‘It’s heartbreaking’: Emirati designer FMM speaks out on SHEIN stealing her designs

Emirati designer Fatima al-Mulla, founder of local fashion label FMM, told Al Arabiya English that SHEIN stole some of her designs, adding that it was not the first time this has happened.

China-based fast-fashion retailer SHEIN has been accused of copying other designers’ work and selling the products at a lower price, using much cheaper fabrics.

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Al-Mulla and her followers took to Instagram to shed light on the issue.

The latest design stolen by SHEIN. A dress designed by FMM (left) and the copied version sold on SHEIN (right). (Supplied)

When SHEIN stole her designs the first time, it responded to the designer via direct message on the social media platform.

The first time SHEIN stole her design. A dress designed by Fatima al-Mulla (left) and the copied product sold by SHEIN (right). (Supplied)

The first time SHEIN stole her design. A dress designed by Fatima al-Mulla (left) and the copied product sold by SHEIN (right). (Supplied)

“Hello, SHEIN respects the intellectual property rights of designers and artists and others. We take issues related to originality seriously and continuously improve our protection mechanism for originality. We also require our suppliers to comply with this code of conduct, and they need to demonstrate that their products do not infringe the intellectual property rights of third parties. If individual suppliers are found to be non-compliant, we will take immediate measures, and we will ban individual suppliers who have repeatedly infringed. At present, we have removed the product you mentioned and investigated the relevant suppliers. Thanks for your feedback,” SHEIN said in a direct message.

“When I posted it on my story, three or four people messaged me back to say that they bought the item [from SHEIN], it’s not good quality but it serves the purpose, it looks like your work. I was very shocked by that,” the designer explained in a phone interview with Al Arabiya English on Thursday.

Al-Mulla said that this was the second time SHEIN had copied her designs.

A dress designed by Fatima al-Mulla (left) and the copied product sold by SHEIN (right). (Supplied)

A dress designed by Fatima al-Mulla (left) and the copied product sold by SHEIN (right). (Supplied)

“This is not the first time actually, this is the second time,” she said. “The first time it happened, I thought to myself: don’t give them any attention or let them be in the spotlight. I have over 100,000 followers [on Instagram] so not a lot of people can afford the brand. If they see something similar, they might go get it.”

She continued, “When this happened with SHEIN, I realized that I’m not getting copied by small businesses, my designs were being copied by a large corporation that’s bringing in millions. How am I supposed to sustain myself then?”

Al-Mulla was selling one dress for $340 but when SHEIN copied it, the online seller was selling the same dress for $20.

“How can you compete even if you wanted to? You cannot,” the designer said.

SHEIN did not reply to Al Arabiya English’s request for comment.

An issue for 10 years

“This has been happening to me, on and off, for 10 years,” al-Mulla said.

The fashion designer is also a graphic designer and has struggled with copyright issues for a long time.

She was at an exhibition on Wednesday where she found another stall using one of her illustrations on a printed dress.

“The stall next to us didn’t have the exact print, but it’s my illustration on a printed dress and they’re selling it for way cheaper… and it’s just happening again and again and again.”

She added that she was pleased by the fact that social media has given her and fellow designers a voice to speak up against these issues.

Al-Mulla said that several other designers have had their designs stolen by SHEIN in the past and that one of her friends who works in IT told her algorithms being used by the retailer might be the reason why they are picking up on these products and reproducing them for a lower price.

“In this world of Instagram where people wear something maybe two or three times and that’s it. It’s fast, disposable fashion. Some people don’t care about the quality anymore as long as it looks amazing in pictures online,” she said.

“I was sick and tired of all the copies,” al-Mulla added.

“I reached a point where I was super depressed, I didn’t know what to do anymore. It was like I was doing free research and design for these businesses and it’s heartbreaking.”

Al-Mulla said that she was impressed by how social media is being used as a driving force for good and bringing people together.

The Emirati designer launched FMM in 2012 and has since expanded her business which now sells carpets, dresses, Kimonos, and accessories such as masks and passport covers.

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