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Why Fashion Designers Want TikTok Users to Steal Their Designs

Surely there is a German word that exists to describe the singular anguish of spotting a piece of clothing one knows immediately they will never be able to afford. Sehnstylesucht, maybe. Liv Huffman was left with such a feeling after seeing Harry Styles perform on a February episode of The Today Show wearing a colorful JW Anderson cardigan. But her love for the piece, along with designer Jonathan Anderson’s work, was irreconcilable with its $1,600 price tag. So she came to a novel conclusion: making the piece on her own. She posted a video of her crocheting journey to TikTok, where the video helped kick-start a trend and has been liked over 975,000 times.

On TikTok, though, nothing is simply viewed and noted. By nature, the platform calls for copycats. Trends happen when users replicate dances created by other users, creators use the same lines of dialogue ripped from movies, TV shows, or just other random videos and lip-sync to them. Even knitting tutorials, it turns out, can thrive in the same way. Huffman says she now receives “hundreds of messages everyday since I posted the video” from users asking for crochet tips.

The Harry Styles cardigan is emblematic of the way TikTok and the young users who populate the platform are morphing fashion. A confluence of factors—time spent at home because of the coronavirus pandemic, an aversion to fast fashion, a preference for the homespun, and TikTok’s monkey-see-monkey-do style—have served as the tip of the spear for a new TikTok crafting movement.

Strikingly, designers typically quick to sue fast-fashion brands for ripping off their designs are fully engaged in and encouraging of this wave. “I was actually very nervous about it at first because I didn’t want Jonathan [Anderson] to think I was trying to rip off his design,” Huffman says. The weight was lifted when his brand’s TikTok account commented “Love,” followed by a heart and watermelon emoji (presumably referring to Styles’s song “Watermelon Sugar”) on her video. More than that, Anderson shared the measurements for the piece, allowing everyone to re-create it to JW Anderson specs. This dialogue between designers and would-be customers who lack the disposable income to buy the objects of their affection is a growing trend in an industry scrambling for ways to connect to new or future customers.

A-Cold-Wall, Samuel Ross’s austere and chilly London-based label, has taken the practice of sharing source material one step further. In January of this year, ACW launched Service Point 1, a platform where Ross sells his designs in granular fashion: Here, customers can purchase A-Cold-Wall’s belt buckles, zipper pulls, and logo badges at a fraction of the price a fully composed piece would cost. “Dialogue” is one of the tenets listed on the site. “Service Point 1 acts as a subtle step in reforming engagement between brand and individual—steering away from granular interaction, disproportionately focused on purchase,” it reads. (Ross was not available to comment.) The project extends a hand to enterprising customers who want to be part of the ACW universe, and encourages them to manipulate Ross’s designs in their own way.

pACOLDWALL Large Laser Engraved Nylon Buckle p

A-COLD-WALL* Large Laser Engraved Nylon Buckle (Moonbean/Transparent)

Courtesy of A-COLD-WALL* 

pACOLDWALL Paint Coated Metal Zip Puller Laser Engraved p

A-COLD-WALL* Paint Coated Metal Zip Puller – Laser Engraved (Sage, Double-Sided)

Courtesy of A-COLD-WALL*

Similarly, Alexander McQueen hosted a tutorial on its Instagram guiding fans through the process of making a patchwork coat and suit—just like one from its latest collection—using whatever scraps of fabric viewers could scrounge together at home. And Virgil Abloh has been pushing customers to customize his designs since 2018. His all-white (or, read another way: blank) collaborative Nikes were designed to be futzed with however wearers saw fit.

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