A shop in Los Angeles gained rapid publicity after creating a line of T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with the slogan “The Future is Female.” The sweatshirt grew in popularity through social media but it wasn’t until Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) was spotted wearing one that the item really took off.
But recently, Otherwild — a shop, studio and community center on Echo Park Boulevard — made news for a very different recent: a battle over potential copyright infringement. The shop has argued that model/actress Cara Delevingne began making and selling sweatshirts with the same designs as Otherwild’s without the shop’s permission. The celebrity posted a photo on Instagram showing the sweatshirts with a link to purchase.
But Otherwild's own design is a recreation. They began making the shirts after finding a photo of it on Kelly Rakowski’s Instagram account for HERSTORY, self-described as “Herstoric Lesbian Imagery.” The shop recently teamed up with HERSTORY to create clothing and accessories with queer-empowering slogans. Ten percent of proceeds from sales will go to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn.
Rachel Berks, owner of Otherwild, released this statement on Instagram in relation to the incident:
“The slogan “The Future Is Female” originates from Jane Lurie's and Marizel Rios' Labyris Books (1972), and Otherwild used @lizacowan's image of Alix Dobkin in the shirt (1975) with permission, as originally seen on Kelly Rakowski's @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y. Otherwild's redesign and reissue of the FIF tees and buttons is protected under copyright law, which mandates that any reproduction of an existing known public work must be altered at least 20% from the original. If model/actress Cara Delevingne wanted to sell my line, she would need to wholesale them from Otherwild, and because we donate 25% of our line's proceeds to Planned Parenthood, Delevingne's ethical practice would benefit not only our woman-owned small business but would also serve as a significant donation to PP. Delevingne could also choose not to wholesale from Otherwild and create her own design of the slogan on clothing to sell. But Delevingne's choice to lift and manufacture Otherwild's design, claiming it as her own to sell with an undisclosed charitable offering, is indefensible. Her actions ironically counter the very message of the slogan “The Future Is Female”, and it's confounding that she would do this to a small queer feminist-owned business after purchasing the product from us just a few weeks ago. Although under pressure, Delevingne has changed the line's attribution several times in the past 24 hrs., she has not yet offered to wholesale from us nor cease and desist blatantly copying and selling our designs.”
In a previous Instagram post, now deleted, Otherwild made it clear that the design was original even though the shop doesn't own the rights to the slogan itself. The original photo of musician Alix Dobkin wearing the shirt shows the slogan in a different font written in blue. Otherwild’s shirts diverge from this design by using a different font in black. The sweatshirt Delevingne wears shows white lettering, which Otherwild also used in its own sweatshirts.
The incident has stood out because Delevingne and Clark are currently dating, and according to Berks, Clark purchased two T-shirts. Amidst negative comments on her Instagram, Delevingne defended herself from Otherwild supporters by bringing into question whether the shop really owned any rights to the design.
The issue is complicated since Otherwild did not create the original slogan nor did they have copyright ownership of it. Legal action can be taken for the use of registered slogans, for example when Orange County's Blue Sphere sued Taylor Swift for her use of the phrase “Lucky 13” in clothing and a partnership. The claim was eventually settled and did not go to trial.
The original “The Future is Female” T-shirt was created for Labyris Books — hailed as the first women’s bookstore in New York City — but no one seems to know exactly who created it. Whoever did would have had to register the design under their ownership, avoiding copyright infringement in the future. Copyright law — when it comes to both pictorial/graphic works and functional, physical items — states that when a design is copyrighted, the creator of that design has exclusive rights to reproduce the work and create “derivative works” based on the copyrighted design.
But the creation of such a derivative work might be more egregious in the hands of Delevingne, someone with markedly more clout, influence and exposure than Berks and company. In addition, because the designer of the shirt is thus far not known, Otherwild could not reach out to ask for permission in using the slogan. Delevingne tagged Otherwild in her original post advertising the sweatshirts but it’s clear from later interactions that the shop did not know about the star’s use of the design. As commenters were quick to point out, the sweatshirts also bear an extremely close visual resemblance.
Otherwild has garnered a fan base that's been eager to speak up about the debacle on social media. Besides its ultra-feminist shirts, the shop also offers curated items from other makers. There are specially made pieces of jewelry and accessories but also humorous pieces like this boob pillowcase from San Francisco-based shop Gravel & Gold. The space also offers workshops on how to make beeswax candles and how to read tarot cards.
The shop will continue selling its “The Future is Female” items. At the moment, Delevingne’s sweatshirts are still available through Represent. All proceeds from Delevingne’s shirts support the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign while 25 percent of Otherwild sales go towards Planned Parenthood.
Thankfully, there’s no copyright on charitable donations.