Target Knockoff ModFire

If you’re a regular reader, you know where I stand when it comes to knockoffs. I hate ’em. Knockoffs seriously disgust me. So when I see an American brand I deeply respect and admire get knocked off, I go into hyper drive. That’s what happened last week when Arizona company, ModFire, published on their Facebook page that they spotted a knockoff of their award-winning design at Target. Another case of a Big Box Store making cheap imported knock offs that is sucking the life from American manufacturing.

This post pains me on so many levels. Weekly I would shop at Target for this and that. But after this latest infraction, I’ve seriously reconsidered where I spend my money.

Target Knockoff Copyright

The knockoff made by Threshold (Target’s home decor brand) was brought to the attention of ModFire’s owner, Brandon Williams last week from a customer of his. At first Brandon posted on Facebook half jokingly,  “Well, we are officially “big time” after all! Our Iconic Modfire design has been ripped off by Target…Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!”  The design community and ModFire’s customers didn’t see anything flattering about the copy.

After the shock wore off, and the rage set in, I asked Brandon what he thought about all of this. “As a small business owner, I’m stunned. Our ModFire is made in America, sourced locally and we handcraft each and every one. When I designed the ModFire I was charting new territory, crafting a design that was completely original and we have been rewarded with accolades and awards from the design community at large. We have worked tirelessly to build a wonderful brand around ModFire. To see Target simply steal my design instead of using their in-house talent to make a budget priced Chiminea, well that undermines the very foundation of the American Dream.  It’s the issue of simply stealing the design out of laziness or greed that has me appalled”

ModFire fans came together in their support on social media, and the backlash against Target began. Furniture designer, Matt Eastvold, posted on social media about the infringement, “This is a perfect example of a great American made company, who supports their families and hires good local employees, being walked on by a corporation. Target does not need to do this to make money, they should hire designers from their home city (Minneapolis) to come up with affordable and original designs if they want to stay relevant, this is only damaging their brand and cheapening their image.”

I can understand what Brandon was initially saying. As a designer it is somewhat of an ego stroke to have your designs be recognized as worthy of copying by a big company like Target. And there aren’t many designer that would turn down a licensing contract from Target. In fact, Target often does team up with designers like Nate Berkus, Missoni, and Peter Pilotto for exclusive designs.

Brandon Williams says, “I would have been elated if Target had reached out to me and asked me to design an affordable fireplace they could distribute to their customers.”


So what happened with Target / Threshold ripping off ModFire? Did Target think it was going to go unnoticed? – You bet they did! They were banking on it not being noticed. They took one design, from one small designer, and were going to suck the life and dollars out of it, and then drop it within months. That’s their method of operation. That’s what they do. That’s what they all do!

Just like they did with another independent American made designer, Wolfum last year. Home accessory company, Wolfum, was also ripped off by Target’s Threshold brand. And although the infringement got some big press coverage by the LA Times, owner and designer Annabel Inganni had to just move on, and chalk it up as lesson learned. “I contacted lawyers but since my work was not copy written, and Target is such a large company, I didn’t have many options,” Annabel says. – Which is the sad case in so many instances.


Unfortunately many small independent designers don’t have the financial means to hire a lawyer and fight the Big Boxes in court. And many small independents don’t copyright, or apply for design patents. Although the process is easy for trained lawyers, reading through the pages of The United States Patent and Trade Office website is complicated and timely to a designer that is anxious to bring a product to market. Time that most designers don’t have… which the Big Box Stores know, and count on.

I asked Sarah Burstein, Associate Professor of Copyright and Design Law at the University of Oklahoma, if there’s truth to a design has to be changed by 10% in order to be considered different enough to make a copy? “There are no firm rules about how similar or different two designs have to be in order to infringe.”

Not giving up hope, I learned that there is a potential silver lining with the circumstance of ModFire. Sarah told me “trade dress” can be applied for after discovery of the copy. “If they’re claiming trade dress, they don’t have to register before they can enforce their claim. But they do have to prove consumers recognize the shape of the product as an indicator of source.”

This is where you come in. You want these kind of infractions to stop? Say something! Speak up on social media! Use #shameontarget in your posts on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Not only for Target to see that we’re shaming them by the masses, but also for all the ModFires and Wolfums to see that we have their back!

Target Knockoff #ShameOnTarget

Brandon says, “We are making some impact with this! If you LIKE and SHARE this maybe we can get Target to stop this pathetic practice!” And Annabel says, “I found great strength in the community that supported me and tried to see it as a motivator to stay ahead of the curve. Sadly it happens over and over, and I doubt this will be the last time for me.”

True. This probably won’t be the last of it, but collectively we hold the most power – buying power. Hit ’em where it hurts, support the original. #BeOriginal

*At the time of this post, I’ve contacted Target for a response via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and email, and have yet to receive a response.

**I should also mention that the top image is our photo-shopped rendering of the Target knock-off. (the background is photo-shopped, not the product) We wanted to place both within the same context to demonstrate that it’s practically identical in design, just a much crappier version.

***To read more about the maker that Target is stealing from read our Meet the Maker with Brandon. Also proudly part of the Modestics Collection. 

By Linda Geiser

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30 Responses to #ShameOnTarget

  1. Pingback: LAB Autumn/Winter 2015: The Home of Modern Handmade

  2. A knock off of one of my products was found in a Target store almost 2 decades ago and there was little I could do about it. It completely ruined my business and I was forced to reinvent. In my case the product was produced overseas and much less expensive than my hand-made item. Hopefully social media has evolved to a point where it may have an impact on such behavior, but as an artist/designer/producer I am skeptical.

  3. ManipulatinMae says:

    Yes, I’m reading this almost a year later, and yes I’m still going to comment on it. Apparently some missed the point.

    I didn’t care to look at cost and details.
    It doesnt matter.
    Why? Its outright INFRINGEMENT. Which is unethical, illegal, immoral, highly uncreative, not to mention lazy and seriously disrespectful, for anyone (especially those reputable businesses who know the law) to take someone else’s hard work, time and innovative ideas for themselves! Copyrighted or not, its disgusting behavior.

    Since the early 90’s I’ve ran into problems with people who believed “if they bought it, they owned it” regarding copyright protected photos and anything else really. I have a special place of fury in my soul for these individuals. (I’m aware its been going on far far longer) Companies know the law, most independent artists do also, but can anything be done about the rampant clueless bloggers knocking off big store designs? ironically a design the store initially ripped off of another artist? for example… Mandi of Vintage Revivals, and her Target fiasco. I’m curious how many thought they were knocking off Target, when essentially they were copying Mandi.

    We can bicker and debate all we want about it, really. Yet until some impact is made, and education is spread.. sharing will still be caring. I thank everyone that is working on the problem.

  4. Pingback: View From the Desktop: November, 23, 2014 | IAMTHELAB | Your Handmade Laboratory | Build Your Own Handmade Trifecta!

  5. A.J. Nelson says:

    The bigger picture is that this is just one example. I spent an entire year documenting my attempts to buy American made products and came to the conclusion that most of the normal, everyday items I needed could be found American made and… they were often cheaper.
    Don’t give up on American made just yet. We need to support our fellow Americans and give America a chance!
    The journal I kept throughout the year is getting ready to be published (July 4th). You can check out my blog and keep up on updates at http://www.GiveAmericaAChance.com. I will be adding pages supporting pages and patriots just like this one soon.

  6. liz says:

    The profit margin for the Modfire is ridiculous!!!! I would buy the knockoff. Made in America products priced for the wealthy only. Average American shop Target.

    • Linda says:

      If you would buy the knockoff, then you’ve learned nothing about the importance of supporting the American Made designer / worker. I urge you to read a little more and educate yourself before you make assumptions about ModFire’s profit margins.

  7. Pingback: Shaming of Target Knockoffs

    • Linda says:

      I saw that! It looks like Target just keeps digging a deeper hole for themselves, and their fan base is going to get slimmer. Mandi is being a great sport about it, but I think it’s shameful the way Target designers troll the internet for ideas. If they don’t have any ideas of their own, pay and credit the people they are stealing from!

  8. Mike says:

    I’m going to buy the cheap one at Target.

    • Linda says:

      You do that Mike. You’re certainly free to do that. I see that your email is Target dot com. Unlike Target’s website, I don’t censor comments. So you’re free to comment here as well.

    • Yess Cee says:

      For some reason this made me laugh! After all the comments…

  9. Susie says:

    The comments that argue that because of the large price differential in the original and the knock off that this is ok are ridiculous. I think the real point of this is not that modfire is losing sales to target, but that target is making money on the back of someone else’s design.

    • Yess Cee says:

      Susie, I’m not arguing that because of the price difference it makes it okay for any company to steal a designers work. But the knock isn’t even near the quality of the original design. My point is big companies are pretty much assholes. They steal because they do not want to pay. I agree that if they approached designers the correct way. Designers will be open to at least considering bringing their designs to the masses. I know that Modfire will not suffer from the knockoffs and if anything will bring people such as myself the opportunity to pretend to have something that is “inspired (code word for knockoff)” by them. I commend them for taking it as a compliment. And respect them even more for it.

  10. Vanessa says:

    I have seen this time and time again and its becoming more frequent in home decor. Not only is Target stealing designers products but other huge wholesalers have taken artists art and just blatantly ripped them off. How much would it really cost Target to give each designer a nice royalty check and put their name on the product? Is it so hard and difficult to do that with each product they decide to steal? I just don’t understand that if they’re going to go thru all the trouble of making a new product for the Threshold line why not just pay these hard working artists for their design. Because guess what its THIER design!! Listen, I’m sure most of us have said at one time or another… “Wow, if I only I had a line at Target”. But be able to reach that goal the true and honest way. Not the shady way Target is going about it. Hashtagshameontarget

  11. Amy says:

    Target rips everyone off with imported garbage. Anyone who is stupid enough to buy a cheap chiminea from Target deserves to have their house burn down.

    My husband authors the blog madeinusablog.org. We support you and all you do for our country!

  12. Koon says:

    I have a hard time understanding the pricing arguments. If an original designed product is too expensive for you, don’t buy it. If you really want it, save your money for it. Don’t use the high price point to justify ripping off other people’s hard work. Be respectful to others and to yourself.

  13. PatsyC says:

    I shop at Target, but I do find it sad that the quality of the beautiful chimenea has been cheapened by greed. I won’t even considered buying as much as I like it after seeing the truly beautiful design I will not buy the knockoff!

  14. Kevin says:

    This story is hard hitting! It makes clear and reasonable points no one can argue with. It even has pictures that would seem to back up the stiry as evidence. I personally agree with the sentiment and would like to do something about this injustice!!! If in fact it is true and not simply fear mongering! Without any reaction or balanced reporting responses from target, target representatives etc. this whole article could be completely made up.

    The idea that target supported designers would simply use the same packaging images with their designers product dropped in over top of the original(or perhaps that is done by this author for dramatic effect) is ridiculous.

    It is so obvious if this is true that there will be no fighting it in court. Target will be found out.

    • Linda says:

      Thanks Kevin.
      The top image was doctored slightly for dramatic effect. We photo-shopped the Threshold Target version, on to the background of the ModFire version. (the background is photo-shopped, not the product) We wanted to place both within the same context to demonstrate that it’s practically identical in design, just a much crappier version.
      We also were intentionally pushing the boundaries with the Target logo – intended to rile them a little. They acknowledge our play on their graphics, they would also have to acknowledge the article.
      I’ll definitely post an update if I do ever get a response.

  15. Kyle says:

    Great idea, Heidi.

  16. Dawn says:

    It seems to me that we’re sort of talking apples and oranges here. Yes, the Target design looks like the ModFire design. It doesn’t really look as cool, hand designed etc. But the the price for the Target version is $99 and the ModFire is $1650. I would posit that the customer who could afford a ModFire original PROBABLY isn’t going to equate the Target version as an option, and additionally that the person purchasing the Target version most likely couldn’t afford the original in the first place (on average). Sure – there may be one or two customers that ModFire may lose to Target – but it seems unlikely that the people who would be likely to buy the original wouldn’t ever even consider the knockoff.

    Still, I agree that Target ALREADY has amazing designers that should be designing items for the masses vs. copying original designs by local artists. Get Michael Graves or Nate Berkus to design one, perhaps.

    • Eb says:

      The point is not the price: target is stealing designs from artists who work hard to create them. Target can afford to do the right thing, pay for the designs, or use their own design staff to design something original. Why should they profit even a dime from someone elses hard work.

  17. Yess Cee says:

    Don’t shoot me here, as much as I support original designs (I work for a designer). We do know that the average person cannot afford high-end designs. So if anything we are proud that we get ripped off (sometimes). We sell our products based on design, concepts, and our quality. Target and other big companies cannot match that. Look at Modfire’s fire pit! it’s clear that the rip off isn’t near the original design! But it does give a chance for regular folks to own something similar. I just wish Target worked something out with designers. I mean if Target approached us in that repsect, I’m sure we would be honored to create a Target version of our products. But that would also mean that we would get paid and that’s why big companies rip designers off. As much as I LOVE Modfire’s work, I cannot afford it. So as much as I hate to say it and probably will be crucified for it, I can however afford Target’s version for the budget that I have to own anything near great designs.

  18. Heidi says:

    What about leaving a review on the product on Target.Com with a link to the original design? One of the reviews posted right now states that this is a low-quality item. You could make the argument that it’s low-quality because it’s imported and a knockoff!

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