I’m quote-happy today! One of MrB’s favorite quotes is, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission.” That one is attributed to the late U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. Many of my jewelry designs are inspired by extraordinary women and I’m going to have to do a tribute to Hopper someday. I better save my pennies because I’ll have to do a whopper of jewel to symbolize Hopper’s accomplishments. Among other things, she earned a Ph.D. in mathematics at Yale and was a pioneer in computer programming. (She’s often credited with popularizing the term “debugging” after colleagues discovered a moth in one of Harvard’s early computers.)
Anyway, Topshop has asked for forgiveness for selling — without my permission — a ring set that was strikingly similar in style to my popular swear rings.
The apology and removal came about after my gorgeous PR person, Krista Blair of Loving & Co., placed a call to Topshop. I’m delighted that the company moved so quickly to rectify the situation. (I’m less delighted that Topshop used the same language it did when it apologized for a dress design that was similar to one by Yasmin Kianfar. Read that on Stacy Lomman’s blog here.) I’m convinced that the swift action was due in no small part to the support I received from people around the world. I’m deeply grateful to everyone who tweeted and blogged on my behalf. Social media can be a great incentive to do the right thing.
Like I said in my original post, “inspiration” is a fact of life in the fashion industry. My work is openly influenced by antique and vintage designs. For instance, my Boleyn initial necklace is an homage to the one in a well-known painting of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of England’s Henry VIII. (The idea appealed to me because “B” also stands for “Brandes,” but I’ll do the necklace with any letter.)
There can be a fine line between a “great minds think alike” moment and an in-your-face ripoff. To quote Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s line about pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Now I see it on ASOS, which is selling a “fox” ring that looks a lot like Arosha Taglia‘s distinctive Anubis ring. Here is the copy.
Here is the original in gold …
… and silver.
Arosha tweeted, “I just found it out, and I’m so pissed off. It’s my best-selling iconic design for more than 10 years.”
I’d say pissed off is an appropriate reaction. Some people — who I’d wager don’t have their own businesses — disagree. I’ve seen comments online that suggest that because there’s no way to stop copying on a worldwide scale, we shouldn’t bother complaining about particular incidents. And that reminds me of a third and extremely repugnant quote: In 1990, Clayton Williams, who was running for governor of Texas against Ann Richards, said, “Rape is like bad weather. As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it.” Ugh. I’ve never been able to get that bit of grossness out of my head. But I guess even piggish politicians are useful because the memory of that crap often spurs me to take action when I’m told to put up and shut up. Why shouldn’t small-business people speak up for themselves? After all, big fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermes spend a lot of time and money fighting counterfeits and trademark infringement. Occasionally, those cases seem petty in a David-and-Goliath way. Still, as I was told in my corporate days, it behooves large companies to have a consistent policy of pursuing all perceived violations, rather than weakening potential legal arguments by condoning some behaviors and not others. (Lawyers, feel free to weigh in.)
I’m going to speculate that most small-business owners’ complaints don’t bring them fame and fortune, despite the expectations of casual observers. I certainly won’t be able to retire on the $500 I netted yesterday after several regular customers/blog readers made a much-appreciated statement by ordering jewelry from me. I’m still pleased with the outcome. Topshop made the right move — and I’ll say again that I’d be happy to collaborate with them officially. Even sweeter was getting so much assistance from so many Twitter and blogging friends and customers. Thanks so much!
UPDATED TO ADD: Read an economist’s take on the role of copying in fashion. Interesting!
UPDATED AGAIN TO ADD: Independent Fashion Bloggers wrote about my experience and social media’s role in its quick resolution.
UPDATED MAY 8, 2012, TO ADD MORE BLOG POSTS ON THE EXPERIENCE:
madeleine gallay says
Much admiration for the smooth handling of this without any anger or (blush) bad words. A swift resolution and apology and all is well. And how cool would it be, hello Top Shop Management, to have a range of Wendy’s jewelry designed for and sold at Topshop.
That would be perfection and serendipity and all good things.
Julia Oso. says
What wonderful news, Wendy! So glad that Topshop took the high road.
The amount of support from fellow bloggers was amazing. I’ve never quite seen anything like it 😉
This worked as it should. Well, to clarify, Topshop should never have ripped off your design in the first place. But I’m pleased to see that they’ve managed to rectify the situation so quickly.
Susan Tiner says
I’m so glad your friends were there when you needed support and that everything worked out. Good for you standing up for yourself and other designers!
Once again…I’m amazed by the power of social media! And it was way cheaper than the lawyer I suggested!
Megan Mae says
I think Topshop is missing out cashing in on the possible sales they COULD have made. All those people tweeting outrage? Could have been tweeting praises.
I am glad the situation got sorted though, and that it also gained some more Wendy Brandes jewelry owners.
Stef McDonald says
The Preppy Princess says
This is grand news Wendy, I’m so happy they are doing something to correct their bad decision in even making the rings, good on you. Yew-hah!
Go Wendy.. Go Wendy! I love how social media is being used to hold corps accountable!
I’m glad that they removed the product, but doubtful that they will think twice before copying something else. Shameful.
Be Inspired! says
Good going for you for standing out for your rights and design! It is yours. You have the right to get rewarded. Sold. And You that reap the good fruit. “*&è”à!!!”
Mary Panjari says
This is a great outcome! I so glad that TS saw the light and removed their crapulous crap copies of your triumphant designs from sale.
Julia Oso. says
The sad thing is, I believe many designer don’t know their work is being copied, just like most people don’t realize they’re getting a copy cat of someone’s design. For instance, I remember seeing this Asos ring, but I never knew about the original… 🙁
You might enjoy my post on copying in the fashion industry for the IPKat (an Intellectual Property blog in the UK). http://ipkitten.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/katonomics-5-economics-of-ip-paradox-of.html
My point is that, while fashion as a whole subsists on copying, it is designed to benefit larger organisations. Smaller firms like you lose out in the system!
And you’re right about litigation strategy – for large firms, it’s cheaper/easier to be known as a particularly litigious to dissuade would-be infringers.
P.S. Not a lawyer!
Checking out your post right now. And this is so right: “While fashion as a whole subsists on copying, it is designed to benefit larger organisations. Smaller firms like you lose out in the system!”
sulky kitten says
Glad they’ve been made to see the error of their ways. Although it would be great if they really raised their standards and did a collaboration with you.
I am so glad that this worked out for you — but I wish TopShop had the vision to collaborate with you!
Rather odd that they send a “form twitter” but it’s showing that the way we communicate is changing. I sent an email. I feel so old and slow. 🙁
Congratulations! And your friends are the most amazing women.
The form twitter is lame!
i am so happy for you that this was resolved quickly
hoping you got lots of great publicity from it and your rings start flying out the door!!
It generally doesn’t work that way, but there’s always hope!
I am thrilled that they removed the rings.
I’ve been wondering a lot about these ripoffs – okay – a large company like TopShop & F21 have designers (Even Calvin Klein isn’t designing the majority of things himself) and these designers are the ones responsible for this crap. They’re void of their own ideas and passing off brilliant designs as their own. In other sectors, it’s called plagiarism, cheating, theft… but no one seems to care with design. Anyhow…
There has to be a head figure to yay or nay all the ideas for production and they can’t possibly be on top of every damn thing out there so I can’t blame the company as a whole. What I would like to hear TopShop and these other companies say is, “We are terribly sorry that we allowed the production of an item that was clearly a copy of your creative work. Be assured that we are also taking swift action in dealing with the designer at fault.”
What do you think?
I think Calvin is kicking back and enjoying his money after selling the company to Phillips Van Heusen. 😀
As for Topshop, if I have to guess, it’s probably not even a “designer” responsible but some low-level peon who scours the web for ideas and then gets those rubberstamped by a mid-level exec with no design skills. The change would have to come from the top ranks, with the company committing to working with indie designers. But it makes more financial sense for the company to see what it can get away with. Why change if doing it this way doesn’t really cost them anything? A formulaic apology once in a while is nothing.
I forgot Klein sold the company. (It shows.)
Gosh, I would love to see the inner working of these companies. Unfortunately, I think you’re right that it is a peon perusing the web for ideas. Hopefully one day there will be a powerful stigma against this business model, with some serious consequences.
Stacy Lomman might be able to tell us more about the organizational structure at places like this!
That's Not My Age says
Well done for standing up to Topshop, this is excellent news.
Miss Cavendish says
And B is also for Bravo!
Thank goodness! And you have been beyond classy in this situation, I would’ve lost my $#!@
Well, it’s to be expected, so that keeps me calm — but it doesn’t keep me quiet! 😀
Glad to hear that this was sorted out. Do you guys get some sort of compensation for loss of income in this type of situation?
Glad that you don’t keep quiet (I’d be disappointed if a namesharer did ;-0).
Love love love your jacket. So stylish.
Told them I’d prefer to collaborate — they’d prefer to pull the product.
Tina M says
This isn’t the first time that a Wendy B design has been copied! I remember a while back seeing a necklace at Target that was one of your designs. I think I may have posted something about that on your FB wall. It was such poor quality!
I am so glad that somebody caught this for you and that the situation was rectified. But what a pain! I would feel so violated if someone stole a design from me. Social media has a ton of advantages, and this is one of them. I’m glad it worked in your favor.
Bella Q, The Citizen Rosebud says
I’m glad the outcome turned out well for you- and it was remarkable to see the outcry in support of you and your designs. I’ve known others who saw their designs ripped off with little or known recourse, by F-21, Anthropolgie, etc. As a consumer I try not to support these lack of values by not shopping there, but it’s hard sometimes – fast fashion is cheap, easy to obtain. But that cheap comes at a price, usually at the small business/designer’s expense. Congrats on the happy ending- I hope a similar punchline is in order for your pal Arosha.
Great, now *I* have that rape statement stuck in my head.
I’m glad ChopShop did the “right” thing in withdrawing the product, and apologizing, but how about not doing it in the first place? That would have been much better.
As for the fox ring design by ASOS, it’s a blatant rip-off in my opinion. I christen “ASOS” a bunch of ASOLS. If you get my meaning.
The Style Crone says
Just catching up and so happy to hear about the outcome. You and your many supporters have made a statement!
Shreyasi Sharma says
Glad that it all got settled in your favour. Social media is pretty powerful indeed.
Eileen Goddard says
I’m so glad the rings got pulled! What an awful experience….. But paired with such a great experience, of people rallying behind you and your awesome jewelry!
(Also, that rape quote–how did someone seriously say that??? Just, CRAZY. There really are no words.)
Can you imagine if the dude had made the rape comment in the Internet age? Talking about something that would have gone viral…
Bonbon Oiseau says
Wendy, I wanted to share this new story with you to see what you think–the situation is a little different but I need help spreading the word—@clubmonaco on twitter-Club Monaco facebook page–in this case it was one of the “creative team” from the accessories department who assured me she would never do such a thing since she used to work for Nanette Lepore and saw it happen there–so I’m wondering what happened here then? Soimeone from their legal team (owned by Ralph Lauren) called me Friday and said they’d pull the pieces from the site while they looked into the situation but it hasn’t happened as of today, Sunday. I’m wondering how to affect change here in this sleazeball world where the power balance is skewed and artists and designers are disrespected:
Thanks for taking a look and maybe helping me spread the word too.
Story is here:
Hey there Wendy. Congrats on having their imitation line pulled. Unfortunately, some of my friends are having a very similar problem, but aren’t receiving any answers, when they try to make contact. My friend Ashley and his wonderful fiancée Laurel,have a small business in Nelson New Zealand. http://www.ashhilton.com/rings, when you have a look you might recognise Top Shops “Fruit Stack” rings. Ashley has been selling these since 2008!!! Do you have any advice of what they can do next. Hope you’re still celebrating, regards Gemma
Jim Hilton says
I have enjoyed reading this. Looks like Top Shops is doing the same thing again. Watch this space !