Black designer opens up about her terrifying decision to sue Boohoo for 'stealing' her designs

Black designer opens up about her terrifying decision to sue Boohoo for 'stealing' her designs

Boohoo has been accused stealing designs from a young Black designer. The fashion giant has notoriously face similar allegations in the past of course – but this time, it's different.

Fisayo Longe, who owns her own fashion label Kai Collective, is taking legal action against Boohoo. It's the first time an independent label has legally gone against the conglomerate.

Speaking exclusively to Four Nine, Longe tells me she is suing for £30,000 in damages as well as the cost of legal expenses.

Longe is now in legal talks with BooHoo with a "view of reaching a resolution". However, Longe says her point still stands: "I want brands to know that they can take steps to protect themselves, it's expensive,  but it's possible."

Kai Collective Fisayo Longe pictured wearing the Gaia print, which was designed in 2019 (Credit: Supplied)

'We have no idea how much it will end up costing'

Longe tells me that she was left feeling "upset" and "disgusted" after seeing Boohoo selling designs that appeared almost identical to her own.

It hasn't been an easy journey for Kai Collective. Established in 2016, the independent brand celebrated its first profitable annum last year. Much of its success last year was down to the success of its breakout design, Gaia – a print created in collaboration with a Nigerian artist. In January of 2021, Longe claims that a near-identical looking item showed up on BooHoo's website.

"We created the Gaia print because I felt like the brand didn't have a strong enough identity," Longe tells me. "The print was sold out all summer, and was featured on an Elle cover story. When we released it, it wasn't anywhere. And when someone copies it so closely, like BooHoo, it's a blatant rip-off."

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Heartbroken, Longe explains that she felt compelled to sue BooHoo, in spite of being extremely concerned about the financial implications it could have for her label. "We have no idea how much it will end up costing," she admits. "It might mean that we can't do other things that we were intending to do. I don't even want to be involved in this type of situation. I'd rather use my energy on my creativity and continuing to build the brand.

"It's such a delicate time. I just want to focus on growing Kai, rather than fighting over a print."

'It economically disempowers us'

Longe first became aware of the problem after people first started tagging the designer in pictures of BooHoo's product shortly after it was advertised in January.

In response, Longe wrote in a since-deleted tweet: "Gaia is now being heavily imitated. Boohoo has gone as far as to copy our print almost identically. That is unacceptable. Seeing how much Gaia was being imitated, I obtained design registration in the UK and EU, with US copyright pending. They will not profit illegally off of our intellectual property and most certainly not with a print that we have legally protected."

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But Longe is far from the first creative to accuse the BooHoo group – which also owns Pretty Little Thing and Nasty Gal –  for allegedly ripping off designs.

In January, just days before Longe's first tweet went viral, Anifa Mvuemba, of Hanfia, called Pretty Little Thing "trash" on Twitter. She shared a side-by-side of her design alongside an item being advertised on the retailer’s website.

"I don't think they're going out and being like 'Let's find brands that are owned by Black women'," Longe says.

"They go after companies that are lesser-known and believe have less agency to fight them. A lot of these brands happen to be owned by Black females, and they know they can get away with it. Even if they don't set out to be sexist and racist, they are encouraging it by stealing from us. It economically disempowers us and creates a power imbalance. It's a cause, and also a result."

Kai Collective

A side-by-side of the Gaia print with Boohoo's comparable item (Credit: Supplied)

The 'soul and identity' of Kai Collective

For Longe, the Gaia print wasn't just about "colours, lines and patterns", it represents the "soul and identity" of the brand.

The process of creating it was intrinsically tied to its creator. She tells me how the artist designed it after being inspired by her personality, and the fluidity of her voice. For her part, Longe consciously set out to pay homage to her homeland, Nigeria, and her mission statement revolves around uplifting women from the country, which she says has "sexism entrenched in the law".

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She explained: "I wanted to create a community that stands against sexism, and uses fashion to do so. We create clothes that are modest, which Hijabi women can wear, and we also make clothes that are super revealing, for women who feel empowered by feeling sexy. It's emotional for me.

"They keep copying lots of small, female-owned brands, and I want a precedent to be set," Longe states. "The Gaia print is so important for us, and our identity, and I don't want people seeing elements of it on BooHoo. We have such different values. I don't want any type of confusion or any similarity between them at all."

Four Nine reached out to BooHoo for comment but have not yet received a response.