Late last Friday night, I received a message on Instagram about this pair of socks:
A friend saw them on www.Modcloth.com, and was double-checking to make sure I was the designer behind the print. If you know me at all, you know I designed this:
Yep, they certainly looked a lot like my design. But sadly, they are not. All of these years of watching independent designers get copied by large corporations or national brands, and now it looked like I was in the same boat.
Having no idea what to do, I posted my disappointment on instagram, and decided to sleep on it. I would formulate a plan the next day.
By the next morning, there were over 100 angry comments on my Instagram account. Many were directed specifically at Modcloth and it's founder, Susan Gregg Koger. By lunch time, Susan herself had personally written me to say that she supports independent artists, has a strong policy against knockoff designs, and would have her sales team contact me and the manufacturer, Socksmith, first thing this week.
On Monday, I received both a follow-up email from Modcloth, and a surprising email from Holly, the actual designer of the socks at Socksmith. It completely took me by surprise. She explained her entire design process, how she took to the internet for inspiration (noticing a trend of hearts on typewriters--who knew?), drew an antique typewriter and planted a heart right in the center of the page. She mentioned that several times she herself has been copied and how terrible she felt. She wanted me to know that she had not intentionally copied my design, but had arrived at a similar place from a different path.
Now, the last thing I want to feel like is a pushover or a fool. But you know what? Not once, but twice recently, I have been involved in the creation of original designs that it turns out, already exist. Someone else had the exact same idea, and had put it on fabric before me. In both cases, by sheer luck, I managed to bump into the original design before anything went into production. I can't imagine my mortification if those designs had gone to print.
So, if the tables were turned, and I had sent one of those designs out into the world, how would I want to be treated?
I would want someone to believe my story, as unlikely as it would sound. I would want to be treated with dignity. So, that's how I decided to respond. I wrote Holly back, explained how disappointed I was when people excitedly thought this was my design, how I appreciated her email, how I really don't know how to handle this, but I was just going to do my best and give the benefit of the doubt. I told her of my recent experiences with designing something that had already been designed, so I know this could happen to me too. Holly thanked me for understanding, then offered to pay me my normal licensing rate for having the design look so much like mine.
This isn't the usual ending to this kind of story, but it's one I'll gladly accept. We all got to act like normal human beings, no one had to raise their voice. I genuinely appreciate Susan Koger's quick response, and feel badly that so many people (myself included) initially thought Modcloth was to blame. I appreciate that the designer herself contacted me, and understand from my own personal experience that these things happen, as unlikely as it may seem. I appreciate that Socksmith took the high road and contacted me first.
I also appreciate all of the people who rallied behind me on Instagram. Several designers were quick to offer support and many many people came to my defense... you all are an amazing community. Nice to know you have my back:)