This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

The Effects of Design Piracy on Consumer Perception: When Large Fashion Corporates Pirate Small Independent Fashion Designers




Ross, Kassandra

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis


Consumer and Design Sciences


Unlike most creative industries, fashion design is not adequately assessed by Intellectual Property law in the United States. Fashion design piracy occurs when part or all of a designer’s original design is reproduced or redistributed under the name of an unauthorized entity. A design piracy risk for designers who wish to protect their work is pervasive, and this occurrence has the potential to particularly impact small independent fashion designers (SIFDs) who may exclusively employ online media to reach their audience, allowing a vast online exposure to their designs. In fact, numerous notable cases have emerged within the last several years of SIFDs purportedly pirated by large fashion corporations (LFCs). Despite the swift emergence of this phenomenon and the apparent outcry from many in the fashion community, prior to this study, virtually no research has examined consumers’ reactions involving these occurrences. Bridging this gap, the purpose of this research was to examine the effects of a revelation of a fashion design piracy case on consumers’ perceptions about the LFC, the SIFD, and the design involved. Fifteen hypotheses predicting product and brand level consequences as revealed by consumers’ perceptions of an elicited fashion design piracy revelation were tested through an online experiment utilizing a student sample of 260 participants (145 women, Mage = 20.39). The study employed a 2 (Piracy Case: Granted Clothing [SIFD] and Forever21 [LFC], Piracy Case: Jamie Spinello [SIFD] and Nasty Gal [LFC]) x 3 (Revelation: LFC Exposure, SIFD Exposure, Revelation Exposure) between-subjects design utilizing stimuli determined through a pretest (n = 60) of 10 alleged piracy cases. At the product level, findings revealed a non-significant effect of a design piracy reveal on consumers’ perceived value and quality of both LFCs’ (pirated) and SIFDs’ (original) designs. At the brand level, the results revealed that a design piracy reveal had a non-significant effect on consumers’ brand attitude towards both the SIFDs and the LFCs, but significantly lowered consumers’ perceived ethicality of LFCs that pirated SIFDs. In addition, consumers’ perceived ethicality of the LFC was found to trend positively with their attitude toward the LFC brand. Results further indicated that a design piracy revelation lowered consumers’ perceived brand creativity for LFCs, but increased their perceived brand creativity for SIFDs. Subsequently, perceived brand creativity of LFCs and SIFDs was found to positively trend with brand attitude towards the LFCs and SIFDs, respectively.Several notable academic, societal, and managerial implications are discussed. At the forefront, this study offers a first of its kind by conducting an empirical analysis of a reversed piracy direction which has remained absent in current academic literature. Further, findings have practical implications that although brand attitude and value perceptions of the designs involved do not change after their piracy knowledge, ethicality towards corporate brands that pirate small designers, as well as brand creativity towards both corporates and small designers does. Future research is required to investigate differences between small designer and large corporate brand qualities that may alter consumers’ perceptions for some brands over others in terms of piracy knowledge. Further, an investigation of mediating and moderating analyses in the structural relationships for the proposed conceptual framework is recommended, as well as an analysis of long-term brand effects in chronic occurrences of this type of fashion design piracy.