Sunday, April 10, 2011

Inspired by? or Theft?

Something that has always been scary to me, about being a designer, is how easy, and without repercussion it is for people to steal your ideas and run with them. Manufacturers in Asia reproduce designer goods at a fraction of the cost, YSL is being sued by Christian Louboutin for "stealing" his signature red sole.

This got me to thinking... Do I have any license over a ruffle? Over sized bow? I have license over my garment as a whole, but people are free to make things in their likeness, as long as they do not pass it off as an Ohhh Lulu original.

I think this kind of sucks. Though I know there is really no way to control this. We are all inspired by something!

I think alot about how I can make Ohhh Lulu stand out as a unique and different apparel company and I think a lot of it comes from the quality. I finish my side seams with self-bound French seams. Items get pressed with a hot iron, free of wrinkles (I see so many items on Etsy that have not been ironed and it breaks my heart). Fabrics are bias cut so they fit and are comfortable (and the drape of fabric cut on the bias just sends shivers down my spine!). Elastics are basted then sewn on for a professional edge. Etc, etc...

I guess with a little success I'm starting to see some similar items popping up on the great world wide web. At first, I kind of wanted to cry because Ohhh Lulu is my baby, it's been growing in my brain for years and years and years and I don't want anyone to steal it away from me. Then I was mad, because sometimes these items were a lot cheaper than I am willing to go so people are buying, not knowing the difference. Then I sulked a little, and had a nap...

Then, I realized what sets me apart.. Two gruelling years, late nights of sewing until I thought my eyes might fall out of my head, lessons on couture techniques, and my own unique little brain, set me apart enough and I don't really need to worry about competition.

And then I thought... have I ever stolen an Idea?

When I first started selling on Etsy, I named one of my items "The icing on the cake"... Then I realized, to my horror, a long time Etsian, Toadlillie, had already used this name. I was mortified at my mistake and I changed it. I think the most important thing about being a good designer is being different. We all adapt and change with trends, but blatantly taking something that worked for someone else and using it for yourself, is just boring and lacks creativity.

How do you react when you see someone taking liberties with your creative ideas? Do you believe in the old cliche, imitation is the highest form of flattery? Have you ever called out someone for infringing on an idea? I'm curious to hear other people's experience with these ideas, whether it be an awesome dress you sewed and someone knocked off, or a business idea at work that a co-worker called their own.

In closing, I'd like to say, I'm surprised at YSL for stealing the red sole. It's really a faux pas and is an obvious Louboutin signature - you don't even have to be a fashionista to know this. They should have stuck with other colours... or floral!


  1. Hi Sarah,
    I really like your designs and I did a brief post on my blog a short while back featuring your brand:
    I´m also starting out in Caracas!! It´s tough but very very satisfying. I wish you luck. I´m leaving you a comment here because I don´t know where to email you.
    Yleana Murray

  2. ugh the internet ate my last comment!! here i go to recreate it...

    i didn't worry about this too much until lately when i read several posts in a row about rampant design theft. the first was big name designers knocking off indie designs and making a mint (here) and the second was rachel zoe designs knocking off vintage (she wasn't the only one, just the one story i

    i didn't worry too much as i'm still learning patience in sewing my own designs as well as every technique i can. then i noticed an etsy shop was "favorite"-ing some of my dresses i posted. then i grew concerned.

    i guess the best thing to hope for is that the client base you're building will recognize that you consistently turn out a a fabulous garment with gorgeous work.

    (also you have something over on my blog!)

  3. A similar debate came up on The Lingerie Addict blog not so long ago. Opinions seemed to be mixed about whether this kind of thing matters (at least from a consumer's point of view).

  4. Hi Sarah! Yes, design theft is definitely a concern to everyone. If we didn't post our designs nobody would see them, but we definitely take a risk with each design we post. Like you stated we have an advantage - a creative mind. I often look at designs online to get inspired, but I always try to make mine very different. What's the point in making something that is already out there? Copyright issues get pretty tricky. In fashion schools designers are often taught if you change a design 15% it's yours now...pretty scary, huh?

  5. Yleana - Thank you so much! Love your blog :)

    quietandsmalladventures - I never worried about this very much either until recently. Sewing is still very much more of a hobby than business at this point, but it is still my artform of choice. It is scary to think someone else, who is already a little more established, could be sneaking your ideas.

    Miss Narcissus - as a consumer, I feel less bad about someone knocking off Agent Provocateur or La Perla, than a smaller brand like Hopeless... Smaller Designers have a little more at stake, though I guess it is wrong of me to judge that way...

    Kara Rice - I think its extra sad when small-time designers take from one another - there is a difference between being inspired by (we all follow trends to a certain extent and will have similarities), and copying. Smaller designers need stick together and keep pushing the envelope, creating new and exciting clothing and encouraging one another! Fashion "copyrights" seem so vague, which is too bad... some of us really see it as an art form.

  6. What you wrote about people copying your ideas really struck a nerve in is something I have dealt with and tried to fight against my whole life! It is one of the reasons I do not post my designs or my "best" ideas online...I am so afraid that someone will just up and walk away with an idea that comes from my brain & heart & soul.

    I am inspired by everything I have seen BUT when I sit down to design a garment that will sell in my store, I ONLY follow my vision and ideas. How I place a flower or bow here, or add some lace I style a garment or outfit....these are from ME. And, so no, I don't want anyone else to steal my idea outright. But what burns me the most is people using someone else's idea and selling it on the same etsy! OK, if you are going to copy because you don't have your own ideas, at LEAST have the decency NOT to sell it in the same place from which the stolen idea came!

    Your lingerie is very special and so pretty...and I would not steal your ideas because not only do I feel that I have plenty of my own to use, but I also believe that it would be wrong to do that.

    Even the name of my store and blog have been copied...outright copied! It breaks my heart too but there is really nothing I can do about it so I try to forget about it. I hope that you try to do the same with your copycats....after all, YOU are the originator, not them.

    And I have never bought into the idea that it is the "sincerest form of flattery"...unless it is a 9 year old girl who tries to dress like her big that type of scenario, it IS sweet and flattering. Everything else is just blatant get the idea.

    Sorry I have gone on so long. I mainly wanted to let you know you are not alone out here...I feel the same way.

    Good luck!
    (From one Ontario girl to another)

  7. "But what burns me the most is people using someone else's idea and selling it on the same etsy! "

    I agree - especially since etsy is supposed to be a place fo people making unique hand made goods, and is supposed to be a supportive community. I see alot of idea "borrowing" especially in the jewellry catagory. For the most part, the lingerie sellers on Etsy all have a distinct and unique style and are quite supportive, however there are exceptions I'm sure!

  8. I totally agree with you on the idea of design theft being more offensive when it's done to small/indie labels. Although all design theft is bad, it can directly affect the success of a emerging designer more so than it would to an internationally renowned brand.

    I have noticed a few doppelganger lingerie labels pop on Etsy, some even going as far as copying another label's design and photgraphy style. I don't understand how people like that aren't emabarrassed to even put their 'work' online, never mind in the same online venue as the labels they are copying! Maybe they don't realise that despite the huge number of shops on Etsy, it's still a very small world on there.

    Luckily Etsy sellers who put that little thought into their own collections rarely last long, so in the long term they don't prove to be much competition. I guess it's easy to underestimate how much work it takes to run a successful and unique Etsy shop.

    Sorry tto be so long-winded about it, but it's a real bug bear of mine, and I always get outraged on behalf of indie designers when this sort of thing happens. Grrrr!

  9. I have a different perspective. I have a really hard time seeing how any design is honestly unique. Another sewing blogger wrote a post about this a while back, and she included a dress pattern that had been "stolen" from a designer by one of the big pattern companies. I have seen a very similar design many times among vintage clothing patterns, so I hesitate to say that design belongs to the designer. I think you are right- what sets you apart is your attention to detail, quality, and branding. Ohhh Lulu is more than just a frilly pair of panties, you hand sew and package each purchase. The buyer knows your lovely undergarments are not made in China, and that no one can find a comparable item at the local Wal Mart. You are selling exclusivity. Isn't it the height of luxury to know that one's beautiful undergarments were designed and sewed by a skilled craftsperson and artist like yourself? I wouldn't worry about this copycat stuff- they haven't got what you have.

  10. I do agree that no design is 100% unique, we all pull from historical styles, trends, etc... however, most designers have a unique look, or a trademark that sets them apart. I guess you are right that it is the branding and quality are the trademarks that sets Ohhh Lulu apart more so than the actual item. You bring a great perspective to the table!

    I am loving hearing all of these view points and experiences! It's been a contentious issue lately, and is not very clear cut!

  11. i used to work for a very well known fashion label (Internationally acclaimed) and the designer would simply take a design that she saw from whoever she was vibing at the time, and simply produce it in a different fabric. I thought this was wrong....but once you put your own fabric and your spin on it, it suddenly creates a life of its own. Nothing is original. Nothing is unique. All our ideas didnt create themselves without reference (wether it be subconscious or not).

    I think until you see someone reproducing with your label on it, theres not a whole lot you can do. Unless you trademark your specific "ruffle" or "bow", after much paper work you may be protected!! haha

    As a fellow lingerie designer, I have seen an almost exact replica of a specific design of mine lately....sadly there isnt much i can do. Just accept that people may be admiring my work and are feeling inspired by it!

    Most of all....I would say ignore the others and keep on keeping on!!!


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