The Eternal Maker Crafts

Friday, 14 November 2014

Spotting the difference: on copying in fabric design.

 This morning I turned away a sales rep from a company I have in the past bought fabrics from.  This company has great designed fabrics, and although their quality is not great, they are cheap.  There are plenty of shops that stock their fabrics, and the usual retail price is £6.99, although I have seen it both dramatically cheaper, and dramatically more expensive.  This all sounds like a great deal, right?

 So why did I turn them away?

The designs aren’t theirs to sell, they are copies of prints from other designers.  
Alexander Henry - Goo Goo Babies, original on the left, copy print on the right.
 Let me add, for fear of being reprimanded, that I am sure that not all the prints are copied.  I am sure that some lovely prints are available from this company that are entirely their own designs.  But while I can't be sure of the original prints from the company, I can be sure of the copies, as we have previously sold their original counterparts in our store.  

Over the past year I have come across more and more designs from this company where we have stocked the original, yet a cheaper ‘fake’ is being sold around the corner for half the price.  I’ve thought about saying something.  I haven’t.  I have spoken to the company, but each time I have mentioned it to them they have protested ignorance, and blamed their ‘german factory’.  They have told me that once they know a design is a copy, they withdraw it from sale.  I have been through their fabric racks, and shown them which ones are, where they can find them, and yet months later still see them being shown at the trade shows. After noticing this company, I became aware that there is more than one UK company out there selling these same fabrics, or others in the same vein.   I haven’t said anything further than this, I’ve thought about it, I’ve stopped buying their products, but I haven’t said anything about it on any public sphere.
Another Alexander Henry print. 
This week, I read this article: - if you haven’t read it, you should, it’s an interesting portrayal of how much the designers we all know and love earn, and what, precisely, they have to do to earn it.  It made me stop and think.  It made me realise that there’s more to designer copyright than just the ‘kudos’ of having designed that print.  It costs them money.  Very few designers earn a living wage unless they have more than one string to their bow. 
Alexander Henry Goo Goo Babies - this one was obviously popular, as it's now available in all the prints and colours.
Now, I’m motivated to talk about this for various reasons. 

I have a store, here in the UK.  We focus mainly on designer ranges of quilting fabrics, and  also stock a lot of modern Japanese prints.  We are not known for being ‘cheap’, yet I (hope) we aren’t equated with bad value for money, either.  We value good design, and want to share our love of print and pattern with our customers.   Our relationship with our customers is important, and it’s important for them to feel they can trust us.  
echino by etsuko furuya.  The colours on this one has been changed, but that's it.
I'm speaking out on this because I now feel that this could effect that relationship. 
I do not want our customers to feel we are marking up items unnecessarily.  I do not want our products to be undervalued by their cheaper counterparts.  And yes, on a base level, I do not want to lose my sales to another company selling the ‘same’ fabrics at half the price.  

Please don’t misunderstand: me writing this blog post is not in any way an altruistic act.

Kokka Trefle - this entire range of hedgehogs, scottie dogs etc in all colours has been copied.
 But there’s so much more to it than me making sales and keeping my customers happy.
I also have friends who are in the design world.  They rely on their designs for their living.  They don’t make much, often.  They are successful, and busy, yet royalties from fabric design can be pennies, as shown in the link to the blog above.  These copies are, in effect, robbing what small income these people have.  It’s entirely probable that the designs won’t get reprinted, if sales are being lost to elsewhere.  
ok - so I couldn't find an original picture for this.  But it is a Cosmo-Tex print we stocked several years ago.
This week I contacted the various companies involved.  I wanted to see what the 'official' take on this was.  I do think, being based in the UK, for the bigger (usually) American companies, we are such a small market for them, and unless it starts directly affecting their customers, it's easier to ignore.  I was pleased to read from the (very quick) responses I received, that the companies do take it very seriously and plan to pursue my worries.  More than one had already tracked it to a mill - not in Germany, not even in Europe, but in Asia - and told me that these designs were being sold for less than 10% of their UK market price.  
Obviously, selling fabrics at this price leaves a lot of room for designer royalties.  And the cost of the base cloth.  And the cost of the inks and dyes.  The machinery that makes it.  The people that make it.  The workers on the factory floor.  Obviously it does...  Does it?  And don't forget that's all with the mark up to the wholesalers, too.
kokka - j'aime le ballet - je n'aime pas le copy
robert kaufman metro market (this collection seems to have been popular.)
And of course there's the long term effect on the market.  The designers who aren't making the money to be able to keep designing for the fabric industry.  The manufacturers who are less likely to be able to introduce new, lesser known designers.  The independent retailers not able to encourage a new generation of sewers.  Without innovation, the market goes stale.  

We are a creative industry.  We're a group of makers, doers, and encouragers.  We should be making a stand about the importance of creativity, and should be supporting the people trying to make a living from it.  More than any other industry, we should understand this.
robert kaufman metro market?  guess which one.
this is a print a few years old from Kokka - original on the left, copy on the right
I'm not naive.  I know not everyone can afford to buy the higher priced items - if I didn't own a fabric shop, I would be shopping around looking for the cheap options too.  I know that it's a buyer's market,  and it's down to the consumer to buy from the person they choose, be that me, or my competition down the road.  That's fine.  I'm not against cheaper fabrics.  Ultimately I want people to be sewing, rather than not.  As long as they are designed by, or for, the company producing the fabrics, then have at it.  The playing field is even.  Competition in the marketplace produces a healthy industry, with everyone, including me, trying harder, doing better, trying to be best.
Sevenberry Strawberries?  Or an identical print?

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Poppy and Moustache Make and Takes - Saturday 8th November

Please do come and join us for some make and take sessions this Saturday. They're both for a very good cause.

We will be here all day making needle felted poppy brooches and knitted ones too, both in aid of The British Legion Poppy Appeal which raises funds for essential welfare work for our service men and women, veterans, and their families.

We are also supporting Movember and Prostate Cancer UK, the charities that raise money to research, and change the way men live with and beyond prostate cancer. We Mo Sistas will be making needle felted moustache badges and knitted goods in support of this cause.

Both causes are very close to our hearts and we would love it if you would come along, help us raise some money and take away a great crafted memento too.

The sessions will run all day and cost £12.50 including materials, tuition and a £5 donation to the British Legion or Prostate Cancer, respectively.

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