Tuesday, May 1, 2012
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: