Kim Kardashian’s love-hate relationship with fast fashion, explained

Kim Kardashian has the power to turn just about anything into a trend.

Her Instagram posts to her 128 million followers about waist training helped bring back the outdated product. Her makeup routine turned contouring into a lucrative global beauty category. Her role as a Yeezy muse helped make her husband Kanye West’s fashion line as covetable as many legacy brands, and her cachet revived the once-sleepy French fashion house Balmain. She can even drive trends in the gaming world; her video game, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, debuted in June 2014 and made more than $70 million its first year in the app store.

Because of her massive impact, Kardashian has become an unrivaled icon in the fashion world, and in fast fashion specifically. Brands like Zara, H&M, Missguided, Fashion Nova, and Asos have built enormous empires by ditching classic styles and opinionated creative directors for quick, easy wins, based on what’s trending from celebrities and the runway.

These fast-fashion giants look to Kardashian, among other celebrities and influencers, for cues on what to create because they know what she wears will soon be trending, if it isn’t already. After she was spotted wearing translucent dresses and boots, for instance, nearly every fast-fashion website made copies. And her signature look — the tight bodycon dress — has made bandage dresses a staple in fast fashion. It’s become a popular search term for the Chinese shopping sites AliExpress and Alibaba, as well as on Amazon.

In the past, Kardashian has seemingly welcomed this spotlight, and has even joked about it on social media.

But lately her relationship with fast fashion hasn’t been so cozy, and she’s been clapping back at some of these brands, both on social media and in court. She alleges that certain companies, like Missguided and Fashion Nova, have taken the whole copycat fashion thing a little too far, particularly when it comes to the use of her image.

The situation speaks to the symbiotic and simultaneously adversarial relationship that celebrities — and the Kardashians in particular — have when it comes to companies repackaging their personal branding for mass consumption.

A brief explanation of fast fashion and why it relies on celebs like Kim Kardashian

Many people have ill feelings about fast fashion — and rightfully so.

The business largely consists of creating cheap, quick knockoffs for consumers everywhere. Zara, which is credited with pioneering the fast-fashion sector, rose to popularity precisely because of its ability to knock off designer trends from the runway in as little as five weeks. Because of social media and nonstop access to celebrities and influencers, coupled with the ability to have clothing made cheaply overseas, fashion has never been faster, or more contentious.

“Big businesses think us small businesses are just here to pull ideas from, and they think we are weak,” one designer told me last year when discussing the fast-fashion industry.

These days, when compared to some digitally native fast fashion companies, Zara’s five-week turnaround time is considered slow. Over the past few years, new brands have risen to prominence, including Missguided, Boohoo, Asos, Pretty Little Thing, and Fashion Nova.

Missguided, Boohoo, and the Boohoo-owned Pretty Little Thing hail from Manchester, England; their design strategy is to comb social media, study the fashion of celebrities and influencers, and identify looks that are trending. They can create Kardashian-inspired outfits in as little as two weeks. As Boohoo’s buying director told me in 2017 when I visited the company’s headquarters, “Speed is absolutely critical to the shopper today. People see Kim K. wearing something one day, and they want it the next.”

Fashion Nova, which some have referred to as a brand that’s “tailor-made for Instagram,” has become huge in the digital fast-fashion space. It has more than 14 million Instagram followers and an army of influencers it calls #NovaBabes. It works with celebrities like Cardi B, Teyana Taylor, and Amber Rose, sometimes paying them as much as $20,000 to wear its clothes.

Fashion Nova is “ultra-fast fashion” because the company can make clothing in 24 hours, according to WWD. It’s an astonishing turnaround time for a brand, so intended because “customers post so much online and need new clothes,” according to its founder, Richard Saghian. Fashion Nova often clones fashion straight from celebrity closets, especially when it comes to the Kardashian family. It recreated all the Kardashian outfits that were worn to Kylie Jenner’s 21st birthday party last year, for example.

In the US, clothing designs are legally allowed to be duplicated, even without permission from the original creator. Unlike music, drama, literature, and art, fashion isn’t adequately protected under American copyright law. This is why Zara, H&M, Forever 21, and Urban Outfitters get away with ripping off the ideas of other designers.

Fashion Nova works with more than 1,000 manufacturers that help it put out 600 new pieces a week, many of which are direct celebrity-related knockoffs. Boohoo debuts 700 new styles on its site every week, and Asos 4,000. Although these brands are plagued with concerns about environmental impact and troubling labor practices, they continue to grow.

Kardashian is taking Missguided to court

Nearly all of the Kardashian family appears to be quite comfortable doing business with the fast-fashion industry. The Kardashian and Jenner sisters work with legacy brands like Estée Lauder, Calvin Klein, and Adidas, but Kourtney, Khloé, and Kylie have all been paid to wearFashion Nova, and Kim has said openly that she shops at Zara and H&M.

It’s a symbiotic relationship: Fast-fashion brands knock off the very looks that celebrities wear, all the while paying those celebrities promotional fees. This is part of what’s helped give Fashion Nova so much visibility.

When it comes to keeping up with the Kardashians, though, some fast-fashion brands may take their mimicking a step too far, and this is where things get complicated.

On February 20, Kim filed a $10 million suit against Missguided. According to the Hollywood Reporter, she’s accusing the company of using her name and image without permission in order to “generate interest in their brand and website, and to elicit sales of their products.”

“Missguided does not merely replicate the looks of these celebrities as seen on red carpets, in paparazzi photos, and in social media posts,” Michael Kump, a lawyer for the heavyweight Hollywood law firm Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, writes in the suit. “Missguided systematically uses the names and images of Kardashian and other celebrities to advertise and spark interest in its website and clothing.”

It makes sense that Missguided has developed a brand persona that relies heavily on Kim’s image. It targets women ages 16 and 35 and, per a 2016 Racked profile, is “the millennial’s brand of feminism evangelized by the Kardashians: Empowerment means celebrating your sexy to the max, and let no one tell you otherwise.”

The company, which was started by one of Britain’s richest men in 2009 and has been selling in the US since 2013, sells bodycon short dresses, skimpy swimsuits, and eveningwear with plunging necklines, all priced between $15 and $65. It’s sold explicit knockoffs of Kardashian looks in the past, from neutral-toned Yeezy dresses Kim has worn to classic athleisure looks sported by Kylie. Most recently, it copied a Yeezy dress Kim posted about on her Instagram feed, and even teased her about ripping off the dress in its Instagram caption.

But what’s particularly egregious about Missguided’s marketing strategy, Kim claims in the lawsuit, is that the brand uses her name and photos too. Missguided had a special landing page dedicated to Kardashian, filled with photos and outfits of the reality TV star. From that page, shoppers were redirected to a page of Kim-inspired looks. (The pages appear to have been recently removed. Vox reached out to Missguided for comment and has not heard back.)

”Missguided’s U.S. website has included entire pages that are devoted solely to the sale of clothing inspired by Kardashian, and on which Kardashian’s name and likeness are prominently used without her permission to promote the products,” the suit against Missguided reads.

A Kim Kardashian montage on the Missguided site.

If Missguided were merely knocking off an outfit of hers, Kardashian would likely have no case, since fashion doesn’t have copyright protection in the US. Names, however, can be trademarked — Kim’s is — so there’s a good chance that Missguided will have to pay up, especially because Kardashian is alleging that the company has caused her to lose money. She, along with the rest of the Kardashian-Jenner clan, frequently promotes brand products on Instagram (including those infamous laxative teas). According to the suit, “a single social media post by Kardashian can fetch fees of several hundred thousand dollars, and her longer-term endorsement arrangements regularly garner fees in the millions of dollars.”

Kardashian says Fashion Nova has crossed the line too

The lawsuit against Missguided is not Kim Kardashian’s only attempt at getting back at fast fashion. On February 17, Kardashian wore a black vintage Thierry Mugler dress that featured a thigh-high slit and a cutout top to the Hollywood Beauty Awards in Los Angeles.

Kim Kardashian wears a vintage Thierry Mugler dress to the Hollywood Beauty Awards in Los Angeles on February 17, 2019.
 Star Max/Getty Images

A day later, Fashion Nova had a replica of the dress, the “Winning Beauty Cut Out Gown,”available for $49.99. (The dress apparently sold out, and the page was later taken down.)

Kardashian slammed the brand via both Instagram stories and Twitter.

“Only two days ago, I was privileged enough to wear a one-of-a-kind vintage Mugler dress and in less than 24 hours it was knocked off and thrown up on a site — but it’s not for sale. You have to sign up for a waitlist because the dress hasn’t even been made to sell yet,” she tweeted. “This is a way to get people to sign up for their mailing list and make people believe there is some kind of relationship between me and this fashion site. There is not.”

One fashion watchdog Instagram account, Diet Prada, suggested in a post that since Fashion Nova knocked off the dress so quickly, Kim’s team must have tipped off the company in advance. The prospect that Kim is working with Fashion Nova in some capacity isn’t all that far-fetched, considering her sisters are a part of Fashion Nova’s large army of influencers.

Like Missguided, Fashion Nova’s website also includes references to celebrity names and uses their photos to promote their products. It copied a white Christian Siriano maternity dress Cardi B wore while performing on SNL (called the Cardi Party Ruched Dress), and it knocked off the Stella McCartney gown Meghan Markle wore to her wedding reception.

Fashion Nova knocked off Meghan Markle’s wedding reception dress and posted a side-by-side comparison.
 Fashion Nova
Fashion Nova copied the dress Cardi B wore on SNL and sells it alongside photos of the singer.
 Fashion Nova

But Kardashian hasn’t filed a suit or anything of the sort against Fashion Nova — perhaps because her sisters work with the brand, or perhaps because it’s all a part of this sometimes-uncomfortable relationship between fast fashion, Instagram, and celebrity.

The Kardashians, in general, are extremely controlling of their image. This is a family with decades of experience with the media, from Kris Jenner orchestrating drama in order to catch the public’s attention (like potentially leaking that sex tape of Kim) to purportedly calling the paparazzi on themselves to Kylie keeping her pregnancy a secret last year before carefully rolling out the news. The family consistently refuses to comment on rumors and scoops, preferring to reveal these life updates on their own TV shows and media platforms instead. As Zan Romanoff wrote for BuzzFeed in a story about the family’s PR strategy, “that they now have their own platforms — Keeping Up as well as their paid subscription apps — only highlights how much control they have over their own narratives, and this power can work both with and against them.”

As the Kardashians have become more mainstream in fashion and beauty, they’ve also largely left their former partnerships to head up lines of their own. Kim and Kylie have lately focused on their mega-successful beauty lines (to the point that the family even got sued in 2016 for failing to promote a beauty line they’d launched with a third-party distributor).

The Kardashians in a Calvin Klein ad from 2018.
 Calvin Klein/Facebook

The constant attention from fast-fashion brands that regurgitate their fashion choices to the masses helps the Kardashian family because they stay at the top of the public’s mind. But once the Kardashians start to lose control of how their images and names are being used — as in the case of Missguided — is when things appear to cross a line.

Kim’s suit against Missguided probably won’t stop brands from knocking off the looks she and her sisters wear. And the latest drama likely won’t kill Kylie or Kourtney’s partnerships with Fashion Nova, either. These stars might not admit it, but they arguably need the fast-fashion attention, and the fast-fashion brands certainly need their celebrity cachet. It’s drama, but all parties rely on each other.


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