Silvia Ulson does not sell swimwear. It’s worth repeating: She does not sell swimwear. Which begs the question: Why would a designer attempt to plagiarize another designer’s swim collection — down to the last stitch, no less; not exactly subtle — at a show she creates each year “for fun,” with no swimwear to sell?
To see the two collections side-by-side, it would seem to be an open-and-shut case. The collections are identical down to the finest detail.
Indeed, FWO was the first press outlet to run to Bfyne’s defense.
FWO was the first press outlet to run to Bfyne’s defense
And seemingly, that would be the end of that.
Except for a few odd — and important — details.
The first is the strange way in which the issue was handled. Instead of simply having a lawyer contact Ulson’s team, John Adele visited Ulson in her home and shot a video of her and her children while making his accusation. (Something Adele also told FWO about.)
Inappropriate? A little. But possibly understandable, given the gravity of the offense.
Next came a series of emails to press outlets ascribing a racial motive to the plagiarism, which — not surprisingly — set off a series of stories online, complete with the inevitable backlash on social media, including threats against Ulson’s children.
Then stranger details appeared: for example, the fact that those same Bfyne garments — again, down the last stitch — are somehow available on several websites, including Amazon and Ali Express — under “dashiki swimsuit.” Some, interestingly, are even labeled “Brazilian bikini” (even though the designs are clearly African).
Bfyne’s John Adele told FWO that these are actually knock-offs of Bfyne’s designs, some even using Bfyne’s own promotional photographs.
And this may be so.
However, Adele also told Ulson’s team that, in a strange coincidence, Bfyne also sources garments and materials from Brazil.
So what exactly is going on here?
The key may lie in one Fernando Zhuma: an independent contractor Ulson claims she hired to add to her designs in preparation for her Miami Swim Week presentation. (And it’s true that Ulson’s more basic designs bookend the final walkthrough.)
So what exactly happened?
Did Zhuma manufacture the garments based on Bfyne’s designs, then sell them to Chinese “knock-off” sites and Ulson? How did Zhuma get the patterns? Or did Zhuma sell commonly available clothes to both Zhuma and Bfyne, representing them an legitimate subcontracted work?
The bottom line is that the designs are not Ulson’s. She claims they were added at the last minute to flesh out a small collection for a fun runway show. In fact, she says — on the video shot by John Adele at her home — she is open that she never designed them: that they were contracted.
she is open that she never designed them
Contracting and subcontracting work is not uncommon in the fashion industry. Many garments with designer names are made by staff working for a design house, with inspiration and sign offs from a lead designer.
When it comes to a “for fun” show, the rules may be more lax.
Ulson’s annual Miami Swim Week show is meant to “celebrate Brazilian culture,” and the designs she actually created for 2018 were based on traditional Brazilian patterns, researched from a trip she made to visit indigenous peoples.
Her mistake seems to have been rushing to fill out a collection that was too small by putting too much trust in a subcontractor who, she says, “pushed” the designs on her when she wasn’t satisfied with the other ideas he had presented her with.
Designs by Silvia Ulson
Ulson’s team shared legal documents showing there is now an active Brazilian police investigation against Zhuma.
there is now an active Brazilian police investigation against Zhuma
But what has made matters worse for Ulson is the way Bfyne has handled the situation.
According to Ulson’s PR representative:
“Even after Silvia spoke to John Adele, explaining she was a victim just like them, strangely the label her never responded to her for explanations, never officially notified her, and just kept distributing fake news to the American press.
“Bfyne never gave a chance to try a solution. Instead … they’ve kept threatening ‘to end her career’ (Adele’s words).
“The threats became more criminal and more dangerous when they knew Silvia was looking for Brazilian press to tell her side of story. Adele sent her a video of her 9-year-old son he recorded when he visited her apartment in Miami with a false identity. It is a clear threat to her family.
Adele sent her a video of her 9-year-old son
“It’s impossible to make contact with Adele or any other Bfyne representative, [including] designer and founder Buki Ade.”