A Note About Originality

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!

-AFILAL


 

19 thoughts on “A Note About Originality

  1. That woman is ridiculous! Do they look kind of similar? Yep they do. But that doesn’t in any way imply you’re somehow stealing from her. There’s only so much you can do with simple shapes in cotton and lace… It’s not like you’re copying something that’s recognizably, undeniably one designer’s (like Made by Niki’s string designs, for example — if anyone came out with that right now you’d have a strong case for blatant theft). You’re just doing cotton bralettes and panties, a concepts that have looked a certain way for basically a century.

    1. THANK you!! I really thought the message was a joke, but after a few more angry passive-aggressive replies it was clear it was not. My designs are simple!! That’s what I like doing and those kinds of designs are my bestsellers. Yet she accused me of stealing from someone when these shapes have been around for decades. She acted as though the other designer invented these styles. If that were the case, I would never want to profit off of someone else’s work. And yes, exactly- if the design is very striking or characteristic of a certain brand, then copying becomes obvious. Thanks so much for your comment and thanks for reading 🙂

  2. Your post is very on point. You’re right. We don’t live in a vacuum and there is only so much effort you can put into being careful before creativity gets squashed. I liken it to music. Music, like all art, is inspired by our environment and experiences, which include other music. Just cuz a song uses the same chord transitions or progression or rhythm doesn’t mean it’s stolen.

    1. I totally agree– artists and general are a very protective group of people of the art that they create but when we start policing who’s copying who then the actual art gets kind of lost in it. Thank you so much for your comment!! xx

  3. She is obviously a sick arrogant woman who probably has narcissistic personality disorder. She only said these things to you to make herself feel superior. The thing that worries me is if she does try to threaten or hurt your business, then maybe you have legal options. There are ways to trace who the sender is. You know her bitchiness is what it is. Bitichiness. AND you don’t have to justify yourself to ANYONE!

    1. Thank you so much, Joanne! I almost told her to “get a hobby”, but I had to be professional 😉 It definitely came off as malicious. If she does have an affect on my business, I’ll handle it if it comes to that- but hopefully it won’t!! Thank you for your kind words and support, it means a lot xx

  4. I had a conversation with another designer who had a similar problem recently. When she said what she was accused of stealing it was a very basic heart design. It was so basic there was no way she could have stolen it. It sounds the same with your experience. Lingerie only has so many possibilities because humans are one basic shape with some changes in proportion and a modern woman tends to like a certain silouette.
    As to whether you intentionally took another designers idea and regurgitated it, the woman in question couldn’t know for sure and shouldn’t have been so confrontational and mean. Your manager was right, be respectful to the customer then move on to the next.
    I was looking at some lingerie patterns from an etsy shop recently and loved almost every pattern she was selling, then I realised why, I have a lingerie draw full of similar pieces I bought at a big name shop. As you say, there are classic designs that are just basic shapes. I don’t think this designer stole the designs from the big retailer!
    As a shop owner on a global market will you come across people who will speak down to you. They will be wrong to do it. Don’t let it affect your day, just deal with the next customer.

    1. That poor designer. Well exactly! Lingerie above all else needs to be wearable, so some overlap is going to happen in terms of what you can do with shapes. She probably shouldn’t have upset me as much as she did, but it’s weird being accused by a random stranger of plagiarism and then having them threaten to do their best to ruin your company. I suppose not working in retail for a few years has made me soft 😛 But then I decided that I could turn this experience into a learning opportunity about the design process. That’s awesome advice- you can’t please everybody. Thank you so much for your comment and thank you for reading xx

  5. I think you are definitely in the right here! I’ve read about this issue (supposed/real copying of designs) in other places too. The average consumer doesn’t understand that because lingerie has to be at least some kind of functional, there’s only so many ways to do it! Especially where trends are concerned. I’m sure it’s very frustrating and I’m sorry you have to go through this. It’s definitely a shame to have your options limited because you don’t want to be seen as plagiarizing. I wish you the best of luck and I hope she never contacts you again!

    1. Thank you so much, I really appreciate your comment. It was frustrating but I thought I’d turn it into a learning experience. It is limiting but hearing people’s experiences of being accused of the same things makes me feel better and makes me realize how ridiculous some people can be-ESPECIALLY when they have no idea what they’re talking about. I also hope she never contacts me again!! (and if she does I’m reporting her to Etsy for harassment) Thank you for reading xx

  6. I’ll come back and write something longer and better. But right now, I am so angry for you! Yes, there is a similarity between your products and the other shop’s. But it’s a similarity born from the nature of the designs- like you said, a vertical seam soft bra is going to look like a vertical seam soft bra. There are clear cut examples of brands plagiarizing indie designs. This isn’t one of them. Keep your chin up!

    1. THANK you! I tried explaining that to her but she just kept getting more and more awful. Thank you so much for reading and for your support xx

  7. Well, you can always be original and design something with an extra bra cup at the back (idea for April fools’ next year, *wink*)

    We can’t please everyone so sometimes we just have to be thick-skinned and keep doing what we love. 💪

    1. LOL. Maybe I’ll even be super original and design the first-ever bra cup hat. Yeah, miserable people just exist…but could they not exist in my inbox? Lol. Thank you for reading, and thank you for your comment xx

  8. Hi Megan! I’ve been reading your blog and following your work for quite some time now, and I’ve got to say that you’re really brave and really strong: It’s so difficult to cope with that kind of comments!! I absolutely agree with you, no one is 100% “original” in the fashion industry, there’re common sources of inspiration and it’s completely normal that a similar idea gets to be used multiple times. The same thing happens in art: Picasso took a great deal of inspiration from middle age paintings, and nobody would acuse him of being “unoriginal”!
    I love sewing lingerie and I’ve made several bespoke pieces for some clients, so that’s given me the idea of creating a mini-collection and start selling online. But the day I actually sat down and began sketching designs, I ended up crying: everything I came up with, I found it on Pinterest about ten minutes later. But then I realised that yes, maybe the shape was similar, but I was planning to use a completely different lace for it, or finishing it in another way, or… well, just make it my own. Everyone is unique, and you let your unique personality shine through your designs! 🙂

    1. Hey Sofia, thank you so much for your comment. It’s incredibly frustrating!! I had a similar experience but since decided to just go for it and if it loos lie someone else’s, then whatever. For the record I think your creations are absolutely lovely and I look forward to seeing your upcoming work. Thank you again for your comment and support, I sincerely appreciate it 🙂 xx

  9. I just stumbled upon your blog by clicking a link on another blog. Your post drew me in and it just irritated me that you had to deal with this troll. Unfortunately the internet is full of self-righteous people like her. You dealt well with her and hopefully she leaves you alone now. You’ve done nothing wrong and can hold your head high. All the best with your future endeavours.

    1. Hey– first of all, welcome!! Thank you so much for your comment. Unfortunately it is, but hopefully she won’t come back and I can keep on doing what I like to do. Again, thank you very much for reading and for commenting– I really appreciate your reply. All the best to you, too 🙂 xx

  10. yeah whatever.

    I know exactly the fabric and pair you’re talking about. Yes there are similarities, and I can see why she thinks it’s a copy. But don’t let that deter you from using the same fabric! If she took a closer look, she’d notice the subtle (but obvious to those who pay attention) differences in your design vs designer #2. Even your product photos are different. (Although to someone not paying attention they could say is similar too.) Frankly, I follow pretty much all the indie lingerie designers and can say several brands all look very similar. Does that mean they all copied designer #1 who’s been at this for longer? NO. Maybe some of them learned from her to get started? That’s likely, we all look to existing brands to learn. If not, it’s also possible for a few designers to have the same interests. I mean cmon who doesn’t love a pretty floral. Or pink and white. Or .. blah blah.

    What she incorrectly pointed out is a completely different matter. If it was a case of like Forever 21 copying indie designer Knickerocker – a very distinct style of underwear, that is more cut and dry copying. Does that mean no one else can make underwear that’s animal faces? Not necessarily. Even her designs are very much like those of Japanese toys and faces. It’s all about your voice, your take on materials, on the style or trend.

    As creatives, we’re all inspired by the works that have came before us, and it’s great you are paying attention to current market trends and styles. Does that mean you’re limited to only make what hasn’t been made? First off, that’s not possible. Second, that’s not fair to anyone who’s interested in this industry who’s joining late. A lot of ideas have been claimed, and with basic triangle shapes to work with there’s only so much exploration that can be done! So if changes to shapes isn’t possible, you’re stuck with only changing up fabric designs. As a indie designer, creating your own fabric from scratch is very difficult to get started with. Even services like Spoonflower isn’t perfect by any means (also costly as a start up). If this person did any kind of sewing she would understand more.

    All I can say is ignore the hate, and keep at it Megan. I’m also a budding lingerie maker and find so much respect for anyone who’s doing this. It’s not easy. Like you said, drafting can take months. Sewing up samples isn’t free either, and you’re not sure if it’ll even work out and sell-able! The start up costs to get a small range of designs up into shop is quite a lot, and that’s not even considering the cost of education. Maybe she’d retract her message if you showed her your tuition, books, and materials costs. 😛

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