Remember when pleather was just cheap? Now it's morally superior -- at least in vegan circles.
But does that mean that would-be designers who espouse a philosophy of respect for animal life, eschewing the use of leather, wool, silk, feathers, and of course fur, should get a free pass when it comes to respect for other designers' creations? In other words, are knockoffs OK just because they're vegan?
On the one hand, vegan design pirates might argue that they're addressing a market failure by providing these goods. Moreover, the claims might continue, there's little effect on creative designers, since diehard animal rights folks wouldn't buy original designs made out of so-called flesh products anyway.
On the other hand, absent the moral veneer, this argument is little different from that of a design pirate who excuses copying by noting that the knockoffs are less expensive, or come in different colors, or are available in more sizes. That's fine -- but the same result could be achieved by paying a licensing fee to the original designer and acknowledging the creative effort and expense that went into the successful design in the first place.
In addition, the argument that no harm results from the copying assumes that there's an absolute divide in the market, and that only vegans buy non-animal products while everyone else will flock to the (usually more expensive) original. Not likely. Futhermore, many designers would prefer to retain control over their designs -- maybe that bag wasn't intended to be manufactured in puce. Or pleather.
The debate is not an abstract one. Among the most recent entries in the realm of non-flesh fashion is Natalie Portman's line for Te Casan. Like other celeb "designer" lines, this one appears to consist mostly of thing that are already in the alleged creator's closet -- or, in Portman's case, shoes that would be in her closet were it not for her commitment to the cause.
Unlike in other, similar instances of copying, the nominal designer in question appears to have limited her vegan versions to things that are more or less part of the public domain, even if they've been recently popularized by others. Yes, there are the elasticized ballet flats, the ankle-strap sandals, and -- featured on Portman herself -- the patent leather Mary Jane pumps:
Christian Louboutin Eventa Mary Janes (left) and Natalie Portman for Te Casan Pippa
In other words, even in a jurisdiction where fashion designs were protected, choices like these wouldn't necessarily be illegal, since the styles are fairly common. Ethical, especially in cases of more literal copying, is a less flattering question. And creative is not even worth asking.
Our next dilemma: How will vegan design pirates justify sinking their teeth into designers from their own tribe?