The acclaimed fashion designer has been crowned the ‘undisputed king of the frock’ – but with identical dresses widely available on fast fashion outlets, questions are being asked about his design practices.
This story was first published on Stuff.
He has been described as the “knight of New Zealand fashion”, his designs a favourite among celebrities on the red carpet and regularly featuring in glossy magazine spreads.
But within New Zealand’s tight-knit fashion industry questions have been swirling about Adrian Hailwood’s design practices, after it emerged the same dresses worn by the likes of Tova O’Brien, Wendy Petrie, Ria Hall, Antonia Prebble and even former prime minister Jacinda Ardern are widely available through Chinese manufacturers trading on wholesale site Alibaba.
Now a major Chinese fast fashion chain, Urban Revivo, is investigating claims of intellectual property breach after four garments featured in Hailwood’s Summer 2023 collection appear identical to clothing sold under the Urban Revivo brand.
Following several enquiries by Stuff, Hailwood conceded some items in his latest collection are not his own designs, confirming he bought “pre-made designs” directly from third-party suppliers and rebadged them for his eponymous label.
The acclaimed designer would not say what proportion of his range were original designs versus pre-made designs, but a Stuff investigation has found of the 40 items from Hailwood’s Summer 2023 collection on its website, 29 identical matches to clothing sold through garment manufacturers trading on Alibaba.
Items of an identical design are also available to purchase from popular fast fashion outlets such as Shein, Boohoo, ASOS, and Urban Revivo, along with online retail giants Amazon and AliExpress for just a fraction of the prices Hailwood is charging.
Several other items in Hailwood’s latest range closely resembled clothing sold through Alibaba, but Stuff could not conclusively determine whether they were identical due to the generic nature of the garments.
When Stuff first approached Hailwood, he said he had been made aware of some of the duplicates, but claimed his designs had been “leaked” and later replicated by manufacturers in Guangzhou, China, where his garments are produced.
“I can’t actually do anything about it. It’s happening more and more. Especially when everything is available online. There’s nothing I can do about it, so I just let it go.
“[The manufacturers] on-sell everything … it’s gotten worse the last two or three years.”
However, after further clarification was sought on the origin of his designs, Hailwood confirmed some items in his range are “pre-made designs” obtained directly from manufacturers in China.
“In the market segment in which I operate, assembling a retail collection each year does not involve sitting down and creating a line of wholly original pieces from scratch,” Hailwood explained in an email.
“They may be my original designs, my existing designs made with new fabric or somewhat tweaked, or pieces designed overseas and acquired for the collection.
“Usually, with pre-made designs, I would then supply my own specs to the manufacture of a run, in various sizings, based on my experience in design and textiles of the way, for example, fabrics fit and hang. Because of Covid and travel restrictions, in 2020 and 2021 travel was impossible.”
The PM and the pleats
The duplicate designs emerged after Jacinda Ardern was pictured in Hailwood’s “tree dress” in the January edition of the Australian Women’s Weekly. A source in the fashion industry, who declined to comment further and did not wish to be identified, suggested Stuff do a reverse image search on the dress.
The results turned up multiple Chinese online wholesalers selling the same design, with the cut, print and pleated fabric all appearing identical to the Hailwood dress.
The dress is available for wholesale purchase from several manufacturers on Alibaba from just $24-$26 USD ($37-40) per unit depending on the size of the order. The dress was retailing in the Hailwood store for $250 (on sale from $399) and this week had been slashed to $150.
Both the Hailwood dress, which Stuff has viewed in the designer’s Karangahape Rd store, and the stock available on Alibaba, are unlined and made of 100% polyester.
Hailwood initially asserted the dress and fabric are his original designs, which have been copied.
“That’s my actual print, I designed the print and the dress is my homage to the [late Japanese designer] Issey Miyake. That pleat stuff [Miyake] came up with and he designed it and I have dedicated that dress to him … this is my homage to him.”
But Stuff has been able to trace the origin of the dress to a high-end British womenswear brand, Solace London.
The UK fashion house is selling an identical design, the Mirabelle dress in Newton Green, for more than $800.
Solace London declined to comment, but metadata obtained from the company’s website reveals images of the distinctive green pleated dress were first uploaded in February 2021. Hailwood’s version appeared on his website in September 2022.
The UK company, founded by designers Laura Taylor and Ryan Holliday-Stevens, describes the Mirabelle dress as one of its “signature designs”. It has released a version of the dress in varying colours and prints every season dating back to 2018, with several celebrities pictured in the dress over the years, including British model and actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (2019) and Killing Eve’s Fiona Shaw (2018).
When questioned about the resemblance of the Solace London dress to his design, Hailwood walked back his claims of originality.
“There may have been some confusion in our earlier discussion. In particular, I did not design the tree dress and would not have wanted to give that impression,” he wrote.
He added that he has not claimed that “pre-designed dresses are originals that I designed”.
Unpicking the sequins of events
Further reverse image searches of Hailwood’s Summer 2023 range revealed widespread duplication.
One of Hailwood’s most lauded dresses from his collection, the Phoenix dress, is also the most ubiquitous.
The striking sequin gown has been a favourite among celebrities, with television personalities Antonia Prebble, Sonia Gray and Kura Forrester wearing it at various black tie events last year. Prebble, wearing the dress at a Breast Cancer Cure event in September, proclaimed Hailwood “the undisputed king of the frock”.
The same dress is available for purchase from multiple wholesale outlets on Alibaba and online retailers with shopfronts on AliExpress and Amazon. It is also one of the best-selling items on popular fast fashion website Shein, where it retails for $88.95. The Hailwood dress was for sale online for $699, reduced from $999. Since Stuff began making enquiries, it is now listed as sold out.
Hailwood initially maintained the dress is his own design, but was vague when asked when the garment was designed and produced, claiming it was made “maybe a year ago”. When it was pointed out that the same dress has more than 1000 reviews on the Shein website dating back to January 2020, Hailwood revised his dates.
“Actually that was designed before lockdown. I did it before, ah, when did I do it? Ah 2020, probably that same year.”
A spokesperson for Shein has since confirmed the dress, which was produced by a third party supplier “Missord” – a trademark of Guangzhou Pinchuan Clothing Ltd, has been available on its platform since October 2019.
In a later email, Hailwood clarified that the Phoenix dress “uses a basic gown design of mine from 2017, with new fabric supplied by a manufacturer”. He added that the items available on fast fashion outlets may be “similar looking but lower quality products” to garments in his range.
Stuff purchased the Missord gown through AliExpress to compare with Hailwood’s Phoenix dress on display in the store. The two dresses are identical in fabric, design and cut, however the lining was unable to be examined as it was on a mannequin.
Hailwood did not address questions of how his dresses differ in quality from those sold through fast fashion chains.
Sequins, considered a trademark of Hailwood’s design aesthetic, are a feature of his evening wear collection.
Stuff has found many of the same sequin gowns widely available on Alibaba – an online platform that connects manufacturers and wholesalers in China to individuals and businesses around the world looking to trade or resell.
One of the gowns, the Galactica, worn by actor Claire Chitham to the NZTV Awards, was initially priced at $2899, before being reduced to $1899. An almost identical dress can be found on Alibaba selling for between $35-40 USD ($54-62). The only visible difference between the two gowns is the Alibaba version has a mesh panel in the bust area, making it less revealing.
Hailwood acknowledged the similarities, but said there was a vast gulf in quality between the two items.
“The Galactica gown, which was the most expensive of the 2022/23 range was made to measure for each customer, with sequined panels cut specifically to be joined together to fit the wearer, versus for example a similar looking dress on Alibaba available in one size only [Stuff has confirmed the dress is available in 10 sizes from the manufacturer] and, at that price point, almost certainly lower quality workmanship,” Hailwood wrote.
Despite Hailwood’s assertion that the dress is tailored individually for each customer, the garment can be purchased directly from his website.
Stuff has traced a further four garments from Hailwood’s range, the captain shirt, canton rose pleat dress, festiva top and festiva dress to items sold under the Urban Revivo brand. Urban Revivo is one of China’s leading fast fashion outlets, with more than 300 stores across Asia and Europe. The label is also sold through online retailer ASOS.
A spokesperson for Urban Revivo confirmed the four items were designed for its 2022 spring/summer collection, which has been shipping since September 2021. The company added that it held the intellectual property rights for the items and its legal team would be investigating the matter further.
“Urban Revivo is a company with a global footprint dedicated to enhancing and promoting global IP protection and awareness,” they said.
Hailwood did not address specific questions about the allegations of intellectual property breach, or the origin of the garments, but offered some general comments about the process of curating his range from overseas suppliers.
“I have no control over what manufacturers subsequently do with styles, fabrics and combinations that I have curated for my line,” he wrote.
“Manufacturers may offer exclusive rights for similar or even the same combinations to fashion lines in other countries, whose designers may have a similar eye.”
Other items available through Chinese manufacturers appear to be replicas of high-end designs.
Hailwood’s Gallup silk dress closely resembles a 2016 design by American luxury brand Tory Burch. The two dresses feature an identical print and cut, with the Tory Burch design featuring an additional tan leather detail. Another garment, the solar flare sequin mini dress, appears identical to a Michael Kors dress.
Hailwood did not address specific questions related to these two designs, but said it was possible that he “could be offered, and select, a combination that I did not know had been previously selected by another fashion house – and that appears to be what has happened in relation to the Tory Burch dress”.
Representatives from Tory Burch and Michael Kors did not respond to requests for comment.
Hailwood claimed his methods were no different to others in the industry, naming two other prominent New Zealand fashion designers that he said operate in a similar manner.
Stuff analysed the two designers’ ranges, but did not find any duplicate designs on the market.
One source agreed it’s not unusual for designers to source samples from manufacturers and tweak the design, colour and fabric. The source added in these cases designers will often offer a “curated” range at a lower price point.
However, the source was not aware of any designers buying mass-produced items directly from third party manufacturers and attaching their own branding to the clothing – a practice known as white labeling.
“This is more in line with what you would see from the big retail chains and fast fashion outlets,” they said.
Copyright and intellectual property infringement is also typically associated with the big fast fashion players like H&M, Zara and Shein, who have faced accusations of destroying the industry by plagiarising designs from couture brands and independent creators.
A major lawsuit filed in a New York federal court this month suggests it is an industry-wide issue, with Zara suing small Los Angeles-brand Thilikó, alleging serial copyright violations.
Part of Zara’s complaint alleges that Thilikó rebranded Zara items as its own with “exorbitant mark-ups,” and that it falsely positioned itself “as an independent fashion brand.”
Along with claims of intellectual property breaches, the practice of buying pre-made designs could see Hailwood fall foul of the Fair Trading Act.
A spokesperson for the Commerce Commission said it is incumbent on businesses to ensure they are accurately representing the origin and nature of the goods.
“Consumers often make purchasing decisions based on claims about the characteristics of goods, such as brand name or where goods are made.
“The claims businesses make must be accurate and must not mislead or deceive consumers or they will be breaching the Fair Trading Act. Businesses should take care to consider how consumers may interpret any claims made about products or the brand to ensure the claims are clear and not misleading.”
The Act does not provide any rules around retail mark-up as businesses are free to set their own prices. However, if a business gives a reason for a high price, then that reason must be true.
While Hailwood maintains he is not passing off mass-produced designs as his own work, some descriptions on his website are suggestive of bespoke items.
The blurb accompanying the Phoenix dress, available on Shein since October 2019, reads: “A phoenix feather rising from the flames in stretch sequins was designed by us to be a truly show stopping gown.”
The tree dress, worn by Ardern, is described as “our ode to the great maestro Issey Miyake”.
The price of fast fashion
The practice of buying mass produced clothing has long sparked ethical and environmental concerns.
Outlets like Shein have come under fire with its garments often made in sweatshops where underpaid workers are employed for long hours in unsafe conditions and are exposed to harmful chemicals used in textile production.
Hailwood’s company carries Child Labor Free certification – an agency established in 2015 to independently certify supply chains of fashion brands – giving buyers assurances that clothing is ethically sourced. However, the organisation quietly closed in mid-2018.
Hailwood said he was not aware that the agency had not been operating for the past four and a half years.
“I use the same factory that received that accreditation and am confident they still meet the standards set when the agency was operative,” he said.
Hailwood declined to provide details of his manufacturers in China as he did not want to risk the relationships he had “forged over the years of proudly being an NZ designer”.
Jacinta FitzGerald, programme director for Mindful Fashion, stressed there are ethical manufacturers overseas.
“Some of our members manufacture offshore, so it is not like everything offshore is bad, or everything you buy as a complete garment from someone is bad, it’s more about, what do you know about it?” said FitzGerald.
“The general thing that we would encourage businesses to think about when they are procuring product is the transparency of the supply chain, so they understand who, where and how something is made.
“Some of the known challenges in the clothing industry – poor labour standards and workers rights, toxic chemicals, child labour – can’t be ignored because you are a small business.”
Next in fashion
At a Fashion for a Cure fundraising event in Christchurch in November, Hailwood gave audiences a glimpse of his upcoming collection.
TVNZ presenter Wendy Petrie, the event MC, is pictured in a striking pale dress with an intricate floral sequin design.
The post on Hailwood’s instagram account, captioned “Wendy looking stunning in @hailwood next season evening wear”, is gushed over by a who’s who of celebrities and fashion insiders.
An identical Missord label gown has already sold out on Shein.