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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

In the past week, I received a number of emails and tweets from gorgeous readers who are concerned about my situation with Topshop, so I realized I should give you an update. But first I’m going to go way back to the beginning for the sake of those of you who don’t know the story, as well as those who like to read about the design process. If you want the short version, scroll down till you see “HERE IS THE UPDATE!” in bold.

I officially introduced my set of four swear rings in September 2008 at a clothing designer’s runway show. (There was a sneak peek online in August 2008.)

My swear rings. $380. Click to purchase.

I like to point out that there’s nothing new under the sun, especially in fashion, so I never thought I was the first person to do multi-ring word jewelry. In fact, I assumed the opposite. But it quickly became obvious that this style was perceived (correctly or incorrectly) as new by a lot of people because I got so much negative feedback! Practically every person who saw the rings told me that four rings was strange; I should have made a single-word ring that spanned multiple fingers.

I had several reasons for doing it my way. The multi-ring concept did seem relatively fresh.  Single, multi-finger rings from fast-fashion chains were popular with fashion bloggers at that time, so there was no need to do that. Word and name jewelry has, of course, been around for centuries. To make a piece of word jewelry that was a little different, I broke the word into four separate rings. Another reason was comfort, which is always important to me. Having my fingers bound to each other all day makes me feel claustrophobic. And, aesthetically, I love seeing rings on as many fingers as possible. I think that’s a sex-ay look — a combination of rock star, swinging ’60s and medieval/Renaissance/Tudor royalty. You’ll see what I mean if you check out a post that gorgeous blogger Liz of Vintage-a-Peel did about ’60s ring wearers.

Ossie Clark’s rings. Click to see more photos on Vintage-a-Peel.

Two other designs I did in 2008 — my 18K-gold Siobhan and sterling-silver Evelina perma-stacked stacking rings — were inspired by the same vibe. My friend Siobhan told me that in the ’60s, her mother, Evelina, collected old gold wedding bands and wore all of them stacked together on every finger. I went crazy over that story and had to do my own versions.

Siobhan ring. $9,000. Click to purchase.

Evelina ring. $625. Click to purchase.

When I did the Siobhan ring, I wrote here, “My dream is to have four of these for myself to wear on four fingers of one hand.” I haven’t managed that yet — still waiting to win the Mega Millions  — but you can see how I combine the Siobhan and Evelina rings with other designs in this photo by gorgeous blogger Jennine of Independent Fashion Bloggers.

I’m not afraid to mix metals. Click for more on that topic.

As for the swear rings, store buyers were scared of them, but online customers loved their shock value, humor, size and quality Those customers, friends and family helped me raise enough money to create additional multi-ring set styles, which led to my WENDYB by Wendy Brandes diffusion line.  That line includes these sterling-silver pieces.

OMG ring set. $300. Click to shop.

Model Tina J wearing my LOL ring set. $320. Click to purchase.

IDGAF necklace. $300. Click to purchase.

There are plenty of other WENDYB by Wendy Brandes looks here, and I’m about to add over 10 new options.

In the spring of 2009, I saw Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” video and gasped over both her poison ring — another signature design of mine — and her DIOR ring set.

Photo from Gaga Fashionland. Click for source.

Maybe Dior and I were working on our pieces at the same time! Great minds think alike, right?

I expected that four-ring sets would become a big thing. Immediately. I was wrong! I forgot to apply one of the tenets of my “Never Is the Next New Thing™” philosophy (which I also developed in 2008) to my own situation. It can take months and even years for a trend to catch on. Hell, I meet people getting their first pair of skinny jeans now.

So nothing much happened except that I made two sets of Gaga rings. (Purely as a tribute; the set isn’t for sale.) I wore one set to Gaga’s concert at Madison Square Garden like the good Little Monster that I am.

Wearing my Gaga rings in 2010. Click to see the full outfit.

I sent the other to Gaga’s stylist. No, Gaga hasn’t worn them. I’ve done the “mega-celebrity gifting” thing two times since then with an equally resounding lack of success. I always wonder if I would have better luck if I had packaged my work in a Cartier or Chanel or Gucci box instead. I wouldn’t do that but I like to think about it while laughing an evil laugh. Mwah ha ha ha.

Years passed and once in a while a loyal reader or customer would email me about a “swear ring” set on Etsy. That was no problem. If a gal wants to make a set of swear rings out of computer-keyboard letters, okay. That’s a lot different from what I do. As long as she’s not using my (trademarked) name to market her work, that’s fine. I can’t even say for sure if she started doing those before or after me, because I deliberately avoid looking at jewelry on Etsy.

I felt differently this April, when the lovely Sarah Graham tweeted stunning blogger Queen Michelle of Kingdom of Style, who has had a set of my rings since 2009. Sarah pointed out that that U.K. fast-fashion retailer Topshop’s “Punctuation Ring Pack” looked a lot like Queen Michelle’s WENDYB rings.

My rings on Queen Michelle in 2009. Click for original post.

Topshop’s rings in 2012.

That did look a little too much like my font for my taste. I was also disappointed to see the exact same characters I used, because I did consider using others (namely the asterisk, which I now sell separately) before I determined these four rings looked best together. I still tried to give Topshop the benefit of the doubt — was it a great minds think alike moment? — but no one else did! Thanks to the social-media outcry and a call from my publicist, it only took Topshop 24 hours to promise to stop selling the rings.

Click for my post.

I was satisfied and that was that … until a few weeks later, when people in Russia and Australia sent me pictures of the “punctuation rings” in their local Topshops. Humph! I sent an email to my Topshop contacts. One replied:

“Thank you for your time in highlighting this error, there seems to have been a miscommunication with some of the international stores and for this I sincerely apologize.

I have looked into this as a matter of urgency and please be assured that the issue has now been dealt with and the style in question is being removed.”

I could understand how some sets might get overlooked in far-flung branches, so again, I was satisfied and that was that. For 24 hours. That’s when beauteous blogger Sara of Sunny Blonde Studio emailed me a picture of the rings on sale in Topshop’s Loughborough, U.K., store. Then MrB had the pleasure of hearing me call my intellectual-property attorney and leave her a voicemail message in which I was nearly screaming.


My attorney sent a letter to Topshop’s attorneys. I got the reply last month. It reads, in part:

Click to enlarge.

As you can see, the letter applies only to the “punctuation ring set” and not to any of Topshop’s other multi-ring sets, including its OMG set.

Topshop’s OMG ring set.

In my first post on all of this, I noted that Topshop’s OMG set wasn’t in my font and I don’t own the letters “OMG,” so it was something I could and would have to live with. Also the conventional wisdom is that my customers and Topshop’s don’t overlap, so there should be no problem.

Reality has been more complicated. Nice peeps keep emailing me about OMG Topshop sightings, so obviously they do associate a three-ring OMG set with me (and I thank them so much for being concerned and contacting me!). And Topshop’s products do have a negative impact on my reputation, more so than I expected, and I want to share this with any small designers who are reading. People who see the jewelry only in photos don’t know that Topshop’s mass-produced jewelry is lightweight brass that looks, feels and smells like old pennies while my limited-edition work is solid, hefty, perfectly polished, rhodium-plated, odor-free sterling silver. That creates the perception that anyone can get “the exact same thing” or something “just as good” as my work for a fraction of the price at an outdoor fair or from a gumball machine, to name two highlarious suggestions. Well, my friends, just because it looks the same doesn’t mean it’s the same quality! A plain black pump from Payless is not the same as one from Christian Louboutin, even if you paint the sole red. Try it on, and you’ll feel that it is Not.The.Same. And, hey, if anyone can find me a manufacturer who will produce small quantities (50 pieces at a time, max) of my designs in the exact same quality they are now for half the price, I will switch to working with that factory and give you a set of original rings as a finder’s fee. Seriously. I don’t want to spend more money than I have to, but it’s a fact that small businesses don’t have economies of scale that large companies have. I won’t do lesser quality under my name, because I tried that and several customers weren’t happy when the bands of their rings broke because the metal was too brittle. I’d still do an inexpensive capsule collection for a fast-fashion chain — like luxury brands Versace, Rodarte and Marni – because once the retailer’s name is on it, customers know what to expect. I’d expect to get paid for that, of course.

Anyway, there’s no need to alert me to the OMG rings at Topshop or any other multi-ring word sets in that font, including corny ones like “WISH,” “KISS” and “LOVE.” There’s nothing I can do about those. I also know that there are dozens of other non-word four-ring sets. I guess people got used to that style after all, right? But please do let me know if you see the original punctuation rings; any other letter rings in my font; or any necklaces like my IDGAF style in my font. You can reach me at wbjewelry at hotmail dot com. Thanks once again for all your concern. I would never have been able to tackle this situation without information from y’all.

I was going to wrap this post up by telling you about the amazing idea that I got while writing it — but I’m going to trademark it first. Then I’ll tell you. Lesson learned!

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18 Responses to “Making a Long Story Longer: Update on Topshop, Swear Rings”

  1. Catherine says:

    Good luck with this, Wendy. I appreciate your update. I’m looking forward to hearing about your new idea. I always enjoy reading your insight. I’m learning from your struggles. I appreciate your dedication to quality. As an artist and hopeful business person, I’ve learned a lot from you.

    • WendyB says:

      I hope reading about my experiences can save you from similar troubles — or at least help you through them if they’re unavoidable — in the future! That’s my goal…

  2. Eli says:

    Oh my Wendy, what a rollercoaster. Their reply seems genuine, so I’m hoping that’s the last of their BS! I wish H&M, Zara, Topshop and the likes (hell, even Forever 21) would stop on their current cycle of knockoffs. Prices have only gone up and quality has significantly reduced. It’s awful.

  3. Topshop is so shady!
    Love your rings, WB, and applaud your efforts to protect your intellectual property.
    Great Louboutin analogy too.


  4. sulky kitten says:

    They produce quantity, you produce quality.
    I’d love some big retailer to join forces with you so that you could produce your gorgeous designs in greater numbers. Everybody should have some WendyB in their life! Will keep my peepers open ….

  5. Denise says:

    This epic ordeal needs it own F @ # ! set!

    So happy to hear you won in the end, what a fight. I don’t like that Sir Philip ‘Hide My’ Green guy.

    (I thought for half a second that Ossie Clark was Hilary Alexander)

  6. As an owner of one of your letter rings, I can say it’s immeasurably superior to any “costume” ring I have, and the quality really shows up every day. People, we get what we pay for. E.g. – never, ever drink the cheap Tequila.

  7. Alice Olive says:

    My antispam is sincere and I sincerely hope this is resolved.

    I also agree that you pay for what you get.

    My Mud Flap Jill’s buns of silver are the eptiome of intricacy and quality.

  8. Liz Groden says:

    Thanks for this story, Wendy, I wasn’t aware of your troubles. It’s very interesting and glad you shared. Look forward to seeing the design you’ve come up with after all this.

  9. Kait says:

    Only people with very bad eyesight couldn’t tell, even from a picture, that what Topshop is producing is tripe. It is funny. I was thinking “boy I bet those would stink” just before I read your bit about them smelling like pennies. LOL.
    People who believe a rip off is better, will never understand or appreciate quality. Pity the fools. 🙂

  10. What a mess. If only they’d collaborated in the first place… ugh! I do hope its finally resolved! XXX S.

  11. Thank you for the update. I’m sorry this turned out to be more complicated than you expected.

  12. stacy says:

    People can do what they want, I suppose.
    Still, your font is WAY cooler than Topshop. OMG!

  13. Elizabeth says:

    Jesus f#@!-ing christ. I can’t believe this situation has gone this far. My heart aches for you, and I seriously want to punish Chopshop. I feel protective toward you, which is ridiculous, because you’re a big girl and you can take care of yourself. But still.

    I could rail against the injustice of it all, but that would get us nowhere.

    The one thing that keeps coming to the front of my mind is, your idea was so good they ripped it off. That’s not exactly a positive (or something you haven’t thought of), or any kind of consolation. But it does mean you have good ideas. Trademarking is the only way now.

    I hope you sue the f#@! out of those f#@!-ers.

  14. Hmmm, today’s anti-spam word is 8 zs. Which would make a terrific set of rings for me in the middle of a long work day 🙂

    I’m glad you are continuing to stay on top of Topshop (sorry). Those rings are too close for comfort to your designs.

    I think separate rings were an inspired idea. I’ve only tried on those rings that hook your fingers together or covered some of them, and taken them off immediately. I feel like I got my fingers stuck in a mouse trap or something 🙁

  15. Deena says:

    I love fast fashion but I love original design much more. I used to work as a clothing designer for a retailer and it used to really set my scalp on fire when we were asked to copy ideas. Companies take the time to seek out, interview and employ the best design staff they can get their hands on. Its an absolute slap in the face to any creative person with qualifications and expertise, to be asked to copy an existing design wholesale. Being inspired by something is one thing, but being asked to rip something off is insulting. If thats what you want me to do then hire a 16 year old with a digital camera, dammit.

    • WendyB says:

      They don’t even need the digital camera anymore — someone can sit at a desk and do all the “research” online! Saves on travel expenses!

  16. Tina says:

    I can’t believe this keeps going on and on! Or maybe I can. Ugh.