If You Shame Them, Will They Pay?

They placed a small order for the shirts in early July, and publicized them on social media and through friends, planning to donate a portion of the proceeds to Planned Parenthood. “Of course, we hoped it would turn into something, and it has,” Ms. Carrasco said. “Unfortunately the reason is not necessarily the brightest.”

Last week, they were meeting with a customer who wanted to exchange her shirt for a different size. “As we were leaving, she was like, ‘Yeah, I’m so glad I bought this one because I saw the other one in Forever 21 and I love yours so much better!’ We were like, ‘What do you mean?’” Ms. Darton said.

Searching the retailer’s website, they spotted the shirt. Forever 21 was also selling a tee with “woman” spelled out in different languages, in black type in a vertical line down a white front.

They posted a side-by-side comparison on Instagram, taking care not to explicitly accuse the fast-fashion behemoth. By the next morning, the post was shared not only by fashion editors, but also left-leaning people outside the industry, along with the tired eye roll: It looked as if Forever 21 had copied the work of an independent designer.

This felt as familiar as an old knockoff purse. Back in 2011, Jezebel documented 50 complaints against the clothing store. (Its Forever 21 story stash runs deep.)

Earlier this month, Freckled Ace accused the brand of ripping off its tribal-print tank top; last month, the gender-bending boutique brand Wildfang complained when its slogan, “Wild Feminist,” appeared on a T-shirt sold by Forever 21. And in May, Valfré fired off a cease-and-desist letter when it believed its rainbow iPhone cases were being replicated.

Less than 18 hours after Ms. Darton and Ms. Carrasco posted the comparison, Forever 21 removed its version of the shirt from its website. “I follow Valfré, and I’ve bought some of her stuff,” Ms. Darton said. “I saw the Wildfang thing. I’ve known this is a thing, so when it happened I wasn’t totally surprised. I was surprised by how quickly they did it.”

In a statement to The New York Times, Forever 21 said, “The shirt in question was bought from a third party source. As soon as Forever 21 was alerted to the issue, we respectfully removed it from our website. Because this product did not have trademark or IP protections, there were no red flags raised at the time of purchase.”

Ms. Darton said that the…

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