In June 2016, fashion and accessory brand Valfré debuted a pastel-hued rainbow phone case. Eight months later, so did Forever 21 – the fast fashion store located in probably every mall you’ve ever visited. Like Valfré’s version, F21’s phone case features a red, pink, yellow, and blue rainbow sandwiched between two clouds. And just like that, another indie artist came forward to denounce a large retailer for allegedly stealing his or her design. Last week, Mexican-born designer Ilse Valfré – the former schoolteacher who has built a successful art, clothing, and accessories brand – has accused both Forever 21 and Rue 21 (which are two separate companies) of selling phone cases and headphones that look more than inspired by her own designs.
According to Jezebel, Valfré and her team first learned of the alleged design theft after fans of the indie brand brought it to their attention. During the team’s research, they learned that Rue 21 may have ripped off three of Valfré’s designs. The indie brand sent the two companies a cease and desist. “It’s crazy how blatant it is,” the company’s CEO, Donald Eley, told Jezebel. “It was crazy to see these photos side by side and then think fashion companies can get away with this, though most of them do get away with this. But we’re here to stand up for intellectual property.”
Independent artists have accused Forever 21 and other major retailers of stealing their designs in the past. Last year, LA artist Tuesday Bassen accused Zara of plagiarism and had her lawyer contact the Spanish fashion brand. Reportedly, the company said the artist had no case because she was just an indie artist, according to Dazed. “Not enough people even know about me for it to matter,” Bassen said.
Valfré – who Forbes and Nylon have written about and who counts Kali Uchis as one of her customers – has some name recognition. As such, her accusations have garnered headlines across the internet, including on Teen Vogue and Fashionista. If a chain as popular as Forever 21 is stealing her work, then it’s directly profiting from her labor and ideas without compensation. And Valfré simply cannot compete with Forever 21.
“People come to Valfré for unique products that aren’t mass produced,” the designer told Fashionista. “Forever 21 is in the business of mass producing and that’s how they are able to offer the pricing that they do.”