'I did not copy her dress': Designer responds after being accused of stealing design from Black-owned business

Ellie Spina
·5-min read

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Designer Ngoni Chikwenengere has accused Danielle Bernstein of copying her design for her latest collection. (Images via Instagram/ngoni and Getty Images)
Designer Ngoni Chikwenengere has accused Danielle Bernstein of copying her design for her latest collection. (Images via Instagram/ngoni and Getty Images)

Danielle Bernstein is in hot water once again for allegedly stealing a design from a smaller, Black-owned, sustainable brand fashion brand, We Are KIN.

On Sunday, Ngoni Chikwenengere, took to Instagram, claiming that the designer and mega-influencer copied the design of We Are KIN's Silk Strappy Maxi Dress for her own line, We Wore What.

"I’m really sad to have to say this but I am the latest victim of WeWoreWhat and Danielle Bernstein’s crusade against small designers - I am heartbroken," Chikwenengere wrote to her more than 18,000 followers. "As you may know, I run a sustainable, ethical, Black-owned brand We Are KIN with signature designs that are handmade to order."

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According to Chikwenengere, she received messages from Bernstein in June 2020 asking if it were possible for Chikwenengere to send her the dress as a "gift." Along with a lengthy written caption, the designer backed up her story with screenshots of the alleged messages from Bernstein.

"I don’t usually gift products but she has 2.5 million followers and I was flattered she would want to wear it and hoped I’d see some business off the back of it," Chikwenengere wrote.

Although she was cautioned by friends who were aware of previous accusations against Bernstein of copying designs from small businesses, Chikwenengere decided to send her one of her dresses.

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Over the weekend, Chikwenengere said she was surprised to see new photos on Bernstein's Instagram account of The Strappy Maxi, a design from WeWoreWhat's latest collection. Chikwenengere said she now believes Bernstein intended to copy her design all along.

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"It is identical to mine. The one I have poured my heart and soul into, that is designed by me and handmade for every customer with ethically sourced materials each season," she wrote. "I know this is her MO, but I refuse to be cowed into silence," she wrote. "This is my design, she has posted it all over her social channels and it is on sale to her millions of followers. I am truly devastated. I have spent years building up my independent brand and it feels futile now...They have done it so many times, it cannot be a coincidence and cannot keep happening."

Chikwenengere's post was picked up by Diet Prada, a fashion watchdog site with more than 2.6 million followers. After catching wind of the allegations, Bernstein released a statement to her Instagram story denying Chikwenengere's claims that she copied her design.

Photo via @weworewhat Instagram
Photo via @weworewhat Instagram

The 28-year-old fashion mogul also said that the direct messages Chikwenengere shared were taken out of context and that while the dresses look similar in certain photos, she did not intentionally copy anyone's designs.

"I'm sick and tired of being accused of stealing designs or content that I absolutely did not," she wrote. "I am sick of screenshots of conversations without context or dates and part of something that looks similar. There will always be something that someone can say looks similar. These ridiculous claims for 15 minutes of fame are unfounded and unfair. My team and our freelance designer who came on to create these collections work extremely hard and I will not let their work be put down."

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Bernstein later shared another message to her millions of followers in an effort to debunk Chikwenengere's accusations by explaining the context of their messages.

"The truth you aren't being exposed to," she wrote. "The original message offering for the dress to be gifted was unsent and not shown. I did not seek the dress to copy. [Diet Prada] knows this and failed to share the truth. This is our original sketch from my freelance designer. Tie back straps can be found a million ways with a quick Google search. You are only being shown images of one part of the dress because that is the only similarity."

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Bernstein said she messaged Chikwenengere to apologize for not having worn the dress and claimed that the We Are KIN designer initially offered her the dress but purposely deleted the message from their exchange.

"I offered to her on the phone and also provide proof that our design was created completely independently of hers. With all of the false accusations in the press, I honestly don't even blame her for feeling this way," Bernstein went on.

Photo via @weworewhat Instagram
Photo via @weworewhat Instagram

Bernstein said she felt compelled to share screenshots and sketches with followers because Chikwenengere's claims have caused the WeWoreWhat team to receive "death threats" and "disturbing messages."

"I'm fed up with this false narrative being spread about me stealing designs when I have time after time proven each accusation false," she wrote. "Because the spreading of false information is rampant throughout social media and needs to be stopped. 1. I did not reach out asking for the dress. 2. I did not copy the dress."

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