Guess accused of stealing handbag design from black-owned label

The fashion brand Guess has been accused of stealing a handbag design from the independent black-owned company Telfar.

Telfar’s vegan leather gender-neutral bag, called “the shopping bag”, which won the Design Museum’s 2020 fashion design award, has been praised for highlighting the importance of black style, as well as joining the dots between luxury goods and accessibility. Celebrity fans include Oprah Winfrey and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, while Dazed and Confused magazine called the bag “the decade’s most important accessory”.

The visual similarities between the two handbags are hard to miss. The Guess tote, sold in red, grey and black, has a circular G-shaped logo similar to the Telfar TC logo and its distinctive rectangular shape is strikingly similar to the Telfar bag. The product description of the G-tote says the bag is “a smooth, faux-leather tote bag with dual top handles and a shoulder strap for a versatile look”.

Commentators online have pointed out the structural imbalances of Guess allegedly plagiarising Telfar, which has in the past collaborated with the Black Lives Matter movement to produce a limited edition range of T-shirts.

“Stop stealing from black creatives,” wrote one in the comment section of the Diet Prada website. “Overhyped fashion brands stealing from innovative PoC designers, are we surprised?” wrote another. “Not only did they completely rip Telfar’s design, they completely disregarded a black queer man,” tweeted another in reference to the label’s founder, Telfar Clemens. “Rather than enter into a design deal they just stole.”

In a series of tweets Antoine Gregory, the founder of Black Fashion Fair, pointed out the racism issues. “I think the most annoying and yet interesting part of this is the fact that a company like Guess has the capital and resources to produce this bag in great quantities when the original designer could not,” she wrote.

“And it really speaks to the lack of access granted to black designers. The lack of capital. The lack of resources the industry provides to them.”

In a statement to the Guardian Guess said it was halting sales of the bag. “Some on social media have compared the totes to Telfar’s Global shopping bags. Signal Brands (who license the handbags) does not want to create any impediments to Telfar Global’s success and, as such, has independently decided to stop selling the G-logo totes.” However, the bag is still available to buy online at Dillard’s and Hudson’s Bay.

In 2009 Guess was involved in a decade-long legal case with Gucci over an alleged lookalike logo on the company’s footwear, as well as claims of copying the designs of the fashion labels Rodarte and Chrome Hearts.

Eleonora Rosati, a professor of intellectual property law, believes that social media calling out plagiarism could help stamp it out.

“Public backlash may also contribute to triggering a change in fashion houses’ approaches and strategies,” she said. “As well as increasing the broader understanding of the importance of respecting others’ creative work and in the case of cultural appropriation, cultural history.”

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