Designers warn: Bride beware when buying online

The internet is awash with wedding dress sites promising couture gowns at a fraction of the price of a designer gown, but just like the old adage says – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Brides the world over have been sharing their knock-off horror stories online in the hopes of educating others, and the pictures are telling.

Uneven hemlines, ill-fitting, cheap fabrics, garish embellishments and in some cases, a completely different coloured dress than promised.

Disappointed brides have difficulty obtaining a refund from the often China-based sites, and are forced to shell out more money on a replacement gown.

It’s a problem that's leaving both Kiwi brides and designers frustrated and out-of-pocket as many of the knock-off sites steal dress promotion pictures directly from a designer's website, promising to replicate a gown.

A bride's tale

Invercargill-based bride Chantel Smolenski bought a wedding dress from Chinese marketplace site DHgate, which connects buyers to wholesale Chinese businesses.

She says she felt conflicted ethically about buying a knock-off dress, but wanted to see what it was like.

"Everyone's talking about it and it's so cheap…I wasn't actually thinking 'this is going to be my wedding dress'."

When her $120 dress arrived, it had noticeably uneven beading on the bodice, uneven armpit holes, and the fabric was "harsh and scratchy".

She emailed the seller to complain, but they told her she would need to pay for alterations herself.

Ms Smolenski tried mediation with the seller through DHgate, but was told she'd need to ship the dress back at a cost of $50.

"Realistically it wasn't worth it."

Ms Smolenski shrugged off the loss and on-sold her dress for $50 to a woman planning a 'trash the dress' photoshoot.

She says brides buying online are expecting too much, and need to realise they aren’t likely to get the look of a $3000 dress, for $200.

"I ended up with a designer dress that I paid through the nose for."

She says as soon as she tried it on in the bridal store she knew it was the right dress and after some internal debate about paying a large sum, went ahead with the purchase.

"I thought, well actually, I'm getting married once. I want to feel amazing and look amazing – and I did."

Ms Smolenski advises brides thinking of buying online to buy from "reputable companies" such as Amazon, rather than sites like DHGate.

"If you don't have to [buy online], don't."

Designers feel the pinch

Well-established dress designer Jane Yeh has been a fixture on the Auckland bridal scene for many years - but even she's not immune to being ripped off.

Her pictures of model Grace Barcelos Owen in a signature feather gown were stolen by a counterfeit site and displayed for a low price.

The site had gone so far as to remove Yeh's logo watermark from the pictures and replace it with its own.

Yeh says brides are taking a risk buying online, as there's no way they can be assured of the quality.

It’s fine to research by looking through thousands of pictures on Google but, at the end of the day, a wedding dress needs to be fitted to a woman's body to truly look perfect, she says.

Fellow Auckland-based designer Anita Turner-Williams, of Vinka Designs, says she hears many online wedding dress horror stories from brides.

One bride told her that not only was a dress she had purchased online several sizes too big, but as soon as she tried it on, her skin broke out in an itchy, red rash.

"You just think what a sad, horrible journey for them…they’re getting sucked into buying these gowns, foolishly thinking that they’re going to get a beautiful gown."

While all Vinka Designs dresses are made in New Zealand, Turner-Williams says she gets daily emails from companies based in China offering to manufacture her gowns for as little as $100.

"I am harassed; I'd say at least six emails a day."

However, the most frightening aspect is when she shows her gowns at bridal shows, and sees people "who are clearly not brides, getting their cameras out and photographing – in detail – our gowns".

Her business Facebook page had also garnered 'likes' from overseas dress factories.

"We're starting to get a bit more aware because it just doesn’t occur to us as Kiwis that people would be doing that kind of thing."

Turner-Williams believes it is hurting the domestic wedding dress industry, with designers choosing to import ready-made dresses instead of employing seamstresses.

"Designers are not protected at all, and one-by-one designers are just saying, 'you know what? I'll just import, it's easier'."

Most Kiwi designers are just "little seller-operators" and don’t have the funds to take legal action against knock-off sites.

"What are we going to do…we're just defenceless."

In order to protect herself against brides 'showrooming' – trying a dress on in store and then buying online – she charges a consultation fee and does not allow photos until a bride has paid a deposit on a dress.

The legal ups and downs

In the United States, designers have had enough.

The American Bridal and Prom Industry Association (ABPIA) last year won a legal victory against counterfeit merchants, after it filed several lawsuits against about 1000 knockoff dress sites.

The US courts ordered several preliminary injunctions against the sites, ordering all funds in defendants’ merchant accounts be frozen on sites such as PayPal, and directing the registrars of the website domains to disable and lock down sites until further notice.

It's difficult to put a figure on how much money Kiwi designers lose to knock-off sites.

The price range for wedding dresses is vast – from $500 for a basic offshore-made design, to more than $6000 for a top-of-the-line gown.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) could not provide figures on how much the wedding industry is worth, but more than 23,024 marriages were conducted in New Zealand last year, according to provisional figures from Statistics New Zealand.

An MBIE spokesperson says New Zealand intellectual property (IP) laws do not provide protection for designers when a breach is committed outside the country.

"The level of protection that other countries provide for designers is ultimately a matter for those countries to decide.

"Although most jurisdictions provide IP protections similar to those provided in New Zealand, seeking protection and enforcing rights overseas can sometimes be costly and difficult."

While overseas websites selling dresses to New Zealand customers are subject to New Zealand consumer law such as the Fair Trading Act, the practical options for consumer redress may be limited if the business does not have a physical presence in New Zealand, the spokesperson says.

"Those purchasing items from overseas need to bear in mind that there are risks involved, they should be cautious and do their research to make sure the company is reputable before making the purchase."

Proceed with caution

It should be said that not all Kiwi brides buying online strike trouble and, in fact, some swear by it.

When asked by 3 News, several brides said they had received "perfect" and "stunning" knock-off dresses at a reasonable price.

One bride from Christchurch said she was nervous about buying online, but the gown she received was "beautiful quality and so well made".

"I paid peanuts for it compared to what I originally was going to buy," she said.

But as the New Zealand Retailers Association points out, it truly is a case of 'bride beware'.

Spokesman Greg Harford says the association advises people to shop locally to be sure they're covered under the Consumer Guarantees Act and Fair Trading Act if problems arise. 

The association has launched a #BuyKiwi campaign on social media to encourage shoppers to buy at home.

"It can be hard to get anonymous foreign websites to make things right if there are any difficulties, and there is real value for Kiwis for shopping locally – both because they are covered by consumer protection law, but also they help keep Kiwi businesses going and support New Zealand workers," he says.

He warns there can be hidden costs to buying items such as dresses offshore.

"Depending on their value, they can attract GST, duty and Customs charges, meaning that there can unpleasant surprises for people buying from overseas."

Have you got a wedding dress horror story? Contact 3 News

3 News

source: newshub archive