Athens, Georgia, known for its enormous college and crazed football fans, also has an engaging artist community. One market is not enough to contain them all. Athens Farmers Market, in Athens, and Oconee Farmers Market, in nearby Watkinsville, feature fresh produce, and handmade goods from March to November each year.
This week my post focuses on an issue that many designer-makers worry about – having designs copied. Unfortunately, it happens often and sometimes even by large retailers, making independent designers feel powerless. This is what happened to Eloise of HidenSeek and in the first of a two-post series, I talked to Eloise to learn about her experience.
In November 2009, Eloise became aware that stationery retailer Paperchase was selling a range of items, tote bags, notebooks and other paper goods, with a design that contained a girl that appeared to be traced from one of her artworks. The items were sold both in the UK and in the US and Eloise was alerted to the issue by concerned friends and fans.
“After a bit of panic, bewilderment and tea I contacted Paperchase, being sure that they wouldn’t want to have any part in copyright infringement,” Eloise explained. The company’s representatives replied that they thought the designs were substantially different and they were unwilling to take any action. “They seemed to imply that since the designs would not be reprinted after that run, it wasn’t a big deal anyway. After I explored my options and looked into hiring a lawyer, finding it impossibly expensive, I decided to just go public with my problem and seek for support from my fans and the community.”
Here’s where social media can come in extremely handy, as it enables the very fast distribution of messages to a global community. “It took innumerable complaint letters from people who read about my story, globally trending on Twitter, many newspaper articles and dozens of blog posts around the internet for things to start moving on the side of Paperchase.
“Finally, the designer that created the infringing design admitted that she had traced over the girl from my work. It should be noted that I never received any communication after the first reply for Paperchase regarding the matter and they only indirectly mentioned me in a kind of public semi-apology where they tried to set themselves up as a victim. Paperchase did remove the infringing designs from UK circulation but never offered compensation or settlement with me and they are still sitting on all the money they made from a known infringing design.”
When it came to the handmade community, Eloise explained that the vast majority of artists, designers and makers that she saw and met were very vocal about the issues. “Everyone tweeted, re-tweeted, blogged and wrote letters to Paperchase. I felt how other makers were empathising and putting themselves in my shoes, and that of course led to them speaking out in my support. It’s worth noting though that people from Etsy did write about my case and others in a personal capacity on the Etsy main blog and well done to them for taking a stand where other big names didn’t.”
“Certainly there was a lot of traffic back then and I’m still mentioned here and there when it comes to similar cases of infringement, but I wouldn’t wish anyone exposure like that because it did come with a price. The levels of stress were unbelievable. If this experience helped me at all, was because it was a crash course in real life media crises and I came out much more strong and confident.”
Check back next week when my post will feature top tips for protecting your work from infringement – and how to handle it if the worst happens.
Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design
“Today’s crafters are no longer interested in simply cross-stitching samplers or painting floral scrolls on china. Instead, the contemporary craft movement embraces emerging artists, crafters, and designers working in traditional and nontraditional media. Jenny Hart’s Sublime Stitching has revolutionized the embroidery industry. Each year Nikki McClure sells thousands of her cut-paper wall calendars. Emily Kircher recycles vintage materials into purses. Stephanie Syjuco manufactures clothing under the tag line “Because Sweatshops Suck.” These are just some of the fascinating makers united in the new wave of craft capturing the attention of the nation, the Handmade Nation.
Faythe Levine traveled 19,000 miles to document what has emerged as a marriage between historical technique, punk culture, and the D.I.Y. ethos. For Handmade Nation (along with the documentary film of the same name, coming in 2009) she and Cortney Heimerl have selected 24 makers and 5 essayists who work within different media and have different methodologies to provide a microcosm of the crafting community. Participants in this community share ideas and encouragement through websites, blogs, boutiques, galleries, and craft fairs. Together they have forged a new economy and lifestyle based on creativity, determination, and networking. Twenty-four artists from Olympia, Washington, to Providence, Rhode Island, and everywhere in between show their work and discuss their lives. Texts by Andrew Wagner of American Craft Magazine, Garth Johnson of Extremecraft.com, Callie Janoff of the Church of Craft, Betsy Greer of Craftivism.com, and Susan Beal, author of Super Crafty, supply a critical view of the tight-knit community where ethics can overlap with creativity and art with community. Handmade Nation features photographs of the makers, their work environment, their process, their work, and discussions of how they got their start and what motivates them. Handmade Nation is a fascinating book for those who are a part of the emerging movement or just interested in sampling its wares.” → more info
As participants in the artisan movement, those of us keeping up with the ebb and flow of the commerce of handmade have many things to be thankful for this year.
We are grateful to all the artists who use their amazing talents and unending creatively to share with us their body of work. Without them there would be no handmade goods and our lives would certainly be less without them.
Despite all the grousing, we are thankful for the handmade venues that allow artists worldwide to bring their work to market online. While there is always room for improvement, without these outlets many artisans would be without a viable way to present their work, find a market for it, and supplement their incomes. Buyers would have a more difficult time finding handmade work as well. So many thanks to etsy, artfire, zibbet, craftisart, and all the other venues for their vision that helped get handmade to where it is today, and for providing the gateways that make it easier to buy and sell handmade goods.
Thanks to all the writers, bloggers, and supporters across the internet who tirelessly promote artisan goods and help the world of handmade gain a wider audience. Their mostly volunteer efforts are indispensable to both buyers and artisans as they continuously scan the internet in search of the work we all love to admire and own. My personal thanks to all the columnists here, and especially to Erika who works hard all year to present the best and brightest of artisan work to us here on tryhandmade.
Most of all, we’re thankful for those who make it a practice to find and purchase artisan goods, even if they are a bit more expensive or harder to find. Your support provides income and encouragement to the artisan community, and without it there would be no handmade movement. So thank you, and have a wonderful holiday.
Part of the fun of buying handmade goods is discovering the interesting artists behind them. A purchase often allows us to briefly step into the creative world of the artisan, which is usually a very interesting place. So where can you hang out with the artists that interest you, and discover new ones that may become new favorites?
Artists often can be found hanging around the handmade venue forums such as etsy, zibbet, or artfire. Discussions focus mostly on issues specific to selling artisan goods or site usage. Some have promotional sections where you can find artists announcing new lines or sales. As with any new group, it’s usually a good idea to lurk for awhile before posting to get a feel for things before diving into a discussion.
Zibbet’s forum is based on a “ning” group, which gives it more features (groups, artists pages, etc.) and makes it somewhat more interesting than a standard venue forum once you get the hang of it. To use it you must join it separately from the Zibbet site.
A promising new community called The Hive has sprung up recently that allows artists, hobbyists, and patrons to find favorites, form groups, read each other’s blogs, and keep up with specific areas of interest. Shows and art events are posted and can be pulled up by place and time, and the member directory is organized by category so those who like a specific type of work can easily find artists and others with similar interests. It’s a good place to look for new creative blogs since artists can automatically feed their blog posts to the site (which also helps to keep it fresh).
So find and join an online artists’ community to discover others who share your enthusiasm for handmade goods! If you have a favorite, please comment below!