Today’s news:

For Urban Outfitters, it’s bling there, done that

The Brooklyn Paper

Call them, Urban Counterfeiters!

Two vendors at the Brooklyn Flea have noticed a line of jewelry called “Waylaid” from the national retailer Urban Outfitters that is strikingly similar to their own creations.

Lillian Crowe, a 27-year-old jewelry designer in her first year of business, sells jewelry featuring a rib cage, a spine and the skull of a bull — yet recently discovered shockingly similar knockoffs in the new Urban Outfitters catalog online.

Crowe said she unveiled her designs last March. The release date of

Urban’s designs could not be confirmed, but it could not have been earlier than November, 2009, based on online comments.

To top it off, Crowe noticed three other designs that she said were similar to those of other designers. One was a shark jaw necklace — on the market since fall 2008 — by a designer who calls her line, “Species by the Thousands.”

“People are bound to have the same ideas, but if it’s so many different ideas…” said Crowe, her voice trailing off in her Spartan studio in Bushwick. “Maybe someone [at Urban Outfitters] took an inspirational day at the Flea.”

The designer of Species by the Thousands, Erica Bradbury, was skeptical that an Urban Outfitters designer had pulled a blinged-out Jayson Blair.

“It is tricky and difficult to have ownership on designs that rely on casting found objects — whether its bones or miniature knives,” said Bradbury, adding, “Their version of my shark jaw necklace is more stylized.”

She went on to say that two other independent designers had imitated her shark jaw design in more blatant fashion, and that Urban Outfitters had recently placed a wholesale order with her for a line of rings.

But both young jewelry designers said that whether they were the victims of a copycat or not, it’s a part of the business.

“Lillian Crowe and I both sell at the Brooklyn Flea where a ton of big designers come through each weekend,” Bradbury said. “It’s depressing, but inevitable that our designs will be ripped off because we’re both really creative.”

Still, Urban Outfitters may be worse than most other corporations. A source deep inside the jewelry business said that the retailer knows that it has a reputation for ripping off indie designers.

“When Urban buys something from us, they specifically ask if its ‘inspired by’ someone,” said the source, who dared not go on the record for fear of endangering a potentially lucrative business relationship. “They know they have this reputation, and are trying to [dispel it].”

But this is an industry that depends on creativity — so much so that Crowe said she did a good deal of research before beginning to produce her three bone-themed baubles.

“I always check to see if anyone has done anything similar before I go into production,” Crowe said. “I hadn’t seen any ribcage and spine necklaces back in March of 2009.”

But it looks like online shoppers checking out Urban’s version of the rib cage necklace aren’t too concerned about a possible lack of orginality. According to the item’s page, 325 customers think the necklace is “awesome,” 126 think it’s “unique,” and 82 describe it as “badass.”

The designers of the two other stylish items Crowe noticed were almost identical to Urban’s line either did not respond to an e-mail or asked not to be included in our diamond-hard coverage.

A spokeswoman for Urban Outfitters did not return our repeated calls before our platinum online deadline.

In the end, Crowe said she couldn’t say for sure whether some corporate designer took advantage of her creativity — and consoled herself that imitation is the best form of flattery.

“It’s kind of the way the industry works. I took it as legitimizing, in a way,” Crowe said. “Leave it up to the consumer, I guess.”

Pin It
Print this story Permalink

Reader Feedback

Patty cake from Bay ridge says:
Hmmm, this raises a whole number of intellectual property issues - I'm not sure where I stand on the matter.
On the one hand, I don't like copies of other people's work being made. It's lazy, uninteresting and often takes away the charm of the original. On the other hand, every chain store is involved in copy design products - be they copies of major fashion designers or copies of more indie work.
In any case, these designers should have enough creativity and brain power to make something new.
May 25, 2010, 5:27 am
John from East Williamsburg says:
I think Urban Outfitter's design is better. If Crowe is so convinced of her own originality, next time she should try to patent her designs. A rib cage is an object from nature that Crowe did not create. Who would wear such a necklace anyway, I don't know.
May 25, 2010, 9:58 am
Patsy from Greenpoint says:
Crowe has stolen her design - I have a rib cage inside my chest that "bear an uncanny resemblence" to her necklace. It's just disgusting to know that her agents have come to markets to look at me and copy my bones just to make a trinket necklace.
May 25, 2010, 12:18 pm
K. from SP says:
Erica understands her IP better than Lil. You can get a design patent on any one of these things, but it will not prevent someone from making a similar design based on the idea. You will not be able to get a utility patent, as bone jewelry is not exactly such a novel idea. It's a good bet though that their specific ideas were stolen. Were I them, I would try public shameing.
May 25, 2010, 1:18 pm
Zoe from Flatbush says:
This is not the first time they did this. Remember those bird outline necklaces that everyone seemed to have a few years ago? They were like swallows and an outline of it. That was first made in California by a jewelry designer (I think). Anyway. They definitely stole the necklace idea and how she hung it etc.. It was too bad because she could never do anything about it.
May 26, 2010, 2:32 pm
rick from williamsburg says:
I've been working in retail locally and uptown for years and everybody knows what's up when the similarly clad, similarly aged, similarly smirked urbn crew come in, talk a big talk, buy a bunch of stuff and then lay down the Anthro credit card. It's their MO to find what's cool, what's selling, and, while occasionally doing their homework- and sometimes following their gut- rip it off to be manufactured oversees and sold at discount in the States. I'm not a hater, but I am a knowing witness to their predictable antics. You have to try to shop local when you can- and when you can't- don't pretend you are.
May 27, 2010, 12:03 am
Steve from Here says:
January 2007: http://www.flickr.com/photos/runwildhorsesjewellery/5749822082/
May 27, 2011, 1:08 am
Adele from Williamsburg says:
Just click "unsubscribe" already: http://us.urbanoutfitters.com/urban/signup/emailunsubscribe.jsp
May 27, 2011, 2:11 pm
Melissa machowski from Boston says:
I have sold before at the Brooklyn market they are talking about. I wrote about this very topic in May after being asked by supposed customers for my resources and dimensions of my top selling items. If anyone is interested, here is my article:
http://flowsfromthefountain.blogspot.com/2011/05/being-inspired-vs-being-copy-cat.html

Interesting article, and as a seller and designer I find it all but expected to be ripped off by someone too lazy to be original.
May 27, 2011, 4:33 pm
GnomeEnterprises from Fort Greene says:
Forever 21 “Rabbit Love” (New Arrival 2011): http://www.forever21.com/product.asp?catalog%5Fname=FOREVER21&category%5Fname=whatsnew%5Fapp%5Ftops&product%5Fid=2000015835&Page=1

Gnome Enterprises “Bunny love” (1st production April 2008): http://www.gnomeenterprises.net/product/bunnies-tee
June 3, 2011, 6:26 pm
S.Z.A from BC says:
The two necklaces are shaped and hung differently, in addition, the ribcage is not an original idea. Bones look extremely similar in any case, so there's bound to be similarities in two designs! It's like if I were to get mad because someone had the same name as me.

While it is possible UO stole the idea, there's really no point in becoming mad.
Jan. 8, 10:58 pm
uh from OC says:
is nobody going to mention how in their attempt at changing the design they totally misshaped it, making it an anatomically incorrect beastly thing
Jan. 10, 12:38 pm

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not BrooklynPaper.com or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to BrooklynPaper.com the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Links