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Sunday, April 29, 2012

The sterling-silver swear-ring set from my WENDYB by Wendy Brandes line has been one of my most popular designs since I introduced it at a designer friend’s runway show in 2008.

My sterling-silver swear rings. $380 for the set. Click to purchase.

Gorgeous blogger Julia of The ‘Thank You’ Project wears the gold-plated version. Click to purchase.

Word and letter jewelry has been around for ages, and I’m not the first designer to do “Fuck” jewelry. I’ve said myself that there’s nothing new under the sun. I even have two types of blog posts on inspiration/revivals/coincidence/occasional blatant theft in fashion: Fashion Repeats Itself and Great Minds Think Alike.  As gorgeous clothing designer/blogger Stacy Lomman recently wrote, “Trends and styles constantly recycle.  In fashion, designers reinterpret these ideas and trends by putting their ‘spin’ on them and making them look fresh and current.” I’ve always been proud of my swear-ring “spin”: the quality, the size, the weight, the font, the four separate rings, the characters chosen.

My rings on gorgeous blogger Queen Michelle of Kingdom of Style.

Believe it or not, I gave serious thought as to whether I’d use an “at sign” or an asterisk in this set. I ended up liking the look of the “at” better.

My rings on gorgeous blogger Cyrillynn of Any Second Now.

I can’t tell what size the rings in Topshop’s £14.00 “Punctuation Ring Pack” are, but from the picture on the website, I admit that I find the execution of this idea a bit more similar to mine than I would like.

Topshop’s “Punctuation” rings. Thanks to Sarah for pointing this out. Click photo to follow her on Twitter.

In fact, when I first saw the photo, I felt the way I had instructed Tina J to act while while she modeled my swear rings for my Fall 2012 lookbook.

Click for more photos of Tina J by Shane LaVancher.

In contrast, Topshop’s OMG ring set doesn’t bother me at all because the font is so different from my OMG rings. Here is my OMG set …

My sterling-silver OMG rings. $300 for the set. Click to purchase.

My OMG rings on gorgeous blogger Solo Lisa.

… and here is Topshop’s. I know I’m biased but I like my font better.

You get what you pay for — it’s worth every bit of £8.50.

Nevertheless, I do want to slap myself for the times — before I had any experience with my own business — when I glibly made statements like, “Designers should knock themselves off before someone else does.” I’ve since discovered that’s much easier to say than to do it. To get the price breaks I need to sell inexpensive product, I need to manufacture a large quantity of each style. That means I need to pay a lot of money up front. For instance, right now I’m hoping to produce some brass rings that I could sell to y’all for $20 each, but to meet the minimum order requirement, I need to cough up $10,000. (To do the whole alphabet, plus some symbols, would cost about $50,000 upfront.) That’s an investment I can’t currently afford, especially when I don’t have a big order from a retailer and would be doomed to a repeat of the distribution problems I wrote about in this Huffington Post piece on the agony and ecstasy of a small business.  And even if I did it, my designs would still be twice the price of Topshop’s because that company is getting bigger price breaks for the efficiency of producing thousands of units of one style compared to my order of 150 to 200 units. I’ve always hoped to collaborate with the likes of Topshop or H&M (or some other giant chain that has access to those nifty, thrifty child-labor factories I read so much about) in order to sell jewelry at the rock-bottom prices that consumers crave.  But I’ve always figured it was more likely that because I don’t have an ultra-famous name (hello, Kate Moss, nice job knocking off all the vintage dresses in your closet), they’d reject my offer if I made a pitch …  then do my designs anyway.

In this case, I won’t swear to it that Topshop has its eye on me. The influence isn’t as screamingly obvious as when Claire’s Accessories practically Xeroxed five designs by Tatty Devine. If Topshop really wants to ride my creative coattails, it can start offering the YEA HOE rings I custom-made for gorgeous rapper Gangsta Boo.

Boo wearing her YEA HOE rings. Click to order your own set. Hashtag sold separately.

Okay, that might be too undeniable even for a big chain with a lot more money and lawyers than me.  But if Topshop’s next letter-ring offering is a set of YOLO rings like mine, I’ll have to get my one lawyer to write a strongly worded letter about all this. Go ahead, Topshop. I dare you.

Click to purchase my sterling-silver YOLO rings for $415 for the set.

On that note, I’ll introduce my Jewel of the Month for May a few days early. SMH is Twitter-ese for “shaking my head.”

$450 for the made-in-NYC set. Click to purchase.

When I first started seeing this acronym, I loathed it. A large percentage of the people using it on Twitter are so batshit-crazy that they don’t deserve to be shaking their heads (or their damn heads — SMDH — or their motherfucking heads — SMMFH) in judgment at anyone else.  Then, as the Washington Post said about YOLO, it became an acronym I loved to hate. I had to do a ring set, which is now available for pre-order. (My YOLO, OMG and F@#! ring sets are all available for immediate delivery. So are my WTF, LOL, LOLZ and NYC ring sets; my individual exclamation point, asterisk, hashtag, emoticon heart and “at sign” rings; and my emoticon heart cufflinks.)

Because of my rings, I feel more warmly towards SMH, though I don’t tweet it. My most-hated-expression-on-Twitter award now goes to *sips tea*, which is what people upgrade to when SMH isn’t condescending enough for them. I’ll give that one as a freebie idea to Topshop — go ahead, do a tea-sipping ring. That and the super-corny LOVE toe-ring set you have don’t interest me at all. I’ve got better concepts in the works. *WendyB sits back, sips tea, waits for Topshop’s next design.*

Look, I understand that my jewelry isn’t in everyone’s budget. That’s fine. Chain stores exist to give people less-expensive options. However, if you can afford my designs, you should know how much I adore all my customers. Does Topshop give a F@#! about you? Whenever you can, spend your money with someone who appreciates you, like me. Plus I’m a fanatic for quality, which means that my work is worth the money. Remember, you’ll never get more than what you pay for!

UPDATED 4/30/12 TO ADD: If Topshop really wanted to do “punctuation” rings, the company could have offered a set like one I wore a few years ago.

WendyB wearing punctuation rings in 2009. Click for original post.

For a special occasion, I left off the “F” from the regular swear-ring set and swapped in the asterisk ring that I sell separately. I don’t sell this as a set, so if I’d seen it on Topshop I would have thought, “Great minds think alike,” rather than “probably an imitation.” See how easy it is to cover your ass? Another way to go is using different materials. A while ago, customers alerted me to an Etsy seller who did F@#! rings using computer-keyboard letters. No problem. Didn’t look anything like mine. I put that in the “great minds think alike” category.

UPDATED 4/30/12 AGAIN TO ADD: Here are some other bloggers’ posts about this.

UPDATED YET AGAIN TO ADD: TOMTOM Jewelry Instagrammed this photo of Topshop’s copy of its Chevron Aura Necklace. The caption: “‘Freedom’ to knock other designers off. #topshop #tomtomjewelry”

Click for source.

FINAL UPDATE, I SWEAR: Topshop agreed to stop selling the rings and sent out what seems to be a standardized apology Tweet.

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64 Responses to “I’m SMH at Topshop’s Version of My Swear Rings”

  1. patni says:

    That is bullshit Wendy. I am always appalled that giant companies with bazillions of dollars stoop to knocking off small designers….. I for one will never buy it! Could they not at least approach you to do a Wendy Brandes for TopShop collection?
    Despite the fact I have wanted those swear rings of yours almost since i first saw them! I will hold out till i can get the real thing.

  2. patni says:

    I am sure it is annoying as hell on twitter,but I would totally long for a *sips tea* ring set, being that I am constantly sipping tea and bewildered at the world around me. When I become a rich fashion magnate (or at least a little more solvent, I may commission such a piece.)

    • WendyB says:

      As soon as I wrote that, I started thinking “I’m going to end up doing a tea-sipping piece. Damn.”

      Well, I might, but it will STILL annoy me on Twitter! Ha!

  3. Rachel says:

    I don’t like how obvious it is that they’ve ripped off your creative designs.

    • WendyB says:

      I am TRYING to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I do wish they went with an asterisk or some other symbol … there are plenty to choose from. Like I said, their OMG set doesn’t bother me, because that’s just a popular concept done two different ways as far as I’m concerned. The F@#! is more similar to mine. Tatty Devine had it much worse though with Claire’s!

  4. Ripped off! They ripped your design completely off. Those slight modifications ie cheap & nasty aren’t fooling me. Ugh how low!!

  5. Christine says:

    My anti-spam word was bigang. Really — ask Big Ang (I love her) to set Topshop straight. I mean, it’s just so wrong what they’re doing.

    I know you never say never, but damn, if you ever do a toe ring “love” set I will personally sign you into Bellevue. And we’ll both know it’s the right thing to do.

    I think I told you a saw a diamond and platinum tiger ring — as you said the idea is one thing, the execution something totally different.

  6. Julia Oso. says:

    This is disgusting. I’m starting to get really bothered by Topshop’s actions and lack of judgement. They’ve done it with their t-shirts before – taken popular bloggers photos and printed them on their stuff without these bloggers’ consent. From what I remember it even happened TWICE with French fashion blogger Miss Pandora. The situation with you is just too much for me to ever look at them the same way I used to 🙁 Shoukd we all just mass boycott them? I’ll easily never buy anything from them again. Maybe if we blogger people all unite in our protest we can make a difference?

    • WendyB says:

      I’ve only ever bought two things from them so they definitely won’t notice my lack of business. 😀 I can’t be bothered to spend money on low-quality goods when I have people like Zang Toi and Stacy Lomman in my life. I’d rather buy less and spend more with the good designers than boost the bottom line of some fast-fashion chain.

      I really do appreciate your support. I have to check out the Miss Pandora situation.

      • Julia Oso. says:

        I do agree with you on having less but of better quality. I still have to mix higher en stuff with mass market pieces though because I still want to dress but my income only grows so slowly, but I am trying and working hard 😉 So yeah, I do have some Topshop pieces too, but this made me lose all desire to ever enter their stores again.

        I hear someone here said Zara did the same… Haven’t heard of that but it makes me sad. If I remember more cases of Topshop stealing from bloggers I will let you know! There have definitely been a few more cases, I just can’t remember the names right now.

      • My bad, it was Zara who’ve done that with the t-shirts: http://www.copyright.org.au/ne.....s/id/1892/ Oh why don’t I feel bad for initially blaming Topshop though lol

        Also, a friend of mine just told she knew someone who interned at Topshop, didn’t get paid and in the end Topshop ended up using and selling one of her designs without giving her any credit or money.

  7. Rocquelle says:

    As a fan of your acronym rings, this is ridiculous! The thing that gets me is that they used the same font. I would be a more understanding budget friendly consumer if they used their ugly “omg” font on their swear rings.

    While I can appreciate a good deal for my grad student budget, your “omg” rings are going on my birthday wish list :-).

  8. sulky kitten says:

    I know imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery….but still!I think it would be great if you pitched to a big retailer for a special line just for them. I can’t believe someone as talented, feisty and smart as you wouldn’t be successful. Then you get to cover both ends of the market. More WendyB to go around!

    • WendyB says:

      I’ve always wanted to, but the way I look at it even if I go in wearing rings that read NDA, they’re most likely just going to rip me off. When these big chains have people like Versace and Lagerfeld doing collabs with them, why should they give someone like me the time of day? I’m not famous enough 🙁

      P.S. I’m working on a new design that you are going to LOVE.

  9. Colleen Pugh says:

    first of all, wow, first time I have come across your stuff and I LOVE it. I would be hitting the buy button right now if I wasn’t in the same boat and facing some big lawyer fees. Topshop seem to be a huge offender and there’s nothing at can be done apart from knowing that it’ll just be a season and then you’ll get your design back to yourself. I don’t have a doubt in my mind that they spotted your line, then made versions. I’m really sorry because it totally sucks and thank you so much for saying about the pricing, that to me is the worse part. The company who had ripped my design off can offer at half the price, which makes me look greedy but ready it’s costing 3 times as much for me to produce. I wish you the best of luck if you do go a head and fight this as someone who’s done a lot of reading up on copyright I think you have a strong case with the swear-rings.

    • WendyB says:

      Before I started my business, I didn’t understand the small designer’s manufacturing challenges either…sigh. Please email me more info on your situation!

  10. Holy crap! I do hope you’ll set your dogs on them! XXX S.

  11. eyeliah says:

    This makes me feel sick, it really is not cool/ridiculous. They have a new shop in The Bay downtown and I will NOT shop there ever now.

  12. Terri says:

    I think I would send the cease and desist letter before they knock off ANYthing else. I’m wondering though what the international intellectual property laws might be…

    You have my assurance I won’t order any of their rings.

    • WendyB says:

      I’ll check with my lawyer just in case. Why not…it will only cost me a couple of hundred dollars to ask (LOL, should have gone to law school). Thanks!

  13. Barbara says:

    Give em hell Wendy! Excellent post and fantastic jewelry. All us other small independents are right by your side.

  14. deka says:

    you inspired me to do some shopping on your site 🙂

  15. Style4Curves says:

    This is not okay at all!!!

  16. Jen says:

    I hope you sue them for copyright infringement. Fast fashion shops do this all the time – Zara stole from french blogger Betty, Forever 21 steals from everyone, and now top shop steals from you.

  17. stacy says:

    I’m seriously appalled. And way to go Topshop for taking four whole years to catch on to the trend. I mean, if you’re gonna copy somebody, do it in a timely manner. Geesh.

  18. Rebecca says:

    Your rings definitely look better than the knock-offs.

  19. Megan Mae says:

    It really does look like they ripped you off. Even if I stumbled across this without your commentary – I would have instantly thought “Oh those look like Wendy B’s swear rings” because they DO. Yours obviously look much nicer, but the topshop version looks like an obvious copy job.

    I can’t afford expensive jewelry, but your pieces are still on my wishlist. I don’t even purchase F21 priced jewelry because for my personal life – jewelry just isn’t feasible for me to wear or purchase. However if and when I do purchase jewelry, I still believe I’d rather support individual owned businesses versus mega-box retailers.

    In other news, I’ve always read SMH as “smack my head”.. kind of like “face-palm” or “omg this is so ridiculous I need to smack myself in the head”

    • WendyB says:

      Thank you for your support!

      And SMH as “smack my head” is WAY less annoying than “shaking my head.” I’m going to try to think of it that way.

  20. Aja says:

    I’m bummed out that this happened to you! In solidarity I’m going to buy the ring from you that I’ve wanted for a while. So there Topshop. Take that.

  21. I’m sorry this happens to you- I know, part of F-21 and Top Shop’s fast fashion formula is to steal ideas and knock ’em off for cheap- but yeah, the cuss rings are totes NOT inspired but ripped off your rings. What is fucked is that it can dilute the value and appeal of your originals, if enough cheap ones flood the market. Pity.

    Because sometimes we should give a F#@! about small business.

  22. lisa says:

    Having seen the quality of your work (and worn it), I have to say, there’s nothing like the real thing! Topshop’s knockoff is despicable.

  23. Fuck Topshop!!!! Damn it there is so much direct ripper-offeree going on at the moment and I dont have enough fingers to express my feelings about that. 🙁

  24. hillary says:

    If they had done the swear rings in a different order or maybe had one different character you could say “well maybe its a coincidence” but still know they only changed it so as to not get caught. But this is outright stealing. They are trying to screw the little guy because they know usually people can’t afford to go against them. Why don’t we all write letters or comment on their facebook page that we are appalled by their actions?

  25. Letters of course are generic … but simulations of stylized exclamatory letters is unique and yours. Blatant ripoffs and exactly why are these cheesy companies adulated? The odd actual designer being paid collaboration does not make up for the habit of stealing intellectual property and cheapening it. Love authentic down-low cheap H&M, Topshop, etc for the intrinsic value in generics but not their ability to riff on designer goods.

    LOATHE the replica sites that are now blooming on Pinterest as well as Facebook, which somehow encourages this outrage.

    Injunction time. Damages time. Wish for this one moment I were a lawyer to do them.

    All eyes on Wendy, yay.

  26. Renee says:

    I know which set of rings I’d prefer to buy. Top Shop’s quality is pretty shit and I prefer my jewelry to have meaning, last and be made of quality materials.

    I just need to save for them! 🙂

  27. T says:

    I feel rage.

  28. Alexis Grace says:


    I really appreciate your response to this. No foot stomping, just a fair balanced analysis of the situation.
    What happened is wrong. There is no question about it. This sort of incidences are such a turn off for me. It is true- not everyone can afford to buy your jewelry, but that doesn’t mean that they need to be subjected to cheap knock offs. OR that you, the thoughtful designer, should have your creativity mindlessly copied.

  29. Kristin says:

    Ugh. What a shame. As a proud owner of your jewelry, I’d rather have the real thing any day!

  30. NO WAY! Wendy, I patiently waited to buy your swear rings because I knew of the quality I would get and the amazing excecution of your design. I would never have settled for anything less and I’m sad to see that Topshop has done this. I’ve seen this happen to other independent designers, and because of a slight variation, they are able to get away with knocking them off. Truly, what people see is what they will get, and I knew I would get the best when I purchased my set from you.

    I’ve only had my swear set for about a week, and I’ve had nothing but compliments. I make sure to tell people who designed them, and direct them to the website. YOU have made a fun and fabulous set of rings and there is nothing that can compare.


    (Thanks for the love, too my dear!)

  31. Marti says:

    How dare they, I agree with MilkGlassHeart you’re way to kind, this has lawsuit written all over it. I’m one of the many supporting you.

  32. Lisa Lesnhe says:

    I too, feel outrage at this blatant stealing of your hard work, creativity and intellectual property. I’m firmly in the “fire off a cease and desist letter from your lawyer” camp. At least it should get their attention and give you strong basis for further grounds should they continue to rip you off. I’m no lawyer, but I’m certain you have a strong case here. In the meantime, you should at least feel a bit of “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” But it would be nice if they compensated you as well!

    • WendyB says:

      Remember in The Godfather when they say, “Leave the gun, take the cannolli?”

      I’m like, “Leave the ‘flattery,” give me the money!”

  33. savvy gal says:

    you should pitch it to a big retailer. yours are much better anymore.

  34. Susan Tiner says:

    I’m so sorry Wendy. In solidarity I ordered the OMG rings!

  35. Susan you are awesome- clearly Wendy Brandes customers are a fine and loyal bunch!

  36. Tina says:

    OMG! WTF?!? That is some BS. Your rings rock so much harder than theirs.

  37. Hmmm… my anti-spam word is spoiled. Considering I just bought your Cleopatra earrings for myself, that might be true!

    I am so sorry this happened to you, Wendy. I think that corps like Topshop and F21 are really making a huge mistake by copying designers instead of reaching out to work with them. h&m seems to have a better grasp on how to collaborate and build relationships which just enhances their reputation. Hell, even Target does a better job with that!

    All Freedom seems to do is copy the designs of others… maybe if enough people start to voice their opinions about it something will change.

  38. Alicia says:

    I’m about to go HAM on Twitter…

  39. Silvergirl says:

    been following this via twitter
    the whole copy thing really hits home when you know someone it affects
    i hope some kind of acknowledgement etc comes out of this

  40. This makes me want to rant! This fraud becomes personal when it happens to someone like you.

  41. I just responded to your comment and hopped over to your blog and saw this and I absolutely CANNOT believe this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t even read the entire thing, I am so mad. I am also now regretting todays post. I am actually more pissed off about this than I was with Grit&Glamour’s situation. This is a BLATANT David vs Goliath type shit and I am really surprised that it came from an entity like Topshop!

  42. I just read this post after seeing your tweets. I’m all for meme and free flow of ideas but sometimes like in this case it’s so obviously stolen. Who said this: if you’re going to steal it, make it better? Well, let me tell you (as if you don’t already know) your rings are much better looking. color, size, font – everything about them is better.
    funny, I posted my shoe post before i read this. At least the Urban Outfitters shoes were not the exact copy of Nina shoe 🙂

  43. Wow, Wendy, if I’d seen those rings at TopShop, I would have immediately thought they were yours, too. This really sucks, but now that I’ve been following style blogs, I see knockoffs everywhere. The one that bothers me the most right know is seeing the J. Crew bubble necklace knockoff on eBay. I dunno how J. Crew feels about it. Is it inevitable for a major trend to be knocked off by a lot of different retailers? Ugh.

    I’m saving for a Wendy B piece, too. I want the real thing. When I saw your acorn pendant, I was like, “Gosh, she knows ME.” When peeps ask me for one word to describe myself, it’s always “squirrely.” I didn’t know jewelry was available to express that! 🙂

  44. Elizabeth says:

    TopShop chintzed out with that Tweeted apology. CHOPShop.

    (Just getting time to sit down and read up on this.)

  45. Julie Marie Matos says:

    Oh No! This is oh so WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!! There was NO ‘Misinterpretation’!
    They outright stole your designs! Of course no comparison, but there must be
    something besides a lame apology to ‘right’ this ‘wrong’!!!!!!! Unlike your nicety,
    I am not giving them the benefit of the doubt.

    Though I must say it is rather a compliment that they are watching Lady B, however,
    they should have then offered you tons of $$$$ for your design before the cheezy

    I need to calm down from this outRAGE!