Part 1: That was my idea!

This is part 1 in a short series of posts I am calling: But Mom!  They won’t stop copying me!

Copying is one of those elephant in the room issues that we all brood about but seldom have open discussion about.  I encourage you as you read this series to interact.  Speak up, give me your opinion on the topic.  This is how issues get resolved and ethics get set.

Part 1: That was my idea!

“You thought of it first right?  Why can’t people just come up with their own ideas?  I worked so hard on this!”  We’ve all been there-and if not lucky you!  Someone took your idea and is now trying to make money off of it.  Even worse they are saying it was their idea nd now it’s your word against theirs!  You are outraged and not sure what to do.  You don’t want to bring attention to them so you can’t say anything but you don’t want to lose business either.  Later in the series I will post about how to protect yourself when another fashion related business does copy you but first lets talk about who’s idea it really was.  I am going to tell you my story but first a side story.

I am a mom so I apologise in advance for using a cartoon reference but I believe when Marlise, my daughter, received Strawberry Shortcake’s Glimmerberry movie for Christmas it was really meant for me.  The story line is all about when people copy you.  But it has a twist.  I’ll make it brief.  All of Strawberry’s friends are excited to enter the glimmerberry carving contest.  They are all given instructions and challenged to make their own carving design that will later be judged for a prize.  They are all very careful not to let others see their designs but Lemon walks in on Blueberry when she is sketching.  Blueberry is upset and orders her out.  Later Blueberry sees Lemon’s design and it’s just like hers!  She is outraged and accuses her of copying.  Lemon then says it was her own original idea nd maybe Blueberry was copying.  Later at the judging all the girls get together for the big reveal and they ALL have the same design!  Lots more finger pointing happens until the contest leader reveals the instruction page with the very design they all had on their berries.  “You all must have seen it briefly when I read you the contest rules and not remembered.  But it was such nice design you all created it.”

We all pull from the same inspiration from the most part-even without realizing it.  We are visual creatures and ou minds are designed to take “pictures”of what we see.  TV, Magazines, Internet, People On the Street-our mind is always taking pictures.  Our minds are also designed to “throw out” details that seem unimportant (I watch a lot of PBS).  So we may remember an image but not remember where or who created it.  For a designer these “pictures” are combined with our own creative ideas to create a product.  So was it really your idea?  Or do you just think it was?

Case Study:  Me

When I first created ruffle leggings for kangacoo designs I was small.  I had only sold clothes online for about 6 months (prior to that it was only blankets and outerwear).  I created a Valentine Collection and at the last-minute used the ruffles  I added to my dress to create leggings for underneath.  Before I did this I searched Etsy and googled to see if anyone else was already making them.  I didn’t want to be a copy cat even though I did think up the idea on my own.  I did find one person.  She was in Brazil and made them for women.  Other designers were using the ruffles but not  in a full length legging.  When I released the dress not many ordered it but emails came in like crazy for the leggings and I started selling them.  Shortly after I was contacted by a showroom in LA and the rest is history.  After all this happened I did find a company outside of Etsy making ruffle leggings with the same material but a slightly different design.  Their focus is mainly dresses.  They may think I copied them.  I didn’t.

Valentine 2011  kangacoo designs photoshoot taken in early January

Now when you search Etsy there are sellers in the double digits making ruffle leggings the same as I do.  Many of them are individuals that copy but I also think some of them are people just like me that saw the fabric and said, “That would make a cute legging”.  I mean it’s not a super original idea to make a legging out of a ruffle fabric.  Just a good one.  And at this point Etsy/FB Sellers may not be copying me, they may be copying someone that copied me or someone that came up with the idea like me.

I know it sounds like I am letting people off the hook but it’s not that.  It’s just that there is no legal recourse in this field and the sooner you accept that and learn to play the game the better off you will be.  More importantly the better off your business will be.

And you do have to play the game if you want to last in this industry.  I mentioned this was a series because there is so much to cover on this topic.  How to protect your business when someone copies you, how copying affects the industry, how to brand your product as the top of it’s class among copy cats, when someone copies you and tries to attract you client or fan base, how to play clean when others play dirty…so stay tuned….

If you have a personal experience or just an opinion on this topic and would like to be featured on my blog please email me at katie@kangacoo.com

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Part 1: That was my idea!

  1. Great blog! Can’t wait to read the rest of the series. Definitely gonna send my customers over here to read this since we are all boutique owners! And btw, the Strawberry Shortcake movie sounds VERY familiar to some boutique copycat stories I’ve heard. Great reference! lol.

  2. Josi Stevens

    Thank you for your insight on this issue. I’m just starting up my own boutique and have been concerned about this very thing. I’m looking forward to your future posts.

  3. Sally Monreal

    I loved this blog. I can’t wait to read more and hear your opinion on this matter. I definitely have mine, but I also don’t own my own business. My opinion is from the perspective of a “fan.” I will post it later.

  4. Great article. The way I look at it is this. I am a one woman shop that is making for instance Ruffle Pants. The fact that others are making the same thing really does not bother me anymore. I need to do this in order to stay home with my kids, and still make some income to help our family pay the bills. There is no way I can provide enough pants to satisfy everyone, and as long as I can establish a clientele, make an annual income, I am happy. Not greedy.

  5. Diane

    I buy patterns, make dresses, and sell them. I use my own ideas as far as fabric and details but the truth is many have the same patterns so the outcome is similar. I often worry that someone may think I tried to copy them when the truth is I may have just bought the same pattern they did. It’s no fun if I copy you. Coming up with an idea and executing it is what’s exciting about it. I’m not out to copy anyone. The way I choose to make that pattern is all me. I loved this and I will be looking forward to the rest of your series

  6. Okay, I’ve been working with start ups for over 15 years now. Prior to that I worked 15 years in corporate manufacturing. I am a pattern maker. I can say that most people get knocked off by people on their same level OR smaller enterprises tend to copy larger ones. I’m not saying it’s always true but there is a clear pattern.

    Whether large or small, Katie is spot on in saying you have to stay ahead and focus on continual change. Be a leader not a follower if design provenance is your driver. It’s hard to shake it off but if you’re always moving toward something new, why care if someone is knocking off your old styles?

    From the perspective of larger enterprises copying smaller ones, there is also a clear pattern. Universally, they copy you but improve the quality of it. Yes I know we all think we make the best stuff but there is always a gap btwn the aura of good intentions vs execution. Typically, the best way to avoid those issues is to improve your execution before someone else does. These differences amount to nuances, very small details as opposed to something glaring and obvious. If anyone is interested, here’s a rundown on some of the deficits I’ve seen (Are you a target?). The second way others know you’re a target for knock off is again subtle but symptoms are often evident with respect to lack of style numbers etc.

  7. Whitney

    LOVE it! Can’t wait to hear more!!!

  8. Nice job. Can’t wait to read more in the series!

  9. Pam M

    very timely post as I’ve seen this playing out publicly on facebook just in the last few days.

  10. Crystal

    I guess I never considered using a certain style or pattern as copying someone else. Simply changing up fabrics/colors can change the entire look of a certain style item. On the other hand, seeing something someone else did and then copying it down to the fabric color choices to me is copying and I try to avoid that.

    Here’s an issue you might cover under the copying situation. How about one owner mimicking everything another store does and then undercutting prices to draw in those customers? And I don’t mean just making some of hte same things, I mean as soon as the original seller makes/sells something then they start making/selling the exact same thing. I see that happening to often.

    • Morgann

      I too would love to hear more about Crystal’s issue! This exact thing happens to me with practically every product and mutual “friends” are always commenting on the issue, on my fb page and personally. What about when you actually KNOW this person too?
      I am loving your blogs, Katie! I think you are really doing a wonderful and insightful job!

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