The ethics of a cheap off-shore wedding dress

Updated Oct 31 2018
By: Taylor McBrideCC BY 2.0
I think that stealing a wedding dress design and having it made in China (in a place that is probably a sweatshop) is really unethical. It upsets me, as it both screws the original designer (who is probably a creative type who you would want to hang out with) and the workers … all for a dress you will wear once.

Then again, I am not poor, and I can afford to pay the designer direct for some of the dresses I like and I will check that they are not made unethically.

Am I just being a judgmental bitch cos I have the money to "do the right thing" here? Am I assuming that people have not thought about these issue, but actually they have and are fine with it? -Anonymous

What a thick and meaty ethical question! Thanks so much for bringing the issue up. Ultimately, it's up to each of us to decide where their consumer values align — this is bigger than weddings. This is about pirating music, buying local produce, and world trade issues. I'm no consumer values expert, so really all I can do is share my personal perspective and values…

Since I tend towards slightly odd clothes that I generally can't find in mainstream stores, I get a thrill out of supporting independent designers — I love the individuality that indie designs provide. When I was planning my wedding, this value translated into not being attracted in the big ticket dresses that I couldn't afford. My goal was to work with a couple local indie designers/seamstresses to custom-make something awesome and unique that I could re-wear. I had about a $500 budget, and integrated pieces of a cheap prom dress made in China and hand-crafted elements.

While I personally had no interest in wearing a designer dress, I will say that I have no qualms with off-shore reproduction of name-brand designer wedding dresses through online spots like Kaersen. Many of the commercially-made dresses available at mainstream wedding boutiques are made in China anyway, and I don't think you're doing something inherently awful by taking money out of a big name designer's pocket. Vera Wang is a rich woman who dresses movie stars. The $5k you're not spending on one of her wedding dresses isn't going to put her in the poor house. I kind of equate reproducing a designer wedding dress with pirating a Beyonce album.

That said, I think it's a different game if you're reproducing a dress made by a small, independent designer. And heaven forbid if you're reproducing a dress by an indie seamstress. That just doesn't fit with my personal values of prioritizing indie designers. (Then again, part of the magic of indie designers is that they create dresses that aren't easy to rip off. What off-shore dress factory is going to crank-out hand-dyed silk in your custom colors?)

This is a way bigger question than just wedding dresses though, and you're right, anonymous: having money gives you the luxury of thinking through this decision with your consumer values held high. For some brides, their consumer values are a big priority in their lives that they translate into their wedding planning.

Other brides may be focused on different offbeat aspects of their wedding — like hand-knitting scarves for each of their bridesmaides, or making sure their gay minister friend officiates, or hand-baking 200+ wedding cupcakes. These folks may think to themselves, "I like that dress I saw in the window, but I spent all my budget on organic catering and my amazing photographer. I'll just have the dress made in China."

Like every other wedding decision, it's an issue of picking your battles, identifying your priorities, and compromising to make the best choice you can.

  1. This issue is beyond wedding dresses. You have similar considerations every time you purchase anything. Where was it made? Where was its components made? How much does the factory pollute? How are the workers treated? Unless you buy everything second hand (which still requires someone to have purchased it new in the first place) it is a dilemma that you cannot escape.

  2. I will preface this by saying that it is up to each bride/ couple to set the priorities for their wedding, and wholeheartedly agree with "picking your battles, identifying your priorities, and compromising to make the best choice you can."

    That having been said, I'd just like to address a couple of concerns that I have regarding offshore knockoff dresses.

    I value my local small businesses, whether they be an independent coffee shop, the local car dealer, or a bridal shop. The shop where I am getting my (lower cost) designer Made in China dress employees about a dozen people. I can somewhat put myself at rest knowing that my purchase does go towards making sure 12 people in my area continue to have a job.

    I have a deep, deep appreciation for indie designers. Recognizing that Vera Wang – and this according to Wikipedia – came from a wealthy family, in my mind, I have to question at what point a designer becomes "big enough" for it to be acceptable to copy their designs. She won't miss a $5k sale, and perhaps it is a high class problem for an indie designer, too, if they get to the level where their designs are in such demand that someone decides to make knock-offs.

    My final question is this – where does one draw the line on when a designer is big enough to they won't miss the sale lost to a copycat?

    At the end of the day, we all make trade-offs. I set a modest dress budget as well, and perhaps, were I rewind 6 months, I might have gone the route of an indie designer, or a used dress, but there is so much else I'm doing to support small/local/indie businesses, that I'm still able to sleep at night, designer Chinese dress and all!

  3. I recognize the desire to support "indie" designers but just because they are smaller doesn't make their designs any more "theirs" than those of a big name designer. The work of an artist is still theirs, even if they have chosen to outsource the production of that art (or in this case dress) to China.

    I fully understand the desire not to purchase something that was made in a sweatshop in China, but that is something very different than stealing the artistic work of someone else. Just because Beyonce or Vera Wang has made it big doesn't give someone the right to steal from them. Their work is still theirs, and if you want it you should really pay for it.

    I guess this is a sore subject, since my boyfriend is a musician. I would hate to think that at some point people would decide that his music is "ok to steal" because he got big. Remember, those artists probably did a lot of work to get to the point that they were "big" and they deserve to profit from it if enough people like what they do.

    • I somewhat agree. However, I also know the nature of the creative industries and it is also not uncommon for those who have made it big to "borrow" or outright steal from their fellow artists as well. It's not like there aren't any instances where a big-name designer ripped off designs of a small-name independent designer without citing their inspiration – or where a big-name artist in general borrowed music from a lesser-known artist without giving credit.

      At the end of the day, the subject constitutes a very slippery slope. And a lot of it boils down to doing research and making the most informed decisions that you and your budget can handle. At least when it comes to wedding planning.

  4. I agree with Ashley. If you considering using ideas from an indie designer stealing, I'm not sure how stealing from a "big-name" designer is any different from an "indie" designer. An analogy that pops in my mind is shoplifting. For example, does that mean shoplifting from Wal-Mart is okay, but not your local music store?

  5. The first thing that comes to mind for me is, when does the dress go from being an original design by someone else, to being an original for YOU? If someone were to copy a dress in its entirety, and pass it off as their own, that to me is pirating, and is unethical.

    However, once you take this dress's hemline, that dress's sleeve, this other dress's neckline, then you are no longer copying a designer's dress but designing your own dress with inspiration from several other dresses. That, to me, is in no way unethical.

    I rarely love every aspect of a dress, so I would be more likely to take parts of several dresses to make one I love. To me, that more akin to designing my own than stealing someone else's.

    Re: music – Jason Mraz (per Wikipedia, so take it as you wish) encourages people to make bootleg copies of his concerts, so not all musicians who have made it big have a problem with people copying their music.

    • I so agree with your custom, "inspired" dress idea. Being a bit of a photoshop wiz myself, that's what I've done…incorporated 5 different dresses into one. I don't see anything unethical about that. It's my own custom creation.

      As for the other side of the argument, the sweatshops of China, I always look at it this way: if EVERYONE stopped buying from China, those poor women earning $2 a day would suddenly be out of a job. $2 may not be much, and while I agree it should be more, $2 is still $2! I think we need to think up better ways to help end poverty in China than simply boycotting, because that hurts the employees more than the big corporations. But then, that's just my opinion.

      • Hmmm. That sounds like justifying exploitation to me.

        If more people voiced their concern and boycotted their products, these horrific places would have to lift their game. This has already happened in some factories in China, but not everywhere, and then look at Bangladesh. No matter how 'poor' we might think we are, those of us living in the Western world are living in the top 10%. We have it so good – I just don't see how anyone can justify contributing to the suffering that our rampant consumerism is generating for others.

        • I understand where you are coming from, but the fact of the matter is most people have NO idea how many of their products come from sweatshops around the world… Including the expensive full price designer gown… If it was sewn here, I guarantee the fabric and notions are from overseas… BTW, you're not out of the woods when you see a "made in America" label, Sweatshops don't only exist overseas either!

          Think about it… your flowers, your gown, the reception food (let's not even discuss where the diamond in your ring came from) are you making sure all that is ethically sourced?

  6. I think that the real travesty is the mainstream bridal industry as a whole taking advantage of some woman willing to spend more than they can afford because it's their one day. Not only is this unethical, but it punishes those brides with a more realistic mindset.

    I think that the trade off is if a bride purchases a reproduction online or from China, she risks poor quality and delayed shipping. If she purchases from a "local boutique" she risks getting overcharged, additional fees, and unruley alteration fees.

    If someone knows a happy medium, please share!!!

    • Etsy! I finally settled on a very expensive (I didn't know it was expensive when I tried it on! Evil bridal shop consultants!) dress and knew there was no way to afford. So, I turned to one of my favorite sites and put out a request for someone to make a dress similar to that one, for about the $500 that I could afford (which was pushing it, really). I had several bids, and I vetted everyone carefully and ended up with an awesome dress!

      (Also, I realize this thread is a little old, but I couldn't resist.)

      • Ashley, I am curious how you were able to vet them? The etsy designer I am looking at is in China and says he makes them all by hand, but how do I know that's true?

        Thanks for sharing!

        • I know this is a super-old question, but I see it has remained unanswered, so I wanted to pitch in. The only real way to vet Etsy shops is to carefully examine their feedback. The feedback system, currently, is frustratingly simplistic and does not show you the exact number of neutrals or negatives, and link you to them, like ebay does. I wish that feature would be implemented on Etsy! Unfortunately, you have to go page by page, searching for complaints. For many of those Chinese shops, there are hundreds of pages!

          There is also a possibility of finding off-site reviews of a seller, but either way, you are limited to in-depth, eye-bleeding research. Or I suppose you could take to the forums and risk the seller seeing your post. XD

    • I've got one: charity shops. In the UK there are a range of charity shops that have full-on bridal floors with dresses, shoes, veils and bridesmaids dresses, some of which are actually new and ex-stock from closed down bridal boutiques.

      The dresses are still in good nick, worn once at most, and are a fraction of the cost of going to a 'proper' shop. I went to Oxfam in Cambridge for mine – £125, in perfect condition save one tiny snag on an underlayer no-one will see. I paid £100 in alterations at a local seamstress, plus £50 for an optional steam clean.

      £275, all in. The cheapest dress off the rail at the boutique I went into was £800, without alteration or fitting or whatever.

      What's the ethics angle? Well I supported a local independent seamstress, and gave £125 to a charity. Then I bought my veil from a different charity shop (the Big C cancer charity has a bridal floor in Norwich) so another £40 goes to cancer research.

      No rip-offs or dodgy Chinese sellers involved, I get the dress I want, and I donate to charity. I fail to see a downside.

      • I think it depends on what you want and what is available at such charity shops. I'm not above considering all available options and weighing them in turn.

        Charity shops must be sourced, and the racks must be carefully scoured. Pre-owned dress stores (online or physical) must also be carefully searched, particularly if you want something very specific. Custom designers on Etsy must be vetted and examined. So all in all, it's a matter of personal preference.

  7. It would be awesome to be able to afford a designer gown…it would also be awesome to not have to buy a dress made in China. The gown I want is too expensive. I found a knock off dress, but the idea makes me feel terrible because the designer although expensive, is still not a major designer. Therefore I have chosen not to get that dress at all. I feel if it was meant to be I wouldn't feel awful about the decision, which ever choice.

  8. "For example, does that mean shoplifting from Wal-Mart is okay, but not your local music store?"

    If you're asking me to clarify my personal position, then the answer is yes. I'm not saying I'd shoplift at all, but I see shoplifting from Wal-Mart as less morally objectionable than shoplifting from a locally owned store. Heck, some people would see shoplifting from Wal-Mart as an act of protest against their awful employee labor policies.

    I'm not that radical in my personal consumer values, but I definitely value indie bizzes more than international corporate retailers.

    • Old article but have you considered all of the people that would affect?

      Shoplifting from WalMart doesn't hurt the bigwigs. It hurts the employees, many of whom are living paycheck to paycheck and probably only working there because there aren't other options, and too much shrink means no more job.

      Same for Vera – she won't be hurt, but her employees will be. Selling less dresses? Well, you certainly don't need as many people making or designing them and so they are out of a job too.

  9. As a voracious consumer, I have thought about this a lot. I'm comparatively poor but I like and appreciate nice things. To me, its always wrong to buy knock-offs. I don't care if its a purse, a wedding dress, or a pair of shoes. The fact of the matter is that someone, somewhere took the time to create that "thing," whatever it may be. It came out of their creative process. If you can't afford Vera Wang or Maggie Sottero, then don't even entertain the thought. Don't peruse the pages of Brides magazine looking for a dress that you will be sick over b/c you can't afford it. If you love their design, and no other, then its worth it to figure out a way to have the dress of your dreams without stealing someone's design and having it made for yourself.Its the same as figuring out how you can get that amazing mixed media piece to hang above your couch. They came up with something that speaks to you. Fashion is wearable art. A person should never be punished for being sucessful. Its never okay to steal from anyone, no matter how wealthy they are. Stealing is stealing.

  10. "Just because Beyonce or Vera Wang has made it big doesn't give someone the right to steal from them. Their work is still theirs, and if you want it you should really pay for it."

    I understand the sentiment behind this. However, is that Vera Wang wedding dress (many of which are very simple) worth $5000+ dollars? I feel that there comes a point when it goes beyond selling your artwork and into purposely trying to rip people off. What does the production of those dresses cost, especially when the work making the dresses is still probably outsourced to China or elsewhere anyways?

    I don't feel any of her dresses are worth $5000 and I know if I went to an indie designer here I could get an original dress for much less than that. I feel like the difference between Vera Wang and the indie designer is that, the indie designer is not trying to rip me off. I can guarantee that every stitch in that dress will be made by that local seamstress, and I'm helping an individual stay employed at a fair wage. Vera Wang, is not doing that. Vera Wang, like much of the Wedding industry, is taking advantage of the outrageous amount of money brides will shell out for their "big day".

    I guess I also have a bit of the "Robin Hood" mentality about it (you know, still from the rich, give to the poor). Probably because I come from a family of service members and blue collar workers whose hard work and service to their country has earned them only a modest salary. My fiance will make around $29,000 this year while in Iraq running 12 hour missions, getting shot at and worrying about IEDs all while being thousands of miles away from everyone and everything he loves. I think Vera Wang will be just fine without getting $5,000 dollars of that money for my wedding dress. We need that money to put food on our table – she, however, will still be living quite comfortably without it. Therefore, no I wouldn't lose any sleep over having someone else (probably my mom or a seamstress we know, though) sew a knock-off designer gown.

    That's just how I look at it, though. I'm glad that Ariel opens these issues up for discussion because it is nice to see this question answered from different perspectives.

  11. Well then I guess our views differ:)

    I know that Wal-Mart is an international corporation (and maybe I should have used a different company like Costco that isn't as contentious), but even large corporations are made up of the employees like the cashiers, door greeters, and stockers. Or in the case of the wedding industry, the people who sew the dresses, etc. A big-name designer doesn't consist of only the rich big-namer, but hundreds of employees as well.

    Just to push the envelope and thought process a little further (and this is to whoever feels there's a difference b/t big business and indie designers, not just Ariel): At what point is it okay to steal from large companies verses indie businesses? At $1 million in revenue? $150 billion? When it's publicly-traded? A certain number of employees? What about franchises, where local folks might own the business, but they have a national name? What about corporations that provide goods that can't be provided by indie businesses (i.e., electronics)? Should they be valued more? What if the indie businesses purchase their raw goods at Wal-Mart?

    Lots to think about! This is a good post though 🙂

    • The point at which I would consider it morally acceptable to steal from a company is the point at which I consider it morally objectionable to buy the product at all. I dont shoplift, but I have, on occasion, shopped at target, or walmart, and when I have, I have consistently fought with myself in the dressing room, because it seems more ethical to me to steal from them than pay, with the supporting an evil corporation that treats their employees that badly that goes along with it. (the answer for me, obviously, is to not shop there at all.). Because I'm a coward, and would be mortally embarrassed if I were caught stealing, I've never done it. When I shop at an ethically run business, or even a not absolutely evil business, I have no such moral struggle. And as far as indie businesses go, stealing would be stealing from my community, or a community much like it, and totally not ok. Just figured I'd give insight into where this line is for one person.

  12. FWIW clothing is not "copyrighted" so it's not really pirating to make knock-offs of dress designs.
    I'd also like to point out that a lot of these factories in China are the same ones making the dresses for big name designers, they just make extra ones to sell for less because they don't have the big designer name attached to it.
    So what's more ethical? Taking advantage of these laborers and not paying them their "fair share" from the expensive dresses or just buying direct from them and taking money away from the designer? It's something that everyone has to come to terms with on their own.
    I, myself, am pretty ambiguous about it all. I'm making my own dress so it's a moot point for me.

  13. I'm with Ashley… I think copying a design is copying a design. I love indie designers too, goodness knows, and I'm not a fan of Vera Wang's prices, but! I'm uncomfortable with the idea that if someone becomes successful or very profitable, they somehow are less deserving of their rights as artists. Following this line of thinking through means that while Indie designers are cool in our books now, if they grow to big or too successful, we will no longer value them, or will consider them "sellouts" who we can steal from. Since I'd love nothing more than to see great indie designers making tons of money off their amazing talent, I don't want to think this way.

    That said, I think my bigger problem is having your wedding dress made overseas in conditions that are probably not great. I totally agree that you have to pick your battles, so I'm saying this with a large grain of salt, but at least theoretically there is a difference between buying a dress off a rack that maybe was made in China, and personally commissioning a dress that you know is a copy of another artists work to be made in China under not great conditions. It's the difference between passive and active ethical consumer choices.

    All that said, I also agree with Nikki. If you take a design and use it as inspiration, that is absolutely fair use.

    • As a seamstress and aspiring designer myself…. If I can look at a dress, figure out on my own how much fabric was used, where the seams are, darts, bead, etc. all go, I've earned the right to make that dress. Drafting patterns from something you see in a window (or photos, or drawings) is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Furthermore, that dress won't be the same designer dress. You could opt to change the hem, move a zipper, open up the back or neckline, omit beading entirely… Some designers also sell their patterns to commercial pattern companies for $15 instead of $5000, so this could be a more ethical way to get the designer dress you want, support a local seamstress and not steal from anyone.

      • Marcia, I actually agree as a fellow designer (although I'd absolutely love to learn how to sew a lot better). A lot of times, designers draw their inspiration from fellow designers – whether they are famous/infamous and charging thousands or lesser-known independent creatives who work from client to client.

  14. This is an interesting blog post and discussion. I prefer to shop locally, but I did consider ordering my wedding dress from Kaersen because I hadn't found anything I liked at my favorite shop.

    In the end, and this might be an option for Ana in comment 6, I went to a local boutique which sells designer clothing and wedding gowns, and I purchased a bridesmaid's gown for about $350. My gown was made in the US, and I kept (at least some of) my dollars in the local economy.

    If you're interested, this is my dress, color and all.

  15. artists/designers copy and inspire each other all the time.
    how many musicians sing cover songs? (a lot, including: madonna, n.i.n., iron and wine).
    how many people have ikea furniture? those are cheap,knock off designs.
    how many people buy clothes at target? guess what, part of my friend's job at target corp. is to go shopping to find high end clothes to replicate for target.
    how many people have posters/copies of an original piece of artwork?
    how many people buy generic instead of name brand?
    it's really all the same thing. part of the risk of being an artist/designer is people copying your work. but honestly, how many wedding dresses are truely original? their inspiration came from somewhere, most likely another wedding dress. i see nothing wrong if you see something you like, and you can do-it-yourself and make it cheaper… why not?

    • Musicians that sample music or cover songs pay royalties and set up licensing agreements so that whoever owns the rights to the song is compensated. Ikea furniture actually is not copied furniture, Ikea works with designers from all over to design unique furniture that can be easy assembled and require the most minimal of parts. Ikea furniture has a lower price point because they are able to ship flat and you do the work of putting it together. Reproductions of artwork are called prints and artists love to make money from selling prints. It is much easier to shut down a company or individual that is illegally making prints of a piece of art than it is to shut down someone copying your dress design. Artwork can easily be copyrighted while the garment industry is still struggling with what is even allowed to be copyright or patented. And when you say generic, the first thing I think of is medication. New drugs on the market are protected by a 20 year patent (though that patent starts out at the infancy of the drug long before it goes to market), so drug makers then have an exclusivity period to reclaim all the billions of dollars they put into research and development. Once their exclusivity period ends, then generic drug makers can come in and make to their hearts content. I think the only other thing that comes to mind that I would call "generic" would be maybe food items. I have never heard of and would never call clothes generics. Knock-off is definitely a better term. If only designers were granted those same protections like drug companies, but then again it is such a difficult area to police because it is art and art is open to interpretation. But I definitely agree with you on your statement about how original can something really be. I get it, some things have been designed so many times, how many different variations can there be? I think it's when it falls into the whole blatant rip off that that is what upsets people. I have seen on that Alibaba site where there are loads of knock-offs, and have seen dresses posted that use the same runway picture and use the designers name in the title. To me that is not right. Go ahead sell your knock-off dresses, but don't put that it is a Vera Wang or some other designer. I'm sure she did not approve of her designs or name being used there. Say that it is a knock-off or just describe the style of dress and let the consumer decide if they want the real thing versus the fake.

  16. I agree with Ashley. It doesn't seem just to say that just because someone has "made it big", which basically just means someone has taken notice of what a good designer you are, then it becomes okay to rip you off.

    That being said, art is always being ripped off in one way or another. How many ARTISTES do you know that think they're individuals but clearly are ripping off Pollock or Worhol? But to copy something and call it an original is a crime.

    But I also can't blame brides who can't afford the price of an individual OR big-name designer. I'm not wealthy and I can't afford to buy all the local organic food and carbon-free clothes I would like to. I mean, let's face it — Fancy Pony Land is just as outrageously expensive as Vera Wang. Indie or no, I can't justify $2000 for ANY dress, no matter a dress I wear once. Why not buy for $200 from a REALLY small-time seamstress and donate the other $1800 to a worthy cause?

    I like being an individual, but I don't think that individualism should come with a high price tag, just because it's "different." Then again, I disagree with the outrageous prices of art pieces for their "uniqueness", which in my opinion just support the long-standing idea that only the wealthy can appreciate art in their own home. But that's another issue altogether.

    Even when you do pick an indie designer, I wouldn't assume that you're automatically picking an environmentally or ethically "cleaner" gown. Where did they get their fabric, where was their sewing machine made, or their yarn or thread? The textile industry in India and China is huge.

    So I guess I'm torn — yes, I do find it objectionable that people rip one another's art off, indie or no. But the fact that it cost so much in the first place (either for "individuality" or for the "brand name") is equally objectionable, and I can't blame brides who just want to look the way they imagined on their wedding day.

  17. I'm with the idea that these things are often copied, not copyrighted, and more often than not, these are the same dress factories working for the major designer. Honestly, I think working directly with them (the dress-makers in China) is closer to fair-trade than buying it from a bridal shop. They set the price. To you, it's cheap. To them, it's almost certainly more than they'd be paid to make the same dress for a major wholesaler.
    We all know the WIC is trying to line their pockets with us. I can't support that. I can't. I'm all for the little guy, but I make $26K a year. I'd rather line pockets in China, thanks. Where the tiny amount I can afford to spend goes a lot further.

  18. Ariel, thanks for opening up this discussion. I appreciate everything being said here. As a person with a strong sense of social justice I was so confused by what route to go when choosing my wedding attire. I had wanted to revamp my mom's own homemade dress to avoid all the issues (small budget, concern for how the dress is made, etc.). Unfortunately, mom is a much shorter woman and the fabric is falling apart so I had to deal with the issues.

    Everyone here brings a lot of good questions to the table. It certainly is a battle of the lesser evils, especially for those on really tight budgets. I'm just glad to know there are brides out there contemplating their social responsibility and attempting some solution rather than making choices out of selfishness and ignorance.

    In the end I purchased from a local shop that carries only affordable (not ripped off) designs. The other compromise was letting my mom purchase my dress and fulfill her dream of seeing her eco-feminist daughter wear a white wedding dress. But that's a whole different battle.

  19. I come at this from a slightly different perspective since I create my own knitting patterns and frequently see knit items in stores or whatever that I want to make for myself. I've looked into the copyright stuff and there is no legal objection to making knock-offs. So, legally, it isn't stealing. Legally, even if it looks the same, you're fine as long as you never saw a pattern.

    That said, knock-offs are kind of sketchy and if someone wants to buy something that I've made from looking at a picture, I'll usually say no or just charge them for the yarn. However, I would not equate this copying to pirating, since one is illegal and one is not. There's also a difference between reproduction and theft…a big one that should be recognized.

    In many ways, I agree with Jess. I can't justify purchasing a Wai-Ching or Fancy Pony dress anymore than I can justify purchasing a Vera Wang, though I'm not sure I would completely equate Wai-Ching with Vera Wang, all things considered. Still, they're all outside my price range. Part of my "off-beat statement" is not spending an arm-and-a-leg on a dress. However, I object to David's Bridal, so I'm buying from a local seamstress from $450, which IS in my price range and I know where my money is going. My dress will be custom made to my measurements with my fabric and the pattern I picked out along with any embellishments I want. Score! And I can feel good about my choice while still staying in budget.

  20. Ariel, I don't think an indie business, an indie designer or indie anything can be more valuable than a non-indie designer or their business. It doesn't make any sense. Does this mean the more successful and less indie your website becomes the less we should value it? Of course not!

    Generally something is not considered indie anymore when it becomes successful and popular. I don't think you can say something is less valuable because they became successful. your favourite indie designer could easily hit the big time. Will you no longer like them and think its ok to steal from them then? At what point exactly in my success will it be ok for people to start stealing my designs? Very strange attitude, I cannot get my head around it!

    I guess its this mix of opinions and attitudes that make the world go round!

  21. It's interesting to read the concerns around this issue. For me, it's not about stealing art (which is an issue in itself) but rather, human rights. David's Bridal runs a full on sweat shop in China. Pay, working conditions and living conditions are sub par. I personally do not want to support a business like that. yes, I had the money to get a Wai-Ching dress and am proud that the woman who measured me will be the one making it! but the truth is, if a bride can't afford a designer or even Indie gown there are ways to make it work and not support the machine. There a all sorts of consignment shops, less expensive exciting options (Ariel's outfit can speak to that).
    The fact is, this is how I live my life. I am conscious about where the food, clothing, etc. come from and if I have to sacrifice a little more money to keep it local and organic, that's what I'm gonna do.

  22. Shoshanna — would love to know who your seamstress is! The problem with going with small-time seamstresses is the risk of getting someone who isn't so good at what they do as you'd like. Good seamstresses, especially ones who build quality dresses from stratch, are so hard to come by nowadays. As much as I would like to support small-time tailors, I also still want a polished-looking dress.

    • Ask to see sample dresses and a portfolio 🙂 As a budding designer myself I definitely keep items I make so that I can show people my sewing style. Any seamstress that can't show you samples or have a portfolio within in arms reach is not someone you should do business with.

  23. I think that there are two separate issues that we need to parse out here:

    1) Is copying a design stealing?
    2) If it is, is it more "ok" to steal from one group than another?

    If you believe that copying a design (without the pattern) is not stealing, then it really doesn't matter. I'd argue that most dresses are pretty similar, and you'll find a lot of overlap within the market. Additionally, when you pay for a designer dress you aren't just paying for the look, you are paying for the construction, the expertise, and the labor.

    If you do believe that copying a design is stealing, I can't see how it is better to steal from one group than another. Yes, one is having an arguably harder time making a living, but your moral culpability is the same. Stealing is stealing.

    Additionally, when you download music, Beyonce might not be hurt, but she only gets something like 10 cents per album. The rest goes to a number of different people who work fairly close to minimum wage; from the sound editors to graphic designers to CD manufacturers.

    • Total copying the way the .com Chinese gown companies are doing it IS stealing! They are using the original Designer's runway and pr photos to sell the garment, then send their version. That is theft from the original Designer and or company. Not only is it misleading to the customer, but since it was bought from OVERSEAS the laws won't protect the consumer… unless she paid via Paypal and can file a claim.

  24. "I'm not saying I'd shoplift at all, but I see shoplifting from Wal-Mart as way less morally objectionable than shoplifting from a locally owned store."


  25. Here's another solution: if you find a designer dress you love, why not have your local indie seamstress recreate it for you?

    My 1950's Dior dream dress would be impossible to find so I had my lovely seamstress who lives a few miles away recreate it for me. Cost about $250!

  26. "guess what, part of my friend's job at target corp. is to go shopping to find high end clothes to replicate for target."

    Same here! My friend was a design director at Target and Old Navy and all her time was spent shopping at expensive independent stores around the world to find designs to copy.

    • I knew Forever 21 stole designs (they have so many lawsuits against them), but I had no idea about Target and Old Navy. I haven't bought clothes from them in so long, but I will add them to my not to buy from list. Since I started sewing I now examine hems and seams all the time at stores, and find that I just put things back on the rack when I see how poorly they are constructed. Personally I'd rather spend more at a store that produces clothes that are well put together and will last a long time then the stuff at Forever 21 and most of those big chain clothing stores. These stores know they are robbing you by selling you crappy clothes. They know you will have to re-purchase all the time. They know that shopping can turn into an addiction for people and they bank on it. They know they own you.

  27. I agree with Chris' first post – this dilemma should be present in all of your consumption.

    That said, I think that what's really to blame here is the WIC telling brides that they have to look perfect and that perfection comes in the form of an expensive, white, bridal gown. It's really only been in the 20th century that there was even a bridal market. Before that, women wore their best dress or invested in garments they could dye or rework to get further use out of.

    Don't get me wrong – I'm excited to get gussied up for my wedding day. I want to look fancier than I ever have the opportunity to do otherwise. But I will not do that at the cost of my financial future or to increase my wastefulness. I've purchased an off the rack bridal dress (maybe made in China?) that I can dye and shorten after the wedding and turn into a cocktail dress. At least my $300 will get more than one use.

  28. I'd like to second the previous poster who pointed out that the price of a designer gown encompasses far more than just the cultural cache attached to the brand. A dress from Vera Wang is worth that $5,000.00 not simply because her name is on the label but because it represents several hundred hours of labor by expert designers, drapers, tailors and seamstresses, all of whom deserve to be well compensated for their labor. When you choose to have a knockoff manufacutred in China it's these people from whom you are stealing – not just Ms. Wang. An artist is an artist no matter where or how she chooses to exercise her talents, and the skilled craftspeople involved in the construction of a designer dress are no less worthy of compensation because they choose to work for a particular label than an independent designer.

  29. I must say I really don't agree with your view point. Stealing from a big or small company is still stealing. Who says that big designers are any less creative than indie designers? Its just different and different does not necessarily mean bad. Does a lack of creativity in your eyes give you the right to steal from someone? Those big designers have to start somewhere. Even Walmart was a small hometown store in the very beginning. I may not agree with their ethics right now but stealing from big corporations really only hurts those working beneath the big guy. The cashiers, or in this case seamstresses, are the ones who will lose their jobs, not the CEOs.

    Maybe I have a different view point because I did buy a moderately priced designer dress (~$600). I do find the high end dresses absolutely disgusting but that's their prerogative. Just remember you don't need swarovski crystals or fabric flown in from France. If you happen to fall in love with the big designer dress you can always find something similar by a cheaper designer without having to resort to stealing. If you cannot afford that, think outside the box. That's what offbeat brides do best. There's always another option besides stealing.

  30. Well im not to sure if this has been talked about yet. But the way i look at it is that maybe its time for the "BIG TIME” Designers to lower there price. Im mean it’s because of their popularity and price that we have offshore factories and unsafe working conditions for the workers. Well it’s not fare i guess to put all the blame on them it is a case of supply and demand. But as consumer i feel like i have shopped my self in to a nasty corner were i have lost a lot of options. But these times call for us to all think out of the box and question what we are willing to do for our planet in general. The power lies in our hands and in our wallets. Let’s all just open our eyes and have more discussions like this to keep it us thinking. Thank you for all your thoughts. It has me thinking about how important my dress it and what choice will I make when my wedding day comes.

  31. @Amanda. I see your point in re: the astronomical price of wedding paraphernalia in the U.S., but disagree vehemently that the people to blame are the dress designers, caterers and other professionalsproviding these goods and services. A florist can charge $250.00 for a bouquet for one reason only – women are willing to pay $250.00 for an arrangement of flowers wrapped in twine. This is not "ripping someone off" so much as participating in a market economy in the way that one would reasonably expect.

    Personally, I find it frustrating and infantalizing when the argument is made that women become so emotionally addled by weddings that we can be excused for serious lapses in financial judgment. I'm an adult and, last I checked, didn't trade my common sense for my enagement ring. I know what I can and can't afford and it's my job, not a venodr's, to ensure that I don't go over my budget.

  32. I have a BIG problem with the suggestion that it is ok to steal from successful people. Vera Wang, and others like her, worked hard to get where they are, and their talents and the value of their wares have been affirmed by many consumers, if not necessarily you. I would not steal $5k out of her purse, so I will not steal one of her dresses. Same goes for stealing from Wal-Mart, Beyonce, or anyone else who happens to have more than I do. There are plenty of people in the world who would probably consider me obnoxiously wealthy, based on my NYC apartment and my laptop and my ipod. I don't think that justifies their stealing from me.

    If you want to have a unique fabulous dress that's all about you, girl, getchoself one. If you want to have a Vera Wang design, you need to pay Vera Wang for it.

  33. I'm surprised how many people feel they can justify theft because 'that person has enough money already.' Who makes that decision? The cushy middle class existence seems like a luxury to many. How would you feel if a person with less than you stole from you?
    Like it or not, Vera Wang made her money because people appreciate/desire her work enough to pay that much for it. Are you really going to blame her or anyone else for that fact that brides are willing to shell out the big bucks for their dream dress/wedding? I don't think she's 'taking advantage' of anyone. It's not like we're children! Regardless of whether I can afford it or not, I have no interest in spending thousands of dollars on a dress, so I wont bother looking into big name designers.
    If you don't think something is worth the price asked for, dont buy it. If you have a moral objection to a major company like Walmart, dont shop there. Simple as that. But stealing is just not okay imo. The answer to immorality is not more immorality. I prefer to take the higher ground.

  34. I just wanted to comment on one thing, not that anyone is saying to go shoplift from Wal-Mart…
    Individual stores definitely feel it when something is stolen. That's one more thing that we paid for but couldn't get reimbursed for by a customer. So we don't make that money. So the store isn't alloted as many hours as we need. So the employees are only scheduled 20 hours a week when they really need 30 to pay their bills. I think it's a really good point that someone made that you're not stealing from Beyonce or Wal-Mart's CEO, you're stealing from the little people who count on selling those products for a decent (and I use that word lightly) paycheck.
    If I could do it all over again I would probably try harder to find a dress at someplace other than David's Bridal. I finally just caved and went there because I'm larger than any vintage dress I could find online and I couldn't afford anything more than $500 (actually I couldn't afford that either but whatever) but I still wanted something super fancy. I don't feel great about it. In life I try to avoid things that are Made in China but I totally felt wedged between a rock and a hard place with this one.

  35. Ariel, thanks for opening this up.

    I agree with all the ladies who simply say **Stealing is stealing**.

    Jules, just above my post here, puts it very well, "If you cannot afford that, think outside the box." Everyone who has mentioned the pressure to get something special for a wedding dress is also correct. Why would you change your values just for this one item?

    Ariel, you may want to reconsider your views on Walmart (I know you'll think I'm crazy here, but bear with me). I realize Walmart *used to* have big problems, but I think they've addressed them (or are addressing them). Do a little research and you might be pleasantly surprised. Plus, such a big company–when they make changes, the changes are HUGE. I once saw organic cotton Spongebob pajamas there! I've visited several places in the US and abroad where the only place you could get organic produce was Walmart. I think that's incredible–think about it, if Walmart wants organic produce, doesn't that mean that a bunch of organic farmers get more business, and a bunch of consumers who would never otherwise get that food will be able to buy it?

    Sorry to veer away from the wedding dress conversation, but you're right: it's a bigger issue. Thanks for bringing it up.

  36. Eliza, please don't feel guilty about your choices. We're all just doing the best we can every day, and just reading your post I can tell that you are a person who does plenty to make the world a fair and equal place. Rock your dress and don't fret!

  37. I agree with those that say stealing is never OK. However, I wouldn't say that having a "knock-off" dress made can be considered stealing. No matter what, if a dress is made by a person different that the one who sews the Vera Wang dresses, or any "designer" dresses, that "indie" dress will be different. It's fabric, cut, drape, detail, seams, quality, and overall appearance will be slightly different. Once someone puts art into the world, others will be inspired by it. It would be wrong to claim a dress style as your own if it is a copy.
    The truth is, there are those who can afford "designer" and those who cannot. People are not being taken advantage of unless they themselves allow it. Big name designers will keep making money off of those who desire to pay for the name. If designers were being negatively affected by people "copying" dresses, they would take action against it and/or cater to different clientele. Most designers do send their dresses to be made in China so ordering straight from China and paying less because there is no middle man or big name tag is not unethical to the designers. What should be considered is the ethics of supporting "sweat shops" and all of the complex/inconvenient decisions related to that mess.

  38. Is it really stealing from Vera Wang if you wouldn't have splurged and bought the $5k dress anyway? It doesn't matter if you pay someone else in China to make a knockoff dress or go down to David's Bridal or hire a seamstress or whatever; Vera Wang isn't getting that money either way. My old roommates pirate a lot of games and music, but it's all stuff they never would have actually paid for, and then when they actually like something they'd buy the next album and concert tickets. I know I personally spent more money on music because the pirated stuff came first.

    With my wedding, I have really loved having a relationship with my vendors because otherwise there's no way I would have been able to part with the money. The idea of spending $400 on a cake feels a lot better when I know it's going to Chuck and Wayne, who I know and like. (Having a fabulous cake was something that I wanted though, otherwise I obviously wouldn't have spent that much money on it. You know 300 people here could whip out something great on next to nothing, not to mention the people who are forgoing cake altogether!)

  39. Although at gut instinct I agree with Ariel's statement that stealing from Wal-Mart wouldn't be as morally objectionable as stealing from a local record shop, the whole argument at hand comes down to two things for me.

    1. Popularity. As several people have pointed out, Vera Wang and Fancy Pony are in similar price brackets. The difference is popularity. Vera Wang is popular– she is "THE" wedding dress lady. Fancy Pony and Wai Ching are the OBB equivalent, but OBB is much smaller than the WIC. I don't see the to copy/steal issue as one of indie vs. mainstream sellouts, but as one of unpopular vs. popular. When I frame it that way to myself, I don't like the idea of artists being punished for being well-liked.

    2. The only way you can really guarantee that your dress is 100% ethical according to whatever your ethics are is if you raised little cotton plants or silk worms or sheep to maturity, hand wove the fibers into fabric, and sewed the darn thing or got your neighborhood seamstress too. In a global world and global economy, there are few guarantees that every step of the way, that garment is ethically sound. I think all of us can do is try to make the best decisions we can, but as with the above popularity issue, the reason Wal Mart is bigger than the mom and pop is because their size and popularity allow them to do things mom and pop can't– four dollar prescriptions for example. I sure hate Wal Mart for a lot of things, but if they didn't benefit someone, they wouldn't still be in business.

  40. Or…. you could just buy a dress made for you by someone in the good ole USA. Try or for beautiful gowns tailor made for around $200! Support our US designers!

  41. I have to agree with Ariel. I put a ton of time into making choices for my wedding. I have a tight budget. But I didn't go to China to get a reproduction of a Maggie Sottero or Vera (blah)Wang. (No offense to people who love Vera's style it just isn't mine and I personally love Maggie Sottero designs.) But I also believe that these people have tons of money and complain about getting ripped off. But America gets ripped off everyday. You can go out and buy a cd (which are made cheaply in China) and pay $20 that probably cost $1.50 to produce. Nothing against Beyonce, but the profit margin of almost 200%. Not cool.

    However, there are people out there struggling to make it work and have amazing design skills. Dingbat press for example. I love her work and she is working it even though she has a child with a chronic illness and when I order letterpress it will be from a small indie place like Dingbat or the girls at Peculair Pair.

    That's also why I went to Chrissy to get my dress. Because she cares about her art, makes it each, and lovingly creates something wonderful for you. She doesn't have mass production teams, sweatshops, or cheap labor unless you count herself. (I personally felt like I robbed her because my dress was only $400.)

    The backbone of America is the small family owned business… be it wedding dresses or anything else. Sure it is morally questionable to steal music… but to take a dress that will be mass produced and looks like every other puffy wedding dress on the market? Well, still morally questionable, but a crime? No it's perfectly legal. You could ask anyone to make it cheap for you… what do you think girls do when they make a dress from scratch? or have it made… go off the basic idea from someone else. Usually, a big designer. Is that a crime to let an American make it?

    With the economy as it is… I know we all want to get our money's worth… but the true crime in paying a designer the big bucks for a dress with her name, but not her sweat, blood, and tears in it? Paying for that design when some random person in factory made it. What's the difference? Vera doesn't hand sew those dresses. She puts her name on it and people buy it because her name is on it. I'd rather have a dress hand stitched for me personally than some dress that will be seen a billion times on a billion brides.

    SO…. the moral of this rant? If it feels morally wrong for you to do? Then don't do it. But don't judge other people because of what they do. Judging people and thinking you are better than them because of the choices you made and they didn't is what's really wrong.

  42. Well said in your last paragraph Amy! I love that this site is usually so positive and not about judging but about supporting each other's rad ideas.

    Another said, "we are all just doing the best we can." So true! Trying to live a 100% ethical life is impossible, as Meghan so eloquently described, so we each must try to make conscious decisions and use our buying power to make our voices heard by those who we feel need to make some changes.

    Spread the love.

  43. What a great topic. I think it comes down to making the best choice out of your options. To clarify, the "best", meaning wherever your enviromental, economic, quality and ethical requirements meet. I personally do not agree with copying a design, whether a large or indie designer. There are so many smart budget options that are great solutions. Personally, I went with a Chrissy Wai-Ching (thanks to OB!) and would be hearbroken to find out someone had copied or disparaged all her hard work.

  44. I've actually given this issue a lot of thought, given how many companies, individuals etc I've seen selling off-season wedding dress designs for between $10-200 on ebay and around the world.

    First of all, all of the designs I've seen are from big name designers, or knockoffs thereof. None of these are indie designers being made. I suppose there might be the rare case of someone who would copy from a pattern that you sent them, but in that case you'd have to do the legwork of stealing an indie designer's pattern! Stealthy!

    Other than that, the only risk to indie designers is that they could create their own pattern, draping, etc, just from looking at a picture of a dress, which some of them can do. But that's not stealing, it's BEING a designer. It may be inspired by a photograph, but it's not the same pattern nor is it going to look exactly the same.

    The people I know who have worked in the wedding dress industry will tell you that nearly 100% of mainstream designers have "offshore" shops or sweatshops to get their sewing done. I can also say a lot about how completely NOT "people you'd want to hang out with" many of the designers are…but that's not part of this discussion.

    The reason these independent seamstresses exist in China, etc, is because people accrue years of experience at sub-par wages, and then when designers no longer use the designs from the last season, they make some money taking in extra sewing. Is this theft? Well, sure; they didn't craft the design themself. Is it fair? In my estimation, yes. The designers choose to go to a place knowing the workers will accept lower wages, health risks, etc. Is it fair for them to make a living wage by using their skills? I think so!

    Additionally, think about what you're paying for one dress vs the other. If it's possible to make a dress for 10 or 100 dollars while still making money, then you are paying somewhere upwards of 800 dollars for the name on your dress. That money isn't going to the workers.

    So is there a difference between Walmart and a local indie store losing money? Yes — because at a local indie store, they're making this stuff themselves, vs someone who is exploiting the people who stand to gain by Walmart losing a little bit of money.

    To be honest, the discussion comes off a tiny bit – unintentionally – racist to me. We don't have any knowledge that the individuals on ebay are running sweatshops. In fact, it's unlikely that someone that can customize measurements compltely, as well as colors, far more than a wedding dress designer can is running a sweatshop, because the purpose of a sweatshop is mass production. It's much more likely (well, it's TRUE) that some of the US/European designers are running sweatshops fueled by overseas labor.

    Mostly, I just want people to think about how they're judging other people — both the workers, and the people buying these dresses. I don't care if you buy a designer dress. One of the top three "if I had the money" on my list is a Maggie Sottero: but realize that it's not being lovingly handmade by Maggie herself and her best friends. And some of these Chinese workers are a lot more like indie seamstresses than you'd imagine.

    For that matter, realize that not everyone HAS the money and the ability to make the same choices. Independent dress designers are still expensive. People can make the choice to buy prom dresses or pale bridesmaid dresses if they want to save money and find it less objectionable than buying from overseas.

    Personally, I would prefer everything be made by someone I know personally. I'd love to get a cool indie-made dress. It's just never going to be an option for me, not in the prices I've seen.

    I don't want people to judge, here. I want people to be aware. Not everything is as it seems, all the time.

  45. First off, a rousing "amen" to Faye — I agree wholeheartedly.

    I think part of the problem also addressed above by a different poster (Meghan: "Although at gut instinct I agree with Ariel's statement that stealing from Wal-Mart wouldn't be as morally objectionable as stealing from a local record shop, the whole argument at hand comes down to two things for me.

    1. Popularity. As several people have pointed out, Vera Wang and Fancy Pony are in similar price brackets. The difference is popularity. Vera Wang is popular– she is "THE" wedding dress lady. Fancy Pony and Wai Ching are the OBB equivalent, but OBB is much smaller than the WIC. I don't see the to copy/steal issue as one of indie vs. mainstream sellouts, but as one of unpopular vs. popular. When I frame it that way to myself, I don't like the idea of artists being punished for being well-liked. ") is popularity.

    I have friends who work at corporately-owned places, and when things are stolen, that affects their bonuses and raises.

    I made a joke once about going to just steal some pumpkins since the store left them outside all season even when the store was closed, and the friend got very panic-y and said that sure, I could, and then their pay would suffer directly. I wouldn't be stealing just from the company; I'd be stealing from my friend.

  46. I got my dress from Kambriel, and it was one of the best decisions I feel I made for our wedding. She does custom work, has lovely stock stuff, and the price was comparable to a "knock off" dress while being unique and super awesome. I think that a lot of these issues can be side stepped by finding dress alternatives, or finding and supporting local seamstresses. You can really get something wonderful that is made for you for a price that would make it unnecessary to resort to buying from some of these morally shady groups. In addition, there are a lot of really good resources here, and on the Tribe about how to find a dress maker :).

    Regarding stealing/not stealing I don't have a lot to add that hasn't already been stated. I will say that at the end of the day, the choice really came down to the sweat shop labor issue for me. Whether I was looking at actual designer dresses or knock off dresses, I couldn't shake the mental image of very poor women sitting around sewing beads onto princess dresses for 16 hours a day.

  47. This is a very interesting debate, and one I've been totally exempt from, because it never occurred to me to do anything other than make my own dress. Not because of price, though it's a nice bonus that it's going to be cheaper, but because it wouldn't be ME otherwise. But it's very interesting to see what people who do have to make this decision are thinking.

    I make jewelry for what we euphemistically call a 'living', and very occasionally corsets. I would be displeased if someone ripped off one of my more unique design features, yes, but I am aware that it's a possibility. And the less unique design features are so prevalent in so much stuff anyway that it can hardly even be called ripping off. Copying an exact design is a bit dodgy, but those of us who do this small-time have to create our own patterns anyway, and that, to me, is actually a lot harder than coming up with the initial inspiration. That's me, though– I design in my sleep, and have way more ideas than I can ever actually bring into being. I cannot speak of the ethics of Chinese factories– I am poor enough that I almost never buy ANYTHING new, and even most of my shoes come from thrift stores, so I really haven't had to think about that. But it's cool to see what conclusions other conscientious people who are considering the issue have come up with. I'll have a much more informed opinion this way if it ever does come up.

  48. I have an issue that is sort of a side-issue to the one here. I saw a dress made by an indie designer that I absolutely love – but I have always planned to make my own dress, and that designer is no longer working. I'm going to reproduce the look by getting mix & match patterns and change it up to make it work for me.

    When people ask where I got my dress, is it OK to say I made it myself, or do i have to say i was inspired by such and so a designer? I'm not trying to make it seem like I thought up the whole design myself, but I will have put a LOT of time and effort into making the dress, and will be proud of that too.

    What do you think?

  49. My strategy as a semi-poor person is to avoid want and irrational desire as much as possible. It’s like a diet, if you’re not a naturally skinny person, stay out of the cupcake store. Sure some girls can afford a $10,000 dress, and some girls can eat cake and steak all day and still be thin. Figure out which one you are, and deal with it accordingly.

    Honestly, there’s probably something good for you at the price you want if you do a little asking around and searching. Do the footwork to figure out an alternative rather than buying into a prepackaged strategy. Think about making your own dress, or trading services with someone. It’s the mental exercise portion of your fiscal diet.

    You don’t need to steal from Vera Wang or Wal Mart, you just need to stay the hell away from both of them.

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