The Assault on Emeco

 By Linda Geiser

I was appalled when I read about Restoration Hardware knocking off Emeco’s iconic, Navy Chair. Unfortunately though, I wasn’t surprised. Copying is a common practice that is ruining American brands, and killing American jobs.

I’ve been fan of Emeco since 1997, when my husband (then boyfriend) worked in a modern furniture store in Berkeley, CA and introduced me to the aluminum beauty. He and I wanted to lay down some roots and pool our money together to make our first collective purchase. Still in college, we purchased 2 Navy Chairs and have never regretted the decision. Flash forward 15 years, 2 kids, many dinner parties later; those 2 chairs still look perfect and have a permanent place in our home.

Ask any designer, who has been the victim of being knocked-off and they will tell you – it’s not flattering – it’s harmful. It directly takes money away from the hard working individuals who put all the time into prototyping, manufacturing, and marketing. Copies diminish the brand and affect everyone in its path from the designer, to the manufacturer, to the retailer, to finally the end user.

What did Restoration Hardware do that’s so bad? They counterfeited Emeco’s signature shape and manufacturing process and played it off as their big discovery. Going so far as calling it a “Naval Chair”. (They have since renamed it on their website  to “Aluminum Standard Chair”) Those who know the original Navy Chair, would assume the version sold by RH was genuine.

Restoration Hardware’s deception goes beyond the design of the chair. The product description even claims this is an “update of an armed forces classic.” To make matters worse, nowhere on the website or catalog does it say where the fake is made. At a fraction of the price of the original I doubt this is made in America.

Here’s the kicker, RH admits in it’s pre-IPO filings, “At our core we are not designers, rather we are curators and composers of inspired design and experiences.” – Agreed – they’re not designers, more like they’re counterfeiters. Their 300 page catalog is full of “inspired designs” straight from the pages (sketches and catalogs) of other designers. Oh yes, sadly it’s not just Emeco RH has ripped off. They constantly cross the line between “inspiration” and “copy”. It’s a lot easier to reverse engineer a product and make a copy, then it is to build a product from the ground up. Design and development, takes a lot of time, money, sweat and risk.

The good news is that Emeco isn’t going to take it lying down.  In a press release issued by the company on Oct 1st, 2012, they state they are suing home furnishings giant RH for allegedly stealing its iconic “Navy Chair” design.

The lawsuit claims that “RH has engaged in willful and flagrant infringement of Emeco’s trade dress and trademark rights for its world renowned Navy Chair by selling a series of cheap knockoffs with the near-identical  ‘Naval Chair’ name that copy verbatim the iconic and highly distinctive design of the Navy Chair”

The Hanover, Pennsylvania company, still produces the Navy Chair much to the same specifications as it did when it was first designed back in 1944, utilizing the skills of local craftsman. “Forming, welding, grinding, heat-treating, finishing, anodizing- just a few of the 77 steps it takes to build an Emeco chair.” Emeco’s CEO, Gregg Buchbinder has done everything to bring the company back from near extinction and save workers. He hired top designers to help rebrand and rebuild. How is Buchbinder repaid for his commitment? By having his company’s bread and butter, the 1006 Navy Chair knocked off and stripped of all that’s good about American ingenuity.

It comes down to a true iconic American company exploited by another American company, hoping consumers wouldn’t notice or care, meanwhile counting the profits. RH’s deception is at the expense of American companies and designs. It’s because of Restoration Hardware and companies of the like, that America has such a tough time to be a leader in global manufacturing.

The similarities between the two chairs is so blatantly obvious, there is no question with the origin. It almost seems malicious. If they succeed in being allowed to sell this counterfeit then they are setting a precedent that everything is at risk. Which makes me ask why even trademark “Restoration Hardware”? To protect themselves against companies like themselves?

In another ironic twist Restoration Hardware Chairman Emeritus, Gary Friedman, claims proudly on their website,When we fearlessly fight for what we believe in and remain hopelessly optimistic about life, love and the future, we create an authentic connection with all in our path. Most importantly with ourself.” — Wow, did anyone else just barf a little? Is that what they believe in? Knocking off American companies and profiting from their loss?

I do agree with one thing, we keep fighting fearlessly. While Emeco fights in Court, designers everywhere need to take a stand and keep fighting. Call foul when you spot a fake – because it could be your designs next at risk. Consumers fight with your purchasing power – Don’t buy knockoffs and counterfeits.

My message to Restoration Hardware; you like a design? Pay for it. Hire a designer to design a new American icon. There are plenty of original designers out there. – Until then, lets protect the icons we do have. Some things should be sacred.

–check out Emeco’s website — They have done a really good job illustrating the history of the company.

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5 Responses to The Assault on Emeco

  1. Madman says:

    Great posting, Linda — I appreciate your work in getting the story out. A friend just posted something on Facebook about buying American to save jobs and I filled her in about the Emeco story. Designers may not have the wherewithal as individuals but as a (viral) online community the public may be angered enough to boycott the selfish copycats.

  2. CT says:

    RH did the same thing w/ Arne Jacobsen’s Egg Chair. Thankfully Emeco has the money to hit back. Many designers, include myself, have to sit and take it. Doubtful Gary Friedman’s recent forced resignation will change anything at RH.

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/home_blog/2010/12/arne-jacobsen-egg-chair-reproductions.html

    • Linda says:

      Unfortunately you’re absolutely right, Many designers DON’T have the resources to fight back. It’s a struggle just to stay ahead of the game, and to stop and try to fight back is lost energy. And I’m sure you’re also right, this (and Friedman’s stepping down as CEO – he’s still highly involved and the company’s largest individual shareholder) probably won’t affect Restoration Hardware enough to make them change their practice.

  3. Sharon Z says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Points well made. Thank you for uncovering yet another instance of corporations ripping off designers.

    • Linda says:

      Thank you Sharon! I appreciate you reading and your enthusiasm. It’s going to take a lot more Americans to understand the value in buying originals. It’s a bigger price tag without a doubt. It supports Americans. And we can’t continue to look the other way when less regulated countries keep producing inferior knockoff that creates customer confusion.

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