Discount knock-off websites such as Zaful and Zahara Swim are becoming increasingly popular, posing a challenge to swim brands, some of which are vowing to take legal action.
While counterfeiting has plagued the garment industry for decades, the immediacy of online shopping and social media have made it easier than ever to knock-off, market and sell discounted products.
Social media in particular has become a key tool for the knock-off sites. They are working with a wide range of influencers on social media and on YouTube to market the discounted swimwear. All of which means they are directly reaching and attracting young female customers – especially when customers see they can buy a super fashionable bikini set for as low as $8.
The sites are also styling their marketing imagery to look like the original brand campaigns (see examples in our slide show), and in some cases using the exact same imagery.
While discount sites can closely replicate the designs and cuts, their fit and fabrics are not as high quality as the originals. But the teenage girls we talked to are willing to sacrifice some quality for good-looking swimwear that is priced so much lower.
Swim brands note that they are putting in the hard work and finances to create the prints, fabrics and cuts for knock-off sites to then copy their products and sell them at a lower price point.
“This will be detrimental to the swim industry because people don’t care and don’t realize it’s all knockoffs,” Kaohs Owner Ali Hoffmann said.
Kaohs is currently filing a cease and desist order against the Australia-based Zahara after Zahara copied their yellow rose bud bikini and is selling it for half the price.
“It is really infuriating,” Ali said. “They are in Australia so it poses challenges. If it were here, it would be easy. They must be ordering directly from us and knocking it off. There would be no way to make it so perfect otherwise.”
Not only did Zahara Swim replicate Kaohs’ swimwear, they used their imagery and marketing as well.
“They are looking at swim brand’s followers and trying to pull their influencers and going after their direct consumer,” Ali said. “They are gifting them with free suits so they will post photos on their social media. We don’t have the funds to gift as many suits. We produce domestically and it costs them one-eighth the price to produce in China, so they are able to gift multiple suits.”
Kaohs is not the only brand being targeted by knock-off sites. Frankies Bikinis, Acacia Swimwear, Stone Cold Fox, For Love and Lemons and Shore Swimwear are among the many brands being copied almost identically on those websites.
“Although sites like Zaful can knock-off shapes that we designed, they cannot knock-off quality,” Frankies Bikinis Director of Marketing and Ecommerce Brittney Bowles said. “Frankies Bikinis is known for their perfect fit and the highest quality swim fabric and craftsmanship, which could never be reproduced for less. The #FrankiesGirl values quality and comes to us for a swimsuit that they can wear all summer long that won’t fall apart and will highlight all their curves for a perfect fit.”
While KYA Swim has dealt with some counterfeiting in the past, KYA suits are reversible, which makes them more challenging to copy, KYA believes.
“KYA Swim has not been targeted by Zaful or Zahara specifically,” KYA Swim Designer and Founder Kylie Genesoto said. “But it’s disappointing when as designers we work hard on creating pieces that are different from other brands. We put months of hard work behind our designs so to then have someone like Zaful and Zahara just copy and create a style over night, maybe in a color you wouldn’t ever use or just slightly different, is super frustrating I imagine.
“Unfortunately, I think the fashion industry as whole goes through this every day and this is definitely not just in our industry,” Kylie said. “All we can do as designers, myself included, is to continue to create unique designs and ensure we are the first ones out there showcasing them.”
In addition to being a challenge and frustration for these brands, there are many legal issues involved with counterfeiting.
We spoke with Bryan Friedman of Friedman Stroffe & Gerard, P.C. about the legality of these websites.
While the cuts of the swimwear are not protected, anything pictorial, including graphics, are copyright protected.
“If you create the graphic you earn the copyright whether you file for it or not,” Bryan said.
The brands can sue for copyright infringement and are entitled to the profit of the knockoffs.
“If it is intentional, they can sue for profit plus statutory damages, which can be anywhere from $30,000 to $150,000,” he said.
The brands can take legal action against the sites that are using their imagery as well.
While it is easier to fight for copyright infringement in the United States and Australia, it is almost impossible to win in China where many websites such as Zaful are based.
We were unable to get a statement from Zaful or Zahara Swim, but the Zaful website includes a legal page that highlights their “notice and takedown policy.”
The policy states that Zaful operates in good faith and will quickly respond to any notices of alleged Intellectual Property Right infringements.
Zaful requires the property owner to identify the potential infringements and send it to them.
Going forward, swimwear brands are working to stay on top of the counterfeiting issue.
“This is affecting so many brands that are trending in fast fashion,” Kaohs’ Ali Hoffmann said. “We can form an alliance and work against this together.”
In addition to taking legal action, the brands have to find creative ways to stay ahead of the knock-off sites.
“As a trend leader in the industry, we will always be showing the newest styles first and knock-off sites will always be trailing us creating our last season’s styles,” Frankies Bikinis’ Brittney Bowles said. “Instead of releasing the traditional two swim collections per year, we now release several smaller capsule collections all year long to ensure our product mix is new and unique and you won’t find anything like it on knock-off sites.”