Be warned, this post is a bit of a ramble, you might want to make a cup of tea…
So, it’s unfortunately finally happened to me – I’ve had one of my designs counterfeited by a Chinese factory, who are now selling tacking gold knock offs of my Constellation Cat (felis) pin all over AliBaba. Even more annoyingly, the more I look into it, the more I realise they must have gone into my Etsy shop and lifted it from there – they have used my listing wordings and titles too, which is like a little extra kick in the gut. I guess it means I can call myself a real artist now though right?
Anyway, it all happened quite quickly and nastily over the weekend, when someone sent me a heads up on Instagram that a pin account had shared a knock off of my pin, and credited it to another Instagram account. I felt like I was going down a bit of a rabbit hole clicking through accounts, but on the Saturday morning I had no idea how far it really went. I shared a disgruntled Instagram story, sent both accounts messages and my lovely followers had my back and did also, so both of the accounts took it down, and the one that was selling it stopped and deleted their eBay listing. Done, all sorted, let’s all go have a cup of tea…
Well, no, not quite as it turns out one of my followers had been caught up in a DM chain with the seller who told her they weren’t to blame as they just bought it from a manufacturer. Uh oh, I thought they’d knocked it off directly, but sadly a quick google showed me otherwise. I found the source of my woes on Alibaba, selling my little cat for a couple of dollars (ironically cheaper than I can source them), and it looks like they’ve been selling them since July. Just to pee in my tea even further, they have 5 star reviews…FOR MY PIN.
So basically, I’m now in situation where I have no idea how many are out there, and have no idea how to stop it. I’ve since had messages from people telling me they’ve seen them on Wish for months, which doesn’t surprise me, as I think people buy stuff on Alibaba to sell. No matter how many IP notices I send out, I doubt I’m going to scratch the surface. (When I told my husband I was planning to send my Sunday sending them out, he looked at me with pity and told me I wouldn’t get anywhere, then swiftly went back to his PS4 – he’s nothing but efficient…but that put me into a strop too).
I then got a message from someone who was trying to cheer me up, telling me that there’s room enough in the world for everyone to sell pins, but that just made me even more annoyed, because I’m the one who spent ages agonising over the star placement and whether I’d got the cat ears the right shape, and now someone has literally STOLEN my design and is profiting from it. Serena from Oh Plesiosaur was great at reassuring me I wasn't going crazy and should do something about it – if someone broke into your house and stole your TV, you’d try and do something right? This is basically the same.
Ironically actually I think the reassuring message person hadn’t actually read my story and thought I was upset because someone else had designed a cat with stars on – I’m not, to clarify, and actually there’s loads of them out there, including a rather wonderful collection by GlitterPunk (of which I have a few). That being said, I did have a similar situation earlier in the year with my stripey top club pin, whereby someone has basically copied the design and changed the wording. Me being me (super un-confrontational doormat who just writes passive aggressive blog posts instead) I haven’t said anything to them, but the seller of that pin actually then messaged one of my friends who was wearing a stripey top, telling them to by their pin! My friend then pointed out my design and the fact it’s been around for ages, and said other seller said it was a coincidence…these things do happen, but I’m still super sceptical about it.
Everyone was really lovely about the whole thing, and I’ve had loads of support from other small businesses, including help from the Pin Theft website, which has some really great resources on what to do if it ever happens to you. I’m going to spend this week sending some IP letters, but I’m not sure how much will come out of it. It does mean I’m rethinking my pin strategy, mainly that once my current batch of each design sells out, I won’t be getting any more of them in – it might be weeks from now, it might be years (probably the latter if cheap knock offs are about) but all the pins in my shop are limited editions.
I’m not actually sure what the future of pins is now, I keep seeing pin sets in Primark, and I know that small businesses like mine can’t compete – one of the reasons I think people collect pins is to have a design by a small business, and I think that sentiment is beginning to get lost slightly, especially as the market get saturated. (Interestingly, this happened with electroformed rings over the last couple of years as you can see by my YOYs – as more makers did them, the demand fell – throwback to my economics degree, which is a discussion for another day…)
I guess I just wanted to ramble, and just get word out that this is crappy and please don’t buy any of the knock offs you see as it makes me sad!
I’ll also like to know your opinions on the world of pins if you’re a collector – thoughts on a postcard, or DM or comment please!
Anyway, TL;DR, I’ve had two of my pins copied this year, one design literally reprinted by a Chinese factory, and another adapted by a small business, and I’m sad about it. If you’re trawling my website looking for pins to rip off, jog on. (Also if you're a factory and are about to email me, don't - I likely won't respond.)