Style | May 4, 2022 7:51 am

Why Is FILA Blatantly Plagiarizing the Designs of a Young Beach Brand?

Terrycloth is definitely in. But let's retain some creative integrity, people.

Tombolo shirt on the left, Fila on the right.
One of these things is exactly like the other.
Tombolo/Fila

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, maybe, but sometimes it’s just super lazy.

Fila, the heritage Italian fashion brand that’s been owned by South Korean parent company Fila Korea for the past 15 years, is an expert in reinvention. The company was founded in 1911; throughout its existence, it’s sold underwear to adventurers in the Italian Alps, manufactured beloved low-top sneakers and outfitted tennis stars. These days, Fila seems intent on becoming a vehicle for Gen Z’s colorful, era-agnostic fashion. The company sponsors the biggest pop act in the world, BTS, and has made inroads on TikTok.

But in the course of that mission, Fila might have sacrificed some creative integrity. One of the brand’s most recent drops is a somewhat preposterous rip off of a collection from a much younger (and far less mighty) brand: Tombolo, which we profiled last summer. Tombolo deals in “escapewear” — its founders describe the style as “Inactivewear for leisurely escapes … clothing that is emotionally nostalgic but entirely new.” Here’s what we wrote after taking the brand’s calling card, the Cabana shirt, out for a spin last summer:

“It channels Hemingway docking Pilar in Havana, or the Amalfi aperitifs in Talented Mr. Ripley. The cut is boxier, nostalgic and self-serious in a way that’s decidedly different from the mass-market ‘escapewear’ purveyed by Mr. Thomas Bahama. Still, with names like ‘Vongole!,’ ‘Rocket Lobster’ and ‘Flamingo Tartare,’ Tombolo is an obvious bedfellow to day-drinks, rooftops and weekenders.”

We’re fans, obviously. But so too, it would seem, is the design team over at Fila, which copy and pasted Tombolo’s exact cut, material and whole vibe when conceptualizing their brand-new “Cabana collection.” (Yeah, even the name is the exact same.) For a refresher on Tombolo’s iconic shirts, see here. For a look at Fila’s latest, look here. It’s pretty plain to the naked eye, but in case you’re having trouble putting it together, look to the half-zip, the cuffed multi-color sleeves, the pockets with whimsical images of summer popping out of them, the terrycloth.

In the product description, Fila wrote “A luxe terrycloth polo shirt for men and women. Or anyone else who likes to look and feel good. Iconic Everywhere. #FILAstyle.” Side-stepping the head-scratching first two sentences of that copy to address that hashtag, this clearly isn’t #FILAstyle. It’s #Tombolostyle…with a $40 discount.

Like most multinational corporations (Fila has 11 offices), the company figured out how to make a good thing cheaper. While Tombolo makes its shirts with 100% organic cotton, Fila uses a 84% cotton, 16% polyester blend. It’s the look for less, but judging from a quick perusal of the offerings, it’s simply not as fun.

Tombolo puts pasta, tequila and lobster on its shirts. One of its best features a shark about to eat two seals. It’s called “Ménage-à-Gnaw.” This is a very specific, very ridiculous brand. Why gut its vibe for a half-baked Palm Springs collection? Fila is allowed to do whatever the hell it wants — fashion trends exist firmly in the public domain — but this is one resort-wear war that probably shouldn’t have happened.

There’s not much that Tombolo can (or should) do, except continue to produce the best version of an idea that was theirs to begin with. Fortunately, their faithful seem to have picked up on the new knock-offs early — a spokesperson for Tombolo says that “a bunch of customers have reached out to [the company’s founders] about it.”

If one thing is for certain, terrycloth is very much in this summer. Tombolo and faux Tombolo aren’t the only brands turning beach towels into pool-party shirts. Look to OAS, Adam Mar and Todd Snyder for terry tops that offer a change of pace from the usual polos that pop up this time of year. That being said, most of the options from those brands are more on the muted side, and won’t match the energy of Tombolo’s wackiest creations.

In the long run, supporting Tombolo is win-win. They’ve only got a few employees, and 81,000 Instagram followers (compared to nearly 1,500 employees and over two million followers for Fila), so give the little guy a chance in this beach-themed, You’ve Got Mail smackdown. Better than supporting whatever weird sort of plagiarizing negligence is going on here. Plus, you’re bound to get a day’s worth of compliments in a Tombolo shirt. I wore mine this past weekend for that very purpose.