IT’S every small business owner’s worst nightmare: a major chain store running with your idea and raking in the cash.
Australia’s biggest retailers have come under fire for allegedly mining boutique brands’ social media accounts, and blatantly ripping off their wares.
Fliss Dodd said she was shocked when she returned home after 18 months spent living in Bali to find Australian chain stores filled with designs she recognised from boutique labels — including her own brand, Udder.
Ms Dodd claims that Cotton On ripped off her handmade Bandit Bat doll, flogging a similar creation for a fraction of the price.
“It was really hard to sell them in the end, because people would say, ‘I can get one for $20’,” she said.
“It’s a really horrible thing … So many of us put our hearts and souls into this.”
Scores of customers voiced their support on the Udder Facebook page, including a woman who said she was “never, ever buying from Cotton On again”.
Melbourne-based designer Andrea Goulding said she was shocked when a customer said a top strikingly similar to her Wild Child kids’ T-shirt was being sold at Target.
Though she initially shied away from contacting the retailer after the item appeared in stores last summer, Ms Goulding said mounting complaints by fellow designers — and a recent compensation payment — had steeled her for a fight.
“If it happens again, I’ll probably take it further,” she said.
“It’s just really frustrating. I know fashion is about copying, but it doesn’t seem to be right that they are going after small designers. I practically just operate out of my kitchen.”
The mumpreneur said Instagram and Pinterest had become a double-edged sword, serving as a powerful marketing tool for her KaPow Kids brand, while also providing big retailers with a ready source of inspiration.
Target Australia paid another Melbourne design business, Peaches and Keen, $5000 to settle claims it was selling items that closely resembled their designs, as revealed by Smart Company last month.
The news prompted a slew of claims by other niche operators against the big retailers, with Kmart denying it copied a wooden puppy toy sold by Tiger Tribe, and Country Road declining to comment on allegations it copied a Melbourne lighting designer’s wares.
Such Great Heights designers Ryan O’Connor and Jo Fahy, who this year relocated to New York, spoke out on Instagram about alleged copying of their signature design, the Wonder Tent.
“We are the latest target (ahem) of the all too common practice of multinational chain stores copying the designs of small Australian labels,” they wrote.
“It’s lazy, lazy work, and tremendously unethical. There have been various Wonder Tent imitators along the way, but this is the closest copy yet, albeit a poorly executed one … We’ve worked tirelessly since 2011 to create our beautiful Wonder Tent design using premium hard woods, organic fabrics, and commissioning unique textile designs from independent artists around the world (and) the manufacturers we work with are all family owned businesses.”
The pair declined to comment when contacted by news.com.au.
Fromage La Rue designer Sarah Fisher said the similarities between her letter-shaped marquee lights and those being sold at Typo and Cotton on were not close enough to prompt her to pursue compensation.
Although at first glance they appear very similar, Ms Fisher believes she does not have a case.
“It’s a very murky area,” she said.
“They did produce the same shaped lights as us after we made them, but … they are made of a different material and are battery powered, not powered with electricity like ours. We have had way worse copying from other small Australian businesses, so exact that we even struggled to tell them apart from ours.”
The designer, who is based near Byron Bay on NSW’s north coast, resigned herself to the fact that trends-based outlets would always “spot the latest trend and replicate it”.
Target Australia spokeswoman Kristene Reynolds said the dispute with Peaches and Keen was settled in February to the satisfaction of both parties, with the retailer agreeing not to reprint the design under an agreement allowing it to sell out existing stock.
“Target takes its responsibilities in respect of intellectual property issues very seriously,” Ms Reynolds said.
“Our designers and graphic artists look at trends from a range of sources and take great pride in their work.”
She said the company was yet to hear from KaPow Kids, or any of the other small designers to have recently spoken out.
“We really strongly encourage these designers to contact us directly with their concerns,” she said.
News.com.auhas sought comment from Kmart, Typo and Cotton On.