Jewelry artist Stevie Koerner sells her “A World of Love” pendants on Etsy (left). They’re adorable little charms in the shapes of states with hearts cut out of them. Urban Outfitters liked the pendants so much that they decided to copy the charms, almost exactly (right), and call them “I Heart Destination Necklaces.” And they did all of this without approaching Koerner about her designs.
It’d be great if big stores like Urban worked with small designers to help get their wares out to a bigger audience — and often they do. I have several friends who create private label goods for the hip clothing company (private label is when an indie designer sells designs under another label’s name). But just as often, Urban — and other mega stores — have been caught straight up ripping off independent designers. Last summer, the company was called out for ripping off Brooklyn designer Lilian Crowe, who made necklaces featuring rib cages, spines and skulls (they’re neat-looking, really!). I used to live in Philadelphia, where Urban is based, and would often see weird interpretations of local designers’ work in the stores. There is a local bar in Philly, called the 700 Club, for example, that made knit hats sporting the club’s name. Not less than a month after the appeared, knit hats with the words “800 Club” showed up on Urban’s racks. The rip-off was bewildering — who would want a hat that said 800 Club anyway? Another time, a friend made a screen-print that said “Jesus is my homeboy.” Weeks later, a T-shirt bearing that slogan appeared on Urban’s racks.
In some cases — where the original creator isn’t trying to make it as a designer or jewelry maker — Urban’s imitation could simply be, as the saying goes, sincere flattery. But for artists like Koerner, who quit her day job to pursue jewelry design full-time, it’s not flattering — it’s theft. [I Make Shiny Things]