There's nothing worse for a business owner than your product being plaigarized. Just ask Rachel Stewart.
The jewelry designer says Asian knockoff sites, that have been recreating her work, are affecting sales so much that she may have to go out of business.
Stewart has been selling her handcrafted designs for eight years, reports The Root. Her afrocentric work has been worn by the likes of Kim Coles, Nelly Furtado and Beyoncé's all-female backup singers, the Suga Mamas.
Unfortunately two larger companies, she says, have been ripping off her creations.
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"They not only copied the exact design but stole the product shots I personally took of the pieces and even the models," Stewart tells The Root.
Stewart says she's contacted the Asian e-commerce sites. One in particular said someone showed her a picture of Stewart's designs and asked them to make it. She initally appeared apologetic, she says.
"She said if I didn’t take legal action she would remove them from her shop right away and make them for me exclusively. I thought that was funny. I produce my own product—just take down my work," she said.
"She took them down and one week later changed the name of her shop and put them right back up. It’s not just these companies: Independent boutiques also steal my pictures and work; it’s rampant."
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Stewart says she's tried everything from sending cease and desist letters to watermarking her images, yet it doesn't stand a chance against copycats.
"Imagine Michael Jordan or Louis Vuitton trying to stop reproductions; they can’t. There’s a demand and millions to be made," she said.
Stewart says that while she understands, as a consumer, the allure in getting a designer's work for cheap, buyers should be more aware before purchasing. Not doing so presents dire consequences for business owners.
She also admits the end may be near for her online store.
The bigger picture Stewart wants to drive home, however, is the fact that Black-owned businesses suffer the most when copycats steal work from designers.
"China gets richer and richer off us; if it isn’t our hair care, it’s our accessories. Where do we draw the line? We are the most creative people on this planet, but we look to China and Europe for our fashion," Stewart said.
"Before we complain about the high prices of our local black business, remember that nobody complains about the high prices of these French labels. Rappers don’t shout out black-owned designers unless it’s their own line. People can help by holding indy designers up as the must-have items instead of already established fashion houses that really don’t want your business in the first place. There are no Black designers who are a household name...something is wrong with that."
(Photo: Rachel Stewart)