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.”