shaped petal lid, a copycat of the packaging for Marc Jacobs’ scent, Lola.  It is not that people didn’t notice, but the problem was brushed aside by eager shoppers because the profits from Bieber’s fragrance get donated to two charities.  Anything we can do to help, right?

Well, maybe not. It is not fair, especially in the case of Sketchers, to just steal an idea in its entirety.  Luckily TOMS has branched out and started selling sunglasses in addition to shoes; and it is likely that people will recognize and differentiate between TOMS and BOBS when they find them in stores.  It is easy to overlook slight similarities, but when something is evidently replicated it is wrong for someone else to take the credit and collect the monetary benefits.  It is hard to determine if more indigent children are reaping the benefits of the footwear gifts with the addition of BOBS own one for one model.  Because of the closeness in price between Sketchers and TOMS, people may have still been interested in purchasing from the TOMS line before BOBS was introduced.  Ironically, TOMS offers more choices and is just a few dollars more expensive. TOMS basic beige canvas weighs in at $44, a mere two dollar difference from those in the BOBS line.