The Women’s March in January was chock-full of powerful, original artwork put onto signs and shirts for the world to see. And graphic designer Deva Pardue was among the artists to contribute to the imagery on display. She designed the famous image of three side-by-side fists thrust upward, each representing a woman of a different skin tone.
Her illustration went viral after she shared the photo of it on Instagram at the start of the year. But more recently, it popped up somewhere else entirely — and Pardue, who is a design director at the Wing, was not involved. According to Fast Company, Pardue received messages that women’s retailer ModCloth, owned by Walmart, had been selling clothes with an almost exact replica of the design front and center.
Pardue sent the company a cease-and-desist letter, with which the company complied; the store removed all items with her design on Nov. 6.
But Pardue wasn’t satisfied. She posted about the situation on social media, alleging that the brand not only stole her design — used to raise money for charity — but had yet to respond to her letters.
“They’ve since ignored two cease-and-desist letters from my lawyer,” Pardue wrote. “A shameful example of huge corporations profiting from grassroots movements.” She tweeted at the ModCloth executives shortly after, including CEO Matt Kaness, to tell them that she has not received compensation for use of her work.
.@modcloth owned by @walmart stole and monetized my copyrighted Femme Fists image which was designed to raise money for women's orgs. They've since ignored two cease & desist letters from my lawyer. A shameful example of huge corporations profiting from grass roots movements. pic.twitter.com/YZUXkNZnXT
— Deva Pardue (@DevaPardue) December 19, 2017
Also, this — @jet_fashion, a South African retailer, has been selling this shirt since the summer and has ignored a cease & desist letter. Another ex. of corporations stealing from artists & sucking the life out of social movements. https://t.co/knzAfR089L. pic.twitter.com/DK7OAewqdT
— Deva Pardue (@DevaPardue) December 20, 2017
Pardue’s design is part of For All Womankind, an initiative she founded to raise money for nonprofit groups working to advance women’s rights and equality. Since launching in December 2016, the organization has raised $12,000 for the Center for Reproductive Rights and Emily’s List.
ModCloth tweeted to Pardue to address the allegations, claiming that the items were removed from the site and that the team was not aware of the design beforehand.
Thank you for reaching out! This top was manufactured by a third party vendor. As soon as we were made aware of the image, we removed the top from the site in November. It is no longer available on the site at all. If you have any questions, please email email@example.com
— ModCloth (@ModCloth) December 19, 2017
Still, Pardue wrote: “I have emailed you, multiple times, & have sent physical cease & desist letters that cost me money. I have received absolutely no response from you until this very underwhelming tweet.”
Yahoo Lifestyle has reached out to Pardue for comment but has not yet received a response.
ModCloth told Yahoo Lifestyle that the company worked on the design with a third-party vendor.
“We were not aware it was an original design or we would have never gone forward,” said ModCloth spokesperson Aire Plichta Reese. “The miscommunication of not connecting with her was what the issue was. We emailed her as soon as we could asking if it’s OK with her to donate sales of shirts to charity of her choice.”
Reese did not confirm whether or not Pardue accepted. ModCloth is also looking into the third-party vendor. She called the situation a “mistake” and said the brand plans to tighten up the system it has to prevent similar situations.
ModCloth is one of many brands over the years that have faced allegations of design theft from indie creatives, especially for the popular Women’s March designs. Pardue claims that African retailer Jet Fashion is also selling her three-power-fist design without permission. Amanda Brinkman, co-founder of Google Ghost and the designer behind the now-iconic “Nasty Woman” shirt, also had her design lifted and put on other company’s shirts without permission. Retail site Redbubble has tons of knock-off Women’s March designs that appear to have not been approved by their creators, including the official Women’s March logo by Nicole LaRue.
Brinkman told Allure that she used the money from the shirts to raise money for Planned Parenthood — more than $130,000 — but has lost would-be sales to the knockoff versions.
Pardue said she was tired of the rip-offs. “These huge companies are just assuming I can’t afford to sue them,” she said in a tweet. “Which I can’t.”
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