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.
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!
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.