I wanted to write an update about Target ripping off American made ModFire, but I’ve been stalled. I’ve had a bit of a hard time digesting it all. Before I get into the details of the outcome, I should start with saying this story has a happy ending. Yet, there were lots of highs and lows along the way.
My #ShameOnTarget post was read and shared more times than I could have imagined. I had more readers that one day, then my last 3 months combined. The story snowballed and I lost count how many times the hashtag ”#ShameOnTarget” was used on social media. People everywhere were telling Target how shameful it was. I was thrilled. People were actually doing what I asked them to do! It was becoming a grassroots movement. It was extremely empowering for me, but it was at the expense of a fellow designer. I was conflicted.
Designers everywhere came together and supported Brandon Williams of ModFire. They sent him encouraging messages and posted the story on their own Facebook pages. It was the utopia I envisioned when I started Modestics. A community of designers sharing and supporting, rather than stealing and competing.
It was more than I could imagine. Shoppers boycotted Target. Customers wrote bad reviews on their website, and commented on Target’s Facebook page. I had a glimmer of hope the day after my article posted; the Target Chiminea was “Unavailable Online.” Were we making progress? Was Target feeling the heat?
My glory moment was short-lived. Target censored the negative online reviews. They deleted Facebook posts that linked back to Modestics. It was back to being available for sale online and still up on their shelves in stores. They were exhibiting their strength and were waiting for the storm to pass. Hush the little guy. – Which I took great offense to. No one puts Linda in a corner!
I should mention all this was going on while Brandon was on a preplanned vacation with his wife. He was out of the country on a romantic excursion, trying not to think about Target and possible legal battles that awaited him on his return. There was nothing I wanted more than to have this settled by the time he got back. I took it on as my personal mission to not drop it, and keep pushing Target to pull it from their shelves. I became consumed.
It made me wonder; Why do I care so much? Why did everyone care so much? Because it happened to a nice guy like Brandon? Because it was another case of cheap imported knockoff of an American made independent designer? Because it’s Target? It’s like the commercial says; we really do expect more from Target.
Needless to say, Brandon returned from vacation having to deal with Target and legal battles. He contacted a lawyer. He contacted Target. He got a response from Target’s legal team and it hung in limbo for days. And then one day he gets this email…
Dear Mr Williams,
My name is Jay Catalina the founder and owner of Asia Direct Inc. Our company has been supplying The large retail stores various firebowls and firepits since the year 2000. Our focus has been a little different than yours in that we have strived to supply retailers with a look or image that is In and hopefully new. We do this knowing full well that every penny counts and that these units will be sold for an extremely low price affording the guest of the retailer a great buy. I was a little surprised to see your letter. When this unit was suggested by the design team as a possibility I said OK but research any patents and make sure that the production unit is different enough from the original that it is clearly different.
I can sense from your letter that you have great feelings for your designs and product offerings. As well you should. All of your work has a fabulous design element and the materials are 1st rate throughout. Your price points are such that only a small slice of America will be able to afford one. I would say more like buying a painting that buying a heater to burn wood in. I apologize for any inconvenience that you may have been caused.
This production run was a small run to see if the chiminea’s were a market to get into. This unit is up for review in the next several weeks. About the only concession I can see here is to not go forward with this unit in the future as a concession to the artist. Please let me know if that is agreeable to you.
Once again, I apologize for any ill feelings and hope that maybe in the future we might even become business partners on a project. You never know when you have designed a product and decide that it would be best served in mass production which is what I do. Please feel free to call me at any time on my cell phone.
Jay Catalina I CEO I Asia Direct Inc
Brandon was over the moon thrilled and posted on ModFire’s Facebook page, ”this usually only happen in movies.”
Here’s the deal, although Brandon is pleased, it’s not entirely resolved in my book. Call me a cynic if you want (I’ve been called worse), but I think Target could have stepped up more. The Chiminea is still currently available until they sell out. Target didn’t pay ModFire for the design. Target actually tried to pawn off the problem to Asia Direct. It was only because Jay Catalina actually had a conscious that he contacted Brandon and acknowledged the infraction.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many wins in this case. The whole ordeal lasted less than a month. The Chiminea will be discontinued and had poor sales because Brandon spoke up immediately and called attention to it. His courage to stand up against knock-offs empowered us as a community. We showed our power in numbers. We were vocal and demonstrated we aren’t going to be pushed around by the big guys. Social media was used for the power of good and no one had to take anyone to court. An added bonus; ModFire and Modestics both got many new followers and fans.
After the dust has settled, I’ve taken a breather. I’ll still fight for American designers and fight against knockoffs. I’ve learned through all of this, that for any action to happen it takes an army of supporters. We need to continue to look out for each other. Because sadly, we all know this isn’t going to be the last time an independent designer gets knocked off.
I still haven’t stepped foot in Target since this broke. The only way the big boxes take notice, is their bottom line. I’ve shopped at smaller independent stores. Not only show support for independent designers and makers, but also show your support for independent retailers. FYI, ModFire is available online as part of the Modestics Collection. You can also find it at JustModern in Palm Springs. (in addition to many other independent retailers)