The line between ‘copied’ and ‘inspired by’ is so blurry one can sometimes wonder if it’s there at all. Humanity is, after all, driven to progress by a chain of one thing inspiring another; we skip along on the stepping stones laid out by others. Nor is ‘copying’ always a conscious or deliberate effort. Many an idea has been reproduced in the genuine belief that a moment of promethean discovery has occurred, only to later find out it was all just a little bit of history repeating. But while copied photoshoots are one thing, and high-street stores churning out cheaper versions of designer goods is so common now we barely bat an eyelid, it’s somewhat more disconcerting when a large retailer blatantly clones the designs of a small, independent label.
In fact, it’s not just disconcerting to think that mass retailers would steal from independent designers, it’s down right disgusting. It shows contempt not only for the artist but also for the person buying the rip-off product, given that what is being sold is tantamount to a fake product.
American retailer Urban Outfitters is the latest retailer to stand accused of holding both an artist and their customers in such contempt.
Jewellery design by tru.che
Stevie Koerner is an independent designer who releases accessories through her brand tru.che. An independent artist if ever there was one, she sells her designs through a dedicated Etsy store with the bulk of her sales appearing to come from a proprietary design: pendants in the shape of places of the world, each hole punched with a tiny heart, and each bearing a name such as “I heart the United States” or “I heart New York”.
With that description in mind, a product that chain store Urban Outfitters have been cited as selling might ring a bell. Their product range includes pendants in the shape of places of the world, each hole punched with a tiny heart, and each bearing the name “I heart” and sold for locales such as “New York”.
Seeing some similarities here?
My heart sank a little bit. The World/United States of Love line that I created is one of the reasons that I was able to quit my full-time job. They even stole the item name as well as some of my copy.
Is this one of those happenings of randomness where the same idea / design is innocently reproduced with no actual intent to copy? Or does it instead fall into the ‘inspired by’ category where we’re paying witness to the evolution of an idea? If so, what then was evolved instead of copied?
A similar design is one thing, but when a product is identical down to the name it seems very hard to believe that one product didn’t come about as a result of the other. So it that today Urban Outfitters stand accused of having allegedly stolen not just tru.che’s designs and intellectual property but also a portion of the designer’s livelihood.
It would seem, if the allegations of copying prove correct, that this is where the line sharpens up. This is where, as much as we accept that imitation and inspiration are inevitable and sometimes difficult to distinguish, a case of alleged copying is far more clear cut. And it’s far more egregious to a brand’s reputation when they undercut a small, independent designer like Truche; because an individual’s livelihood is at stake.
At the time of writing the “I Heart Destination necklaces” are not accessible on the Urban Outfitters website, apparently having been removed from the retailer’s website in response to the allegations. You can see a screen shot of their website prior to the product range’s removal directly below: