Prom Girls Beware... Your Dress May Be A Knockoff!

On Thursday afternoon, a number of the fashion industries leading designers and retailers met in New York City to discuss an issue of growing concern in the prom industry. Among the attendees were representatives from Jovani, La Femme, Mori Lee, Sherry Hill, and Tony Bowls. The topic, bogus internet sites selling counterfeit garments to unsuspecting teenage girls. Many of these sites are based in China and are selling knockoff products while representing them as authentic garments from the industry's trendiest designers. In some cases, it has been reported that disappointed young ladies throughout the country have received no dress at all, with little to no recourse since they are not dealing with companies based in the United States of America.

Each of the attendees recanted their own stories of numerous calls they had received from disappointed prom girls that had been duped by these fraudulent sites and were now searching for a gown at the last minute. While these girls thought they were getting a great deal, what they were really getting was a sub-par garment and in some cases, no dress at all. These "frugal" shoppers were now forced to shell out additional funds to secure a gown for their special occasion. An event that was supposed to be their dream night had been turned into an absolute nightmare before it ever took place.

So what can prom goers do to protect themselves from these sites? Marissa Sharp, internet retail manager for RissyRoos.com, a leading online prom retailer, had the following suggestions; "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Dress designers set an MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) that all authorized retailers must adhere to. What does this mean? If you are able to find the garment you are looking for at a discounted price, chances are it's not legit. Furthermore, consumers also need to consider the ramifications of giving their personal credit card information to these unscrupulous web sites. If they are willing to mislead you into purchasing a counterfeit garment, what might they be willing to do with your personal credit card information at their disposal? Before purchasing from a prom dress from an online retailer, a good idea would be to visit the designer's site. Each designer has a complete list of their authorized retailers. This will ensure that you receive an authentic garment. Another good idea is to view the site's contact information. Make sure that the company is based in the United States. Most reliable companies offer quality customer support. Calling them directly to place your order will help put your mind at ease. Also, viewing the company's terms and conditions is of the utmost importance. Some bogus companies will tell you straight out that they are selling replicated items, never expecting the customer to read the fine print. Be sure you are comfortable with the return policy so that you are protected if your garment is not of acceptable quality."

Update: In June of 2012, Sherri Hill won a $5 million lawsuit in Manhattan Federal Court against two defendants accused of selling counterfeit garments under the Sherri Hill name. The defendants were even so brazen as to use the name Sherri Hill in a number of different domains they used to sell the garments online. The Court found that the defendants willfully violated two federally registered trademarks and twelve federally registered copyrights.  Ownership of the domains was transferred to Sherri Hill. Following the legal battle, the company has gone on to hire staff specifically devoted to sniffing out and reporting violations of copyright infringement on the web.

In an interesting twist, according to Manhattan federal court papers, Sherri Hill alleged that a particular knockoff of one of her dresses is constructed in such a way that it “makes the customers appear heavier around the waist and hips,” along with being uncomfortable to wear and made of subpar materials. In a subsequent interview with the New York Post, Dusty Hill, the designer's son and company president said, “The worst-case scenario [for us] is that a girl receives the dress and thinks it’s really a Sherri Hill dress.” Hill went on to say, “We looked at this sample and put it on a mannequin . . . It would make the girl look very heavy.”

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