Tatty Devine, the British "art jewellery" label beloved by Katy Perry, Beth Ditto and Björk published a blogpost entitled Can You Spot the Difference? on Thursday. The post showed compare-and-contrast photos of pieces from its collection, which it believed had been copied by budget high-street chain Claire's Accessories. The brand then tweeted the blogpost to its 13,000 followers.
Within hours, the David-and-Goliath story had inspired a social media storm: Claire's Accessories was trending around the world on Twitter, the Tatty Devine website had crashed and people were taking to the Claire's Facebook page to complain (posts that have since been allegedly removed by Claire's). @lupalupine said "Disgusted how @ClairesStores Claire's Accessories is blatently ripping off @tattydevine 's designs. Be ashamed of yourselves. *Boycott*"
Claire's then compounded the PR disaster by refusing to Tweet or comment on the situation, maintaining silence on all its social networking platforms, which only increased the intensity of the anger.
@hannahlpearson tweeted: "You should be ashamed Claire's Accessories, if not for the blatant rip off of @tattydevine then of your ignorance on social media #epicfail".
Claire's released a statement yesterday afternoon that simply said: "Claire's is aware of the blog post yesterday on the tattydevine.com blog and is currently investigating these comments."
Rosie Wolfenden, one of Tatty Devine's two owner/directors told Guardian Fashion that they were feeling "a lot of love" since the copycat storm broke.
"Tatty have blogged before on this subject. We feel this is the best way to deal with copycats, as it puts the issue in the public domain and lets customers decide."
She points out the damage done by cheap knock-offs of their pieces, which are all completely original and handmade at the label's London studio.
"Our dinosaur piece [that Claire's copied], was inspired by a visit to the Natural History Museum and a sketch by Harriet. It involves around 50 Perspex bones that are all individually laser-cut and drilled, which takes a lot of concentration and time. Hence its price tag of £132." (Claire's were selling their pink rubberized copy of the piece for £4, but they have recently removed it from their website.) She added: "What's the impetus for small brands to start up if people can just take away their ideas?"
The furore demonstrates the peril of retail brands being behind the times when it comes to engaging with social media. It also asks questions about the widespread practice of copy-catting in the fashion industry, a grey area in terms of the actual legislation. That high-street retailers are often "inspired" by catwalk designs is something we are all aware of. It is much bandied about in the fashion industry that one can avoid being sued for "passing off" by including seven points of difference, but in practice, design theft is hard to police.
What can designers do to protect their ideas? Design registering with the UK Intellectual Property Office as Tatty Devine has done, is one option, which allows the holder to take legal action against any infringers – but for smaller labels and independent designers, the costs involved could make a lawsuit against a huge international retail giant impossible.
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