I’m going to preface this by saying that this is a very polarizing topic and that there are going to be a fair number of you who don’t agree with me. I welcome all opinions, including those different than my own, but please keep it civil. As well, I’ve deliberately not included photos of the items in question because this is not a call-out or a comparison piece trying to prove the differences between the items.
There have been a seldom number of times in which I have experienced something that has shaken me so thoroughly that I begin to question my faith in humanity. The first was when I was working my first retail job and a woman came in and screamed at me for putting on the wrong bow on a gift I had wrapped. The second was when my current school disregarded my plea for helping reduce the homework load, and the third was April 1st, 2017. In an Etsy message that unfortunately turned out to NOT be an April Fool’s joke, a woman politely asked me if I used another designer’s patterns in my work, pointing out similarities in specific styles. As odd as this was, I politely replied that no, I have put weeks into drafting my patterns, hours of my life, and immense frustrations trying to perfect a fit or the way a garment sits. (Side note: even if I had used someone else’s patterns that are protected by copyright, who messages a stranger on the internet and politely asks if they’ve done something illegal? Like, yeah, since you asked nicely, I’ll give you a written confession to a crime!)
The message that followed my reply detailed a few designs that the designer in question had in her previous collections that looked like some of mine. For full disclosure, this designer and I have very similar aesthetics. I have been an admirer of her designs for a while, but in no measure would I ever set out to mimic another designer’s products (WHY would I try and copy someone who’s been doing this for years and has already established a following among people who know her for those designs? It just wouldn’t work). I’m not denying that some of the items are similar. With that being said, there’s also a number of designs in my shop that DON’T look like something this designer would ever make. I guess those designs didn’t fit the narrative this woman was trying to create, so she didn’t mention them.
The message was very passive-aggressive and ended with the statement “I hope you realize what you are doing is wrong. Have a nice day!”
Now, if there’s one thing that gets me, it’s someone who believes so thoroughly that they’re in the right that it doesn’t matter what you say to them, they just won’t hear you.
The shop in question has exceeded 4500 sales and has been in business for seven or eight years. I have been in business for a little over a year and have managed 84 sales. I’m not ashamed of what I’m sure looks like a small number to some of you. I’m a full-time student and am managing this business which requires me to put in full-time hours. The other shop launched at a time when the indie lingerie scene was a lot more barren and has found immense success and has garnered a fairly large following. I have had a much more difficult time starting up and am sure I will continue to struggle.
Launching a lingerie business now, particularly an indie one with a very tiny starting budget, is and has been a complete nightmare. I’m late to the game and a lot of designs have been cornered by other brands. Traction is difficult to gain on audiences who are oftentimes looking for the “next big thing”. This often comes in the form of black straps, appliques, illusion tulle, and gorgeous photo shoots and sets with professional models.
Everyone has a unique taste, most things have been done in one form or another, and most of the same silhouettes are recycled over and over because there’s only so much you can do with lingerie before it becomes unwearable or not commercially viable. I design my items for a specific price point and while they require skill to sew, they are not particularly arduous or labor-intensive. If they were, I’d have to charge much more for them and I’m not willing to do that for a pair of cotton undies. I’ve deliberately kept my designs wearable and simple. That’s the point. I’m still developing as a brand, my tastes are changing, I’m still finding my creative voice, and I’m still whittling down the exact aesthetic I want to nail down. I’ve played around with a few but haven’t found anything that says “Megan” yet, but I feel that with each coming collection I’m closer.
She ended her message with this little gem:
This is coming from someone who is not a designer. Do you know how I know she’s not a designer? Because this comment shows how she’s got no idea how much work goes into making a collection. To redraft completely new styles, test them, photograph them, and list them is a process that takes months. The “Down the Rabbit Hole” body suit in my shop right now took 2 months on its own. Now, that was my first body suit so it’s bound to take a little longer, and the “Queen of Scots” body suit took less time. But you get the gist. It takes literal months.
As a second note, her use of the word “originality” is interesting. Let’s talk about what it means to be original.
In this day and age, consumers are constantly looking for “newer”, “exciting”, “better”, and a lot of companies maintain the air of uniqueness through branding, yet almost every single runway trend in the last 6 months can be placed back five, ten, and twenty years ago. Some trends date back to sepia-colored times. How long does a designer have to wait before bringing a design or trend back? Is there a critical period of waiting before it’s fair game? Paco Rabanne came out with metal dresses in 1967 and thirty years later he brought out the same design and it still sold out. Today there’s a modern version of the metal dress sitting in Barney’s right now. Is it okay because it’s his design? Is he the only one who is allowed to have metal dresses?
I have not invented the vertical-seam soft bra. The other designer did not invent the vertical-seam bra. I’m not sure who did, but it was decades ago and it’s since been dished out by hundreds of companies in various forms. I designed my current bestseller to have princess seams, which are seams that absorb dart amounts to create a gentle curve. I got the idea when I was looking at a Wolf dress form and noticed that they’ve got princess lines going down the form’s body in the exact place I wanted my seams to sit. Did I know about vertical seam bras beforehand? Of course. Did I know this designer also had a princess seam bra? Yes. Did I think about that when I started drafting it? No, because it was something that I wanted to have for my shop and I tend to fall out of triangle bras. I was making absolutely no effort to “steal” this simple design from someone else. I spent months perfecting the fit. I spent many late nights working at it and I’ve sewn many, many test bras until I came to a fit that I loved. This design is my own as much as it is the other designer’s and any other designer who puts hours into creating it. I’ve since spotted incredibly similar shapes among indies, and am I going to bitch about it? No, because similar ideas exist. We don’t live in a vacuum. Nobody has a monopoly on vertical-seam soft bras, printed fabric, or anything else, for that matter.
The audacity of this person, who stumbled upon my shop and made a snap decision about my products by accusing me of stealing designs from someone else outraged me. However, I was very diplomatic in my reply and even thanked her for looking out for indie brands as we can get swept under bigger brands’ rugs. Yet on she went.
This woman zeroed in on a single item in my shop that had the same fabric that this designer used a few years ago in a collection. Apparently it’s outrageous that I dared like the same fabric as another person (I bought it on sale and I’m pretty sure you can still get it online where I got it, Girl Charlee). How dare I buy a fabric because I liked it! The items were, however, very similar, so I decided to remove it from my shop because they were a bit too similar for comfort (i don’t think blatant likenesses are acceptable), and they weren’t actually part of my regular shop but a one-off pair of undies in an XS that I made as a sample a few months ago. In all honesty, they were a pair of striped hipsters with some lace panels on the sides. Not exactly groundbreaking. The other designer’s use of that fabric also had a matching bra, while mine was a one-off pair of undies. She was also picking at old styles of mine that I no longer use and that I’m in the process of cycling out as I work on new things. However, I let her know that I removed the offending pair of undies and thanked her for bringing it to my attention. This wasn’t enough for her, though.
She called me a disgrace. She was condescending, belittling, and even worse, SO sure that she was in the right. I was being talked down by someone who had no idea what they were talking about. I didn’t reply to her last message. I thought about sending a succinct little “Okay! Please don’t contact me again”, but I decided this wasn’t worth any more of my time.
I frequent the same suppliers that many indie lingerie brands do (especially here in Canada, where there’s one big-name company that supplies a LOT of trims and fabrics for lingerie) and while I try my best to choose fabrics that I think are unique, oftentimes I’ll see a fabric and realize that I’ve seen it elsewhere, and then sadly remove it from my cart when I realize it’s now “off-limits”. Like many designers, I scour my local fashion district for unique fabrics that I can work with and that inspire me. I’m fortunate enough to live in a big city where that’s possible. Where there are gaps in what I’m looking for and what the local shops offer, I fill them with online purchases. I buy fabrics from Spoonflower, Girl Charlee, and Etsy. So does this other designer, and so do a lot of others. They’re nice fabrics. They’re good quality. They’re pretty. If you’re looking for some nice jersey knits, those are the places to go.
I’ve got four pages worth of favorites on Spoonflower that I’ve spent hours picking through designs to find. In that four pages, there’s some overlap between what’s in other designers’ shops and my favorites. I haven’t bought those designs for that reason.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve had an idea in my head that I didn’t have time to put into reality between school and orders, only to see it in another designer’s shop weeks later, and then labeling that design “off-limits” in my head.
It’s people like this woman that restrict creative freedom because they’re so concerned with who “did it first” and who’s “really original” and who’s “copying” who.
This woman also threatened to do whatever was in her power to hurt my shop and promote the other designer. This was where I drew the line.
I don’t care about what a random stranger on the Internet thinks about me or says to me. But my business is my baby and I love it dearly. It keeps me sane, gives me a creative outlet, and lets me share what I love doing with other people. So here I am, writing this post, to give people more of a look into the behind-the-scenes struggle of trying to stay “original” and the constant pressure to be on-trend, to come up with the next big thing, when in reality, it’s not so simple, not so black and white. I know as designers we’re supposed to be these endless creative outlets constantly churning out fantastic ideas. Sometimes, it doesn’t work like that.
I no longer drive myself crazy trying to be “unique” and “different”. If I get an idea that I feel is unique and different, then that’s awesome and I’m very excited about it. But if I see it pop up in another brand’s store, big or small, I don’t beat myself up over it. I do what I like and don’t pay much attention to what others are doing. That doesn’t make my work any less meaningful. It just helps keep me sane.
To finish this piece, I’d like to leave you with a little piece of wisdom my manager gave me after that woman in my first retail job screamed at me. She came over to my 15-year old self (who was trying real hard not to cry on her second day) and said with a very angry expression, “I have to look angry, but you did a great job handling that. Some people have sticks up their asses and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading and bearing with me!
I sincerely appreciate it, and would love to know what you think in the comments. Do you agree? Do you think I’m wrong?
Let me know down below and be civil!