What do Radhe Ma, Balenciaga Spring-Summer 2013, and Gauri & Nainika have in common? And more importantly, who copied whom? Imagine the three arguing for the ownership of the flamenco hem. Balenciaga would claim it on cultural grounds as flamenco belongs to Spain, Radhe Ma would cite the swirls of fabrics represented in religious Hindu iconography, and G&N would invoke the freedom of creative expression. Nobody would win. But with the recent arrival of @DietSabya, such nuanced conversations are becoming impossible.
Many within the fashion industry and almost everyone outside of it have given up attempts at intelligent dialogue in favour of the ready hilarity and shade that @DietSabya provides on a daily basis. I myself was not immune to it in the beginning, and sent them a message that ended with ‘good work, much respect’.
But with anything that finds public approval too fast, I began to question @DietSabya’s methods. Sure, they call out copies, most of them identifiable replicas. And a public conversation about plagiarism is required. But what kind of conversation should it be? And as an influential social media handle, what’s your role in directing that conversation?
#deniedsourcingrequest: #TBT to last year when @theanisha put @shahidkapoor in a head-to-toe rip-off of @kris_van_assche’s FW13 look—custom-made by @anujmadaancouture. Possibly the biggest style move of 2017! . . Still so #phresh that we had to #TBT on a damn Monday! . . Photo by the wonderful @colstonjulian . . #gandi #copy #custom #dietsabya
While most of @DietSabya’s followers aren’t from within the fashion industry, there is no doubt that the person/people behind it are. You don’t come up with a hashtag like #deniedsourcingrequest unless you’ve been denied a fair few of your own. So why are they using that knowledge to create this aura of negativity? Even @DietPrada, that @DietSabya admits openly to copying—we’ll sweep this under irony—posts less shade and initiates conversations. What is @DietSabya doing to address one of the fashion industry’s most vexing problems? Or am I mistakenly looking for meaning where only meanness sells?
In the midst of regular calling-out, they often post—in their Insta stories—screenshots of messages from (mostly young) designers talking about how scared they are to copy even a minor stitch detail, offering thanks for being held up to a higher standard. But how many who send in their congratulations do so genuinely? And how many do it just to get a shoutout on their Insta stories, or get on their good side preemptively?
The Numbers Game
Within a few months, @DietSabya has garnered more than 25,000 followers. One in two Indians are passionate about fashion, said Instagram in a recent insta-story post, citing the Global Web Index analysis of all internet users who use Instagram in the country. But does that mean they are all worried about plagiarism? No. You only need to see the comments on a majority of @DietSabya posts. Burn, slay, shade. It’s a gathering of gleeful witch-hunters. With hashtags like #gandi and a liberal sprinkling of poop and puke emojis, @DietSabya does little to curb that vibe.
So even if you wanted to build an explanation for @DietSabya—that they use this vocabulary to reach out to the masses—I have questions. Do you, dear reader, think that a lay @DietSabya follower will reconsider buying a Sabyasachi knockoff from Chhabra 555 at 1/10th the price? Hell, how many of their followers from within the fashion industry wear let’s-copy-everything Zara on a regular basis? I know I do.
The people exulting in these daily exposés know that they will never register on @DietSabya’s radar. So when the time comes to buy a wedding lehenga, they’ll head to any affordable copycat instead of commissioning a Sanjay Garg or Hemang Agrawal to weave Benarasi panels in real silver zari. Because they cannot afford it. What they can afford, though, is to indulge in the fun that @DietSabya provides.
So does @DietSabya really need to use their current vocabulary to appeal to the masses? Or should they target the people who matter by initiating important and intelligent conversations?
And most importantly, should they do this anonymously?
I don’t need to tell you about the problems of unchallenged online anonymity. And when it comes to anonymous social media accounts that take on the task of calling out anything—without knowing the founders’ real names, whom can we hold up to a higher standard of social media behaviour?
What @DietSabya does is easy. Mixed with their deep knowledge of the fashion world, and helped by software and apps that can match visual similarities, they post comparisons. But they forget that all of fashion is derivative—unless you pioneer technological innovation like Iris Van Herpen, or spend months developing original textiles like Rajesh Pratap Singh. Anju Modi, or Abraham & Thakore. Even then, parts of their work can be found elsewhere and from other periods, and even designers.
To Be, and What to Be
Plagiarism is evil and copying must be called out. But anonymity is just a way to continue throwing shade while keeping your day job secure and avoiding responsibility.
And in this context, @DietSabya reads somewhat like a troll, now: constantly pointing out similarities anonymously, often maliciously, and—there can be no greater damning evidence against it—to the great schadenfreude of the masses.
So now, the questions that the people behind @DietSabya must ask themselves are simple: Why are we doing what we are doing? And are we willing to come out into the open and claim this work as our own? No matter how right we are, are we willing to face those we have accused?
The writer requested @DietSabya repeatedly for an interview, assuring them that he would keep their identity secret. They refused a face-to-face meeting, and suggested they conduct the interview over email. He suggested a telephonic conversation more than once, and has had no response on that so far.