I think most of you have come across with the news about one of Marimekko’s fabric designs by Kristina Isola being exposed as a copy of work by Ukraininan artist Maria Pryimachenko.
Of course these news were shocking to all Marimekko fans around the world, but especially the fans here in Finland. To many of us Finns, Marimekko is a strong part of our national identity, especially when it comes to design. But also because Marimekko is known from its personal and unique style and heritage.
I could carry on about the sadness of this ”tragedy” but I decided to bring up this subject mainly because us, smaller design companies, are dealing with issues like this all the time.
For example titiMadam’s original designs have been copied by biggies like UK’s Topshop, Swedish Monki and Finnish Seppälä but also by smaller brands.
Our copy stories are pretty straight forward. About four years ago we were negotiating a deal with Topshop’s jewellery design department. After sending samples and talking about details, the deal was suddenly cancelled. The explanation was simple. Topshop decided to carry on with their current contractors. After a while (still living in London at the time and visiting Topshop quite often) we pumped into an exact copy of our Zuzanna Zebra pendant at Topshop’s jewellery department, soon followed by Snowhite pendant. They had not changed a single detail or material. Only the size was little bigger.
After few anger relieving vodka shots we tried to figure out what to do. How could we fight against a company who’s whole business concept is to copy other brands? The sad answer was: absolutely nothing… We talked with our layer but the answer was not with him either. Topshop has 100 000 layers defending their ”rights”. Of course we contacted the head of Topshop’s design department, but her answer was similar to what Marimiekko is saying now: ”we had no idea about this, nothing we can do about it”. From their point of view it was a mistake done by one of their designers which means no need to take any responsibility. In this case it was exactly the irresponsibility that annoyed us the most, not the money, time or fame.
Big against small, experience against inexperience, dollars against pennies, known against unknown…
Case 2: ”Are you selling your jewellery in Seppälä?”. After checking out where did the comment come from, we realized that Seppälä was indeed selling a very similar design to our Yaseed Unicorn pendant BUT it was not our Yaseed Unicorn pendant. The shape was pretty much there, chain lenght, the position of the unicorn… It was it but still not. Well, we did not even bother to contact the design team at Seppälä that time. We had kind of lost the boogie after the Topshop case.
Then Monki… Well the story is so similar to the ones above.. I could show you pictures if you like?
On top of these annoying and i-feel-used-by-giants -stories, I must sadly say that this kind of ”copying” is quite common also between smaller companies. I could mention several brands who have taken on with titiMadam’s business ideology. The designs are not the same, but the feeling, mentality, material, graphics and the use of those are. I am not saying that product-wise titiMadam has reinvented the bicycle, but we have created something special and at a time it was one of a kind.
Lets stay one step a head.
Fortunately we have learned to take copying more as a compliment than harassment. It makes us feel special and that we most certainly have done something right. It is just the ”embarrassment” we feel towards the companies without their own imagination. It is hard to think that they can not see the similarities between the designs, but even harder is to understand that they do not care about them.
Our suggestion is simple. Respect the mind flow, imagination and productivity of other smaller (and bigger) designers and brands. I am a designer. I understand that the inspiration can come from anywhere, our minds work in mysterious ways. That is why always negotiate with yourself where, when and how you ideas came about. And mostly question yourself before launching them. Everybody makes mistakes. If you do, take your action on it. Be responsible. People, our customers, are not blind, just like the Marimekko mess has proved.
With kindest respects to my fellow designers and entrepreneurs,
CEO // titiMadam
Owner, designer and a lover of unique imagination
PS. Here’s a link to article from Helsingin Sanomat (English) about Kristina Isola and the exposure of the copied work.
PPS. Stars can’t shine without darkness.