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How the Diet Prada cofounders became the fashion industry’s most influential watchdogs

For calling out copycat fashion designers and championing new ones, Diet Prada cofounders Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler are among Fast Company’s Most Creative People of 2019.

How the Diet Prada cofounders became the fashion industry’s most influential watchdogs
[Photo illustration: Daisy Korpics; source images: Ben Beagent (Diet Prada); MontyLov/Unsplash (fabric)]

One of the most influential voices in the fashion industry right now belongs to Diet Prada, an Instagram account with 1.3 million followers. Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler, who met while working at the accessories label Eugenia Kim, started the account in 2014 as a lighthearted way to call out knock-off designs, cheekily showcasing side-by-side images of, say, a Marni rehash of a Prada shirt from a few years earlier. In the past year, though, Diet Prada has become a champion for design integrity and accountability in an industry undergoing upheaval. Liu and Schuyler, who fund the project through branded merchandise and partnerships with select fashion brands, continue to call out too-close-for-comfort imitations by well-known designers including Virgil Abloh, Jason Wu, and Christian Siriano. But Diet Prada is now equally focused on revealing how fast-fashion brands and influencer-owned labels peddle knock-offs from designers too small to fight back. “Young creatives don’t have the resources to battle in court,” says Liu. The pair are also using the account to root out examples of model abuse, misogyny, and racism in the industry. The duo’s efforts last November to highlight a racially charged Dolce & Gabbana ad featuring a Chinese model—along with a series of racist DMs that appeared to be from Stefano Gabbana—reportedly reached Chinese officials, who canceled D&G’s planned Shanghai runway show. “There are many problems in fashion beyond knock-offs,” says Schuyler. “We’ve got a community that wants to hear about these things and keep these people accountable.”

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Fast Company: You’ve been a watchdog for the fashion industry, but it seems like you’ve really moved from copycatting into exploring issues of racism, misogyny, and more in the industry. Is that a fair was to describe it?

Lindsey Schuyler: Definitely. As the audience has grown, we’ve seen the scope of issues that people are interested in talking about grow. It’s important to give them a place to discuss these things, because there are so many larger problems in the industry beyond knock-offs.

Tony Liu: When we started, Diet Prada was very much just for fun. We didn’t really know what it would become, even three years into it. It’s just really in the past year that we realized we would do something bigger with this account.

Fast Company: You’re describing Diet Prada as an account for other people’s discussions. Do you really see this as a community forum?

TL: The account [reflects] our personal passions, but as it has grown, we’ve realized that it has the power to be this public forum. There’s a big element of user generation in the content we feature. So a lot of [Diet Prada] is us, and a lot of it is what other people are craving to talk about and to have their voices and comments be seen—not just by our 1.2 million followers but the top-tier, heavy hitters in the fashion industry that track us.

FC: Your posts now drive a lot of stories in the fashion industry. What do you see as your biggest recent accomplishments?

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TL: I think the most major thing was shutting down the Dolce & Gabbana fashion show in Shanghai. I think neither of us expected that that would happen. When we were preparing to call [Dolce & Gabbana] out [for its racist ad], we were like, Oh, maybe some models will drop out or the attendance might be low. But for the entire show to be canceled: that’s when we realized, Hey, we can actually do something. We’re not just all talk.

FC: I also thought it was notable when you pointed out the similarities between two of Christian Siriano’s gowns and some older Valentino ones in February, and he pulled them immediately. Have you had a reaction like that from a designer before?

LS: We’ve definitely seen merchandise get pulled because of our posts. But [Siriano] was one of the swiftest and most-high profile cases. He’s such a big force in the American design world, especially for red carpet.

TL: We also go hard on influencers. There was a jewelry line we called out from We Wore What’s Danielle Bernstein that Nordstrom carried. It was cherry-picked knock-offs of different jewelry designers that she had relationships with. We also called out a recent Valentino knock-off bag from Keely D, a line by this influencer Dani Austin. It’s all just super sketchy.

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Valenti-NOOOO! Another day, another influencer launching a line full of knock offs. This time, instead of cherry picking fashion’s greatest hits, @daniaustin ‘s recently relaunched bag line @keelyd seems to be comprised entirely of @maisonvalentino Rockstud bags from the last few years. We smell another shady Alibaba import business. Swipe to see all + some cringeworthy irony from the brand’s instagram. • #valentino #valentinogaravani #maisonvalentino #rockstud #rockstuds #blogger #influencer #knockoff #alibaba #aliexpress #daniaustin #keelyd #import #leather #accessories #bags #purseaddict #clutch #envelopeclutch #utilitybag #trapezebag #crossbody #studs #punk #glam #ootd #wiwt #dietprada

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FC: What’s driving all this copycatting? Is it fast fashion, influencer culture—both?

LS: I see the fast-fashion churn [as the most problematic trend] because it builds this expectation that everybody should have a disposable wardrobe. Just look at the amount of clothing everybody’s buying, every year, to keep up with this new social-media ideal: Like, oh, I already posted that. I can’t wear it again. In terms of [environmental] impact, it’s huge. And then you add all the intellectual property issues on top of that. But at the same time, we’re seeing some of this churn coming from the top down.

TL: With Instagram, it’s so easy for designers to browse their feed and look at like young creatives—furniture designers, interior designers, fashion designers—and just swipe their work. These young creatives are small and don’t have the resources to battle in court, not that [the laws] are very favorable in terms of design protection. It’s tough to go up against these huge companies that might take something that [a young creative] spent years developing and make millions of dollars off of it—with no attribution, no contribution, as far as licensing the idea or the concept. We feel a responsibility to help as much as we can.

FC: Can you give me an example of a successful intervention?

TL: Last year, Target used artwork from this queer Mexican artist, Felix d’Eon, for their Pride collection without attribution. They pulled it pretty quickly after we posted about it, and he ended up getting a lot of sales from Etsy as a result. So we helped in our way.

LS: Sometimes with these small designers, the actual payback they would get if they managed to take a big house or company to court—and win—would be small. Sometimes what we do, bringing awareness to the original creators, can be more beneficial.

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FC: You’ve been posting more about racism and cultural appropriation in the industry. You’ve written about Dolce & Gabbana, of course, but also racist imagery that cropped up in Prada and Gucci designs over the past year. Why does this keep happening?

LS: [The Prada and Gucci examples] really show why you need more diversity at all levels within a company, and that people need to understand history to stop these sorts of things from happening. Behaviors that have been almost systemic get dismantled pretty quickly when people start looking at them and questioning them.

TL: Both Prada and Gucci are in the process of establishing their diversity councils, which is a good sign. Being based in Italy, these companies may not be as exposed to some of these issues and the history around them. I think they’re just realizing now that they’re in over their heads with this stuff.

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Ummm…happy International Women’s Day? Russell Bateman ( @russellsbc ), the white male mastermind behind the invite-only fitness collective SBC (Skinny Bitch Collective), took a gang of seemingly cloned, pony-tailed white women on a retreat in Kenya. Among the sisterhood-fostering activities like hot air balloon rides, chef-prepared organic meals (that chia berry jam!), and dancing ‘round a tree of life, they also managed to use the local Maasai people not only as a backdrop, but as literal props in their fitness routines. Some videos have already been deleted, but screenshots appear to show the girls writhing around the locals like an obstacle course. Booty twisting on Maasai cloth chick deserves special mention…real classy lol. It’s 2019 and apparently people still haven’t learned that POC/ethnic groups don’t exist to embellish already privileged lives. The Colonial mindset is alive and well I guess… • #internationalwomensday #womensday #sbc #skinnybitchcollective #russellbateman #kenya #africa #poc #maasai #maasaitribe #tribe #health #fitness #retreat #smh #wtf #colonialism #chiaberryjam #lame #maasaishuka

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FC: You came down hard on this fitness company called the Skinny Bitch Collective for an influencer campaign it put together in Kenya that featured white models working out against the backdrop of Maasai people. How was this the purview of Diet Prada?

TL: I just saw the photos and thought, This is fucked up. [This kind of thing] happens a lot in the fashion industry, using exotic locales and local people as props or backdrops for a campaign. Then we started getting messages from Victoria’s Secret models and other models who have trained with [Skinny Bitch Collective founder Russell Bateman] and we realized it had even more to do with our industry.

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LS: Beyond the Africa trip, we saw [Bateman] upholding this really outdated physical ideal for women to aspire to, that had this sort of abusive edge to it.     

TL: We realized there was something deeper there, having to do with objectification of women and his habit of handpicking these girls [off of Instagram] to be in his [invitation-only] fitness program.

FC: Do you see more such Diet Prada campaigns in your future?

TL: As long as people keep fucking up!

FC: How are you monetizing all this?

TL: Sales of Diet Prada merchandise accounts for a good deal of our revenue right now. We also do partnerships with brands and institutions, such as museums that have fashion-related exhibitions that we could cover.

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LS: Our first takeover was with Gucci. But it was a while before we did another. Part of it is that we really want to make sure that we don’t partner with anybody that’s going to stray too far from our message.

TL: Some people think that the closer we get to certain companies and people in the industry, the more they’ll be [able] to buy us out. But we are not afraid to call someone out. It would look bad on the company’s end, too, if we stayed quiet—like they were paying for our silence. We’ve never been shy about like calling anyone out.

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Another men’s fashion week, another @off____white collection with cherry picked references from indie streetwear labels? This time, the designs in question are a yellow graffitied ensemble from Cologne-based @colrsbaby by @punkzec , who showed his AW18 collection at @arisefashionweek in Lagos in April 2018, and a graphic from Manchester label @gramm . It could be a coincidence, but Virgil has been known to swipe designs from the fans he meets, some of who happen to be young creatives themselves. Interestingly enough, @punkzec met Virgil prior to one of his presentations in Paris in 2017. Think they talked design? • #colrsbaby #punkzec #arisefashionweek #lagos #streetwear #graffiti #hypebeast #hype #virgilabloh #offwhite #streetstyle #wiwt #ootd #gramm #hoodie #sweatshirt #manchester #cologne #snobshots #dietprada

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FC: You haven’t been shy about calling out Virgil Abloh in your posts. In a recent profile in the New Yorker, he seemed to be referencing Diet Prada when he said that there’s a lot of negative energy on social media and that it hampers creativity. Do you think you play a negative role in the fashion ecosystem?

TL: I believe, firmly, that we can and have driven change. I had an altercation with someone big up in the industry [a few months ago], who basically said, it’s like not going to change; you are inhibiting creativity. But I don’t see it that way. I think people want to know where the source of inspiration comes from.

LS: To say that we’re inhibiting creativity is really silly. We’ve never said you shouldn’t use inspiration. And if you’re using it in a meaningful way, in a way that progresses a conversation, you’re not going to wind up on our page. We’re all for inspiration when it’s used to further art and fashion—rather than to just change something and sell it. ‘Cause there’s enough stuff out there already. 

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