The mass copying of a style is what creates a trend, and trends sell clothes today. This is why many in the industry furiously protect their right to ripping each other off. Two law professors, Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman, have argued against the design piracy act on the grounds that the American apparel industry “may actually benefit” from copying, as it speeds up the creation and exhaustion of trends.
Note the clever assignment of the externality. Rapid copying is needed for customers to develop the expectation that trends come and go rapidly, and thus to get customers to visit the store and buy today. Yet no single business will invest enough on its own in creating these broader expectations, because the industry as a whole reaps the benefit. The “copying game” induces the sellers to, in essence, act collusively to help establish these “hurry up and buy now” expectations.
The quotation is from Elizabeth L. Cline’s Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, which I quite enjoyed reading, despite some glaring weaknesses when it comes to FDI, wages, and foreign development. I now understand the affordable yet fashionable clothing stores in Tysons Corner Mall, and how they have changed over the last fifteen years, and I can thank this book for that.