The Replica Documentation Project

The western lolita fashion consumer is different from fashion consumers in almost every other designer-centric fashion circle I know of in one, stark way. It’s not the petticoats, it’s not the colors, or the motifs, or the emphasis on being thin; other fashion subsets have the same trends, the same issues. The major difference about the western lolita fashion community is it’s long-term acceptance of, well, fakes. Take any other fashion community and fake products are something used to rip off the people who don’t know better, that shady guy on a street corner with all the bags, trying to make a quick buck. They are something to be loathed and bemoaned. Something to be avoided. The western lolita fashion community, however, often attracts people from a very odd niche; young people, who have grown up on the internet, and who often are already into Japanese Media. Due to poor distribution channels and an explosion of interest in the 90’s when internet media laws were still not something clear to the average person, coupled with the difficulty of pursuing international copyright cases, and the way that Japanese companies have a very different approach to copyright violations than US companies, and you have this bizarre little world where people think it is not only “ok” to pirate content, it’s often more common than purchasing it. Copyright on artwork, in the anime/manga world, is not so much ignored, like in the music world, as it is simply not even understood; it’s a foreign concept. Whoever scans the manga, takes the screen capture, traces the artwork… they may claim the right to the piece, and demand attribution… but rarely do you see them crediting the author… even when reproducing whole works.

This attitude of the western anime/manga fan, which has survived, even as much of the internet has moved away from this 1990’s phenomenon, seeped into the lolita world. Primarily, Chinese companies, obtained a large number of lolita items over the years. From well know, and well loved AP prints, to Maxicimam, Emily Temple Cute, and Putumayo prints, and even Korean Indie prints that most people don’t even know about…. and they have taken these things, slapped the fabric onto a scanner, or snapped a high-red photo, and created from these images a copy of the art work (most likely in vector format). This requires little to no artistic skill; only a knowledge of the art programs. Those images were then reprinted onto fabric, sometimes including the same logos and brand marks, sometimes swapping them out, and sometimes creating hybrid creations which feature both brand marks. The fabric is then sewn in to a variety of patterns; from direct 1:1 copies of the original item, to new patterns and items. Embroidery patterns, lace patterns, t-shirt prints, sock knitting patterns… none of it safe from counterfeiting. On top of all of that, there are also countless replicas which are copies of form that don’t use original prints, logos or artworks. Some items, including some Secret Shop shoes, and some pieces colloquial called the “Factory Replicas“, even go so far as to have the brand tags and insoles on some copies.

This is a big deal, because items which have a brand logo, brand name, or feature original brand artwork or lace patterns are copyrighted, and it’s a federal crime in the United States to import and/or sell these item. Manufacturing them is illegal in almost every country, China included. On top of that, these items have a far lower value than their genuine counterparts. However, there are a fair number of lolita who have unknowingly purchased these things, and more than one case of someone being tricked into paying designer prices because they believed the item genuine. Counterfeit items, once a problem unique to western second hand sales (like ebay and egl), taobao and bodyline, have begun to pop-up on mbok and Yahoo!Japan, where photos are seldom clear and rarely show tags.

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piles of fake name-brand lolita items waiting to be distributed
by a middle-man company on Facebook.

And, while egl semi-recently banned the sale of these items, other western second-hand markets like the facebook sales, the bodyline community, some plus-sized lolita sales communities, and of course, dedicated replica sales communities still permit the illegal transference of these items, despite it being against the law, against the Facebook terms of service, the Paypal terms of service. Oo Jia, a popular Chinese-based counterfeiter operates blatantly, through Facebook, Ebay, Gmail and Paypal, and a number of sellers on Ebay sell there as there. Since the general public doesn’t recognize those items as fakes, and there isn’t really a brand rep checking for them and reporting them constantly, many slip through the cracks and aren’t reported. Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t even have an option for anyone besides the designer to report counterfeit fashion items.

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piles of fake name-brand lolita items waiting to be distributed
by a middle-man company on Facebook.

I think it’s really important that these fake items get documented so that fewer Lolita get ripped off over paying for inferior, over-priced, illegal goods. So, recently, I’ve started adding some of the worst offenders to lolibrary, and we’ve introduced a new tag distinction: “Replica” (Used for items which are legal 1:1 copy of a brand item that uses no logos, brand names or custom prints) and a harsher “Print Replica” (Used for items which violate international copyright law and should thus be avoided). Some items are double-tagged when it’s not 100% clear which is the best fit.

I also am working to add in more items from chronic copy-cat brands like Chocomint, which produce things that are legal, and more accessible to the western market, which has actually caused some items that they have copied (Chocomint Stars, anyone?) to be falsely attributed to them, while the items actually originated with other accessory brands (6% DokiDoki in this case).

Further Reading:

Lolita Brand Replicas, Counterfeits and Knock-offs – Great article by Caro-Chan over at FyeahLolita that debunks the top 10 misconceptions about replicas in Lolita

Fake and Counterfeit Goods Are No Bargain -Quick overview of the law, and how designer fakes impact the US economy.

The Law of Anime – Copyright and the Anime Fan – Great guide that outlines copyright law using the anime community as an example.
The Law of Anime – Copyright and Fandom – Follow up to the above guide which delves into fanart, cosplay, music videos and fansubs.

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