This summer, the streets are bound to overflow with 19-year-old
mallrats in camo print sports bras and matching sweats. But when your
niece shows up to the family barbecue in deeply inappropriate,
cleavage-baring duds, who will you have to thank for it? That’s the
question Kardashian fans and trend watchers have been wondering ever since Kylie Jenner—Kendall Jenner’s sister turned makeup mogul—was publicly dragged for ripping off a black female designer last week. The
kontroversy kicked off when the pint-sized Kim Kardashian impersonator
launched a new line of camo print merchandise on her website, The Kylie
Shop. For some context, Kylie Jenner isn’t your average celebrity, which
means that her online merch shop isn’t just shilling half-off American
Apparel T-shirts. Jenner is an unbelievably influential trendsetter
whose makeup products, corset dresses and bikinis regularly sell out
within minutes. Any girl who’s ever used the Snapchat puppy effect has
probably purchased at least one Kylie lip kit, which makes her a highly
successful businesswoman. But while Jenner’s entrepreneurial spirit and
her eye for matte glosses that will really help you stand out during
sorority rush are undeniable, her originality has long been up for
debate. See, the Kardashians aren’t designers so much as they are
curators—which becomes an issue when fans start to wonder if they’re
creating trends or just co-opting them.

Designer Tizita Balemlay of PluggedNYC
is putting her foot down with Jenner’s new collection, lest any
well-meaning style blog declares that Kylie “invented camo.” PluggedNYC
has been selling camo sets that look eerily similar to Jenner’s for a
while now. Even more damningly, Jenner actually has a relationship with
Balemlay—meaning that she went a step further than just ripping off a
random designer that she found on her Instagram explore page.

According
to screenshots that Balemlay shared on social media, Jenner has been a
longtime fan of her designs, which she has been spotted modeling on
multiple occasions. Balemlay also alleges that Kylie was the first
person to receive PluggedNYC’s camo set when it originally launched
around Memorial Day of this year. While the designer was initially “so
excited” to work with Jenner and her stylist, the relationship naturally
soured once Jenner started promoting her own line of derivative duds.

Balemlay
fought back by posting an Instagram with side by side images of her own
work and Kylie’s offerings, captioned, “When you really Pablo… I am
the influence *drops mic. Copy & Paste down to the shoes I used on
my models The kardashains will take your n—a & brand I stamp
lmfaooo #WeAreTheCulture.”

Now I know what you’re thinking: Kelly, Michelle and Beyoncé did not debut the definitive castaway-chic take
on this look way back in 2001 only to have these ladies arguing over
who “invented” the camo two-piece in 2017. Intellectual property claims
are famously difficult to enforce in the fashion world, where trends
seamlessly spread from high to low fashion purveyors and designers
appear to be in near-constant sartorial conversation. While Balemlay’s
receipts certainly betray some very shady behavior from the Jenner camp,
it’s hard to imagine her allegations having a tangible effect on
Jenner’s sales or even her business practices. After all, this type of
“stealing” isn’t a misstep for Jenner—it’s a business tactic, and one that’s made her and her sisters quite successful.

In July 2016, Jenner was accused of copying
a New Zealand beauty vlogger’s eyeshadow palettes. The following
November, side by side images showed that one of Jenner’s makeup
campaigns looked shockingly similar to the work of makeup artist Vlada
Haggerty. As Haggerty told Refinery29 at
the time, “Crediting artists is essential, but this goes beyond that.
It’s theft. This is our livelihood. I see these things happen too many
times to artists.” Next, Jenner sold a crew neck that was heavily inspired by a streetwear brand, and sandals that looked very similar to a pair of Chanel mules.

Kylie Jenner and Khloe Kardashian stand accused of stealing fashions from black designers. - Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

© Provided by The Daily Beast
Kylie Jenner and Khloe Kardashian stand accused of stealing fashions
from black designers. – Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily
Beast

While Kylie might have the most colorful history when it comes to
borderline copyright infringement, her sisters are quickly catching up.
Khloé Kardashian appears to have recently applied Jenner’s unsavory MO
to her own denim line, Good American. On June 2, designer Destiney Bleu fanned out her virtual receipts on Twitter,
claiming that Kardashian’s camp reached out to borrow pieces from
Bleu’s line of bedazzled nude bodysuits—styles that were then ripped off
by Good American. Just two days after Bleu took her case to the people,
Kardashian countered with a cease and desist letter, arguing that
Bleu’s accusations are defamatory.

And
while Bleu doesn’t seem inclined to sue Kardashian or Good American at
this time, she and her attorney couldn’t resist this opportunity to get
in a few digs. “It is not illegal for Khloé to copy Destiney’s
designs—it is just tacky, disrespectful, and in bad taste… Destiney
has a Constitutionally protected right to inform others that Khloé
Kardashian has copied her designs. She will not silently abdicate that
right in response to a frivolous, two-bit email from you threatening
legal action,” her defense statement reads.

Bleu
continues, “There is also something deeply uncomfortable about someone
with Khloé’s wealth and power appropriating designs and fashion directly
from a Black woman with a small business without crediting her, making
cheap knockoffs, and then attempting to threaten her into silence.”

The
Kardashian klan is tapping into a long history of American
entrepreneurs who spot trends and then repackage them for new markets.
Instead of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, they’re taking
from predominately African-American designers and influencers, and
making their aesthetics accessible and desirable to new demographics—in
Jenner’s case, teenage KUWTK fans with twenty bucks to blow on matte lip gloss (the kind that you could buy at ColourPop or your local Walgreens).

Saying
that Kylie Jenner started the matte lip trend or invented boxer braids
is like saying that Kanye West created taupe or discriminatory model
casting. Kylie and Khloé’s ripped-off designs hit a nerve because they
play into one of the more problematic aspects of the Kardashian brand:
the fact that they are so consistently lauded for creating trends or
looks that women of color have been rocking—with far less fanfare—for
decades.

This narrative started as soon as the Kardashians got
famous, with Kim making headlines for making big butts sexy and
mainstream. Swift backlash posited that Kardashian hardly invented
curves—that she was only being praised because she was a white woman,
while a black star with similar proportions wouldn’t make the same sort
of splash. And then there’s Kylie, who not only exaggerates her curves,
but even insists on wearing cornrows (while failing to acknowledge her whiteness or tell her millions of fans that #BlackLivesMatter).

Jenner’s tone-deaf cultural appropriation
is already grounds for critique. The idea that she literally steals
from black women to turn a profit makes her even more problematic. After
all, there’s a difference between appropriating a culture and literally
snatching somebody’s labor. As much as this conversation is bigger than
Kylie Jenner and Khloé Kardashian, it’s also bigger than these discrete
instances, and bigger than an argument over best business practices.
After all, Balemlay and Bleu aren’t just fighting for their
profits—they’re fighting not to be erased from the cultural moments that
they had vital roles in creating. As Balemlay told Buzzfeed,
“At the end of the day money equals power and the Kardashians have that
power. This is a prime example…I don’t have the buzz she does or the
money for billboards.”

When publications declare an established aesthetic or style to be a “hot new trend
just because the Kardashians are doing it, that’s its own form of
injustice. And when Kylie Jenner tries to put herself at the forefront
of yet another co-opted trend, it’s up to the rest of us to amplify the
designers she’s erasing.

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