I was curious to find out more about Garmz, a new retail Web site that manufactures and sells fashion designs voted on by the Garmz community. According to W, Garmz has only 5,400 registered users, but they’ve already produced 800 designs from 39 countries. Their lofty goal is to “bring you the next Lagerfeld, the next Armani.”
Designers don’t pay a dime to post their sketches on Garmz and they take no financial risk if their designs are manufactured. However, they only receive 5% of the gross sales (runs seem to be 200 – 250 pieces).
What I found amusing, though, was this item on the FAQ page:
Does Garmz own the copyrights to my designs?
No. You keep the copyrights to all your designs. The finished clothing will carry your name on the label in the back. But in the case of us prototyping and producing your design, only Garmz will be allowed to distribute and reproduce the developed series. With you earning from every sold piece, of course.
I wonder how it escaped anyone’s notice that fashion designers cannot copyright their designs? I believe the site founders originate in the EU where there is some protection available for fashion designs, but it certainly isn’t copyright protection (and in my TED.com talk I explain why EU Design Law is completely ineffectual at stopping competitors from making knock-offs of registered designs). The only intellectual property protection that fashion designers typically have is trademark protection: the label inside the garment is the only piece of the garment that can’t be legally copied by a competitor. With Garmz garments, the designer’s name will appear on the label, but the trademark won’t belong to them. It belongs to Garmz.
I’m thrilled to see people experimenting with new business models for fashion design, and I have no doubt that some very talented people will surface in a world where access to the means of production can be accomplished in surprising new ways. But I see this illusory promise of retained copyright protection as a sign of just how low below the radar this issue is in the fashion industry. That’s one reason I’m hell-bent on putting together a research project that helps us understand how creative communities (including fashion designers) are struggling with the meaning and value of ownership in an era when every business model imaginable is being transformed by digital technology. More on that research project shortly . . .