Often Imitated, Never Duplicated: The Value of Original Design

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Imitation: Is it a compliment? Is it an insult? When it comes to the world of design, in particular in fashion and furniture, imitation in the form of copies, knockoffs, and counterfeits is rampant. Some say imitation is the biggest compliment. However, at the end of the day, compliment or not, taking someone else’s original design and copying it is far from a noble act. Nonetheless, consumers buy knockoffs and counterfeit culture in manufacturing booms. But while design can often be imitated, and in reality always will be, true innovation and quality craftsmanship can never be duplicated. And most importantly YOU, as a consumer and/or a producer, have a choice to care and see the value of original design.


Often Imitated, Never Duplicated: The Value of Original Design


Why Knockoffs Exist?

Copying is not a new phenomenon. Nor is the war against it. The phrase “often imitated, never duplicated” first appeared in 1927 as a slogan in a magazine ad placed by Traub Manufacturing Company to promote their wedding and engagement rings. Of course, referencing that you may be able to knockoff, but it won’t hold the value of the original.

Today, with the influence of online culture and the use of drawings and detailed images by designers, knocking off has become even easier. This coupled with the normalization of counterfeits (think knockoff purses) has made knockoffs even more of a problem. Not only can they easily be produced, but there is consumer demand. There are those who seek a less expensive alternative to an original design they can’t afford. A natural human instinct for ingenuity. Then there are those who are just careless. Either they don’t realize why buying a knockoff is bad for the greater good. Or they are just looking for something that looks nice and they don’t realize it is a copy of someone else’s original design.

Often Imitated, Never Duplicated: Inspiration vs. Copy

Looking to the past for inspiration is part of creating new designs. Pulling inspiration from great design can fuel innovation. But the line between taking inspiration from something and duplication is very thin. Copying is a dangerous path for a company, not only are there legal implications there are also implications to reputation.

According to an article by Be Original Americas, a not-for-profit aimed at educating the design community on the pitfalls of counterfeiting, “The rule of thumb is that if one part of a design is identical to a part of a past design, you are no longer using the piece as inspiration but rather as a model.” The article also states, “Overall, when looking for inspiration always remember one thing: your design must evolve past what the original was and must not steal from its predecessor.”

often imitated never duplicated - A perfect example of inspired design: Bend Goods Black Lucy Chair (R) embraces the iconic Bertoia Chair’s (L) use of wire, but with a contemporary twist. (Image Via Be Original Americas)
A perfect example of inspired design: Bend Goods Black Lucy Chair (R) embraces the iconic Bertoia Chair’s (L) use of wire, but with a contemporary twist. (Image Via Be Original Americas)

So be inspired, but please don’t copy!

Why Should You Care?

Maybe you already do care and you’re reading this article to learn more about what you can do to help the cause. Or maybe you are still wondering, is it really so bad if I buy the knockoff version or copy someone else’s design? If you fall into the second category, please think carefully about your choices.

Buying and producing knockoffs has many impacts on the world. Here are some reasons why you should care:

  • The integrity of design: if knockoffs are acceptable, then the companies that really invest in design can’t afford to do so.
  • If you buy a knockoff the original creator gets no credit or compensation for their efforts and innovation. Innovation is much more complex and expensive than copying. Hours and hours and lots of money go into sourcing, prototyping, etc. The copier just has to copy.
Months and $1000s of dollars went into perfecting perfect the prototype and then the final design of KOKET's iconic Chandra Chair (Left), while the companies producing the two chairs (Middle & Right) simply copied the design and added to their collections.
Months and $1000s of dollars went into perfecting perfect the prototype and then the final design of KOKET’s iconic Chandra Chair (Left), while the companies producing the two chairs (Middle & Right) simply copied the design and added to their collections.
  • We need to take care of our earth and quality costs money. Big brands have money to be eco-conscious and care. Knockoffers don’t. The cheap knockoff will end up in a landfill. While the more expensive original is built to last, maybe even generations. The original might even increase in value over time.
  • Don’t forget about safety. Brands who are innovating and creating good design test the quality of their products. Knockoffers don’t!

It’s Not Just About Iconic Design

When it comes to copying and knockoffs most people think about famous designs, big names, and designer brands, but the counterfeit industry goes far beyond this.

often imitated never duplicated - An example of copied design: KOKET's Chloe Sconce (R) is seen copied in a cheap knockoff version (L)
An example of copied design: KOKET’s Chloe Sconce (R) is seen copied in a cheap knockoff version (L)

In an interview by Architectural Digest with Jerry Helling, the president, and creative director of Bernhardt Design, AD asked, “What might people not realize about the counterfeit industry?” To which Jerry replied, “So much of any conversation you read, it’s about the Eames chair, Corbusier pieces, product that’s been out there a long time and has become iconic. But the truth of the matter is, and the part that I was most interested in, is that it’s not just about iconic product. It’s about newer product, product that’s very usable, that might not be iconic, but that a great deal of investment has been put into. It’s not just about protecting the Eames; it could be designs we did a month ago. So it’s about covering all design. It’s protecting the creators and the producers.”

What Can You Do?

Whether you are a producer or a consumer there are a number of things you can do to help combat knockoffs and promote and support the value of original design. However, it must be noted that targeting the knockoffers is a crucial side of the battle as it is much harder to target the millions of consumers who have been normalized to counterfeit culture or lack the ability to even know when they are seeing a copy.

As a producer…

  • Educate! Litigation is expensive, so the biggest thing you can do is educate your consumers. Make sure they understand the value of your quality and innovation. Make “often imitated, never duplicated” part of your message at every step of your sales and marketing efforts. Sell your story with your products.
  • Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to protect yourself legally as well! So, register your copyright and trademark your brand.
  • Set up Google Alerts so you can get email notifications when new results are found on web pages that match your search terms—i.e., your brand or best-selling product name along with words like “replica” or “knockoff”
  • Enforce the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which allows owners of copyrighted materials residing on the internet to request their material be removed from any infringing website using a letter like this.
  • Join Be Original Americas
  • If you are a big brand, collaborate with small designers. Leverage their talent and help them grow instead of knocking them off.
  • Check out this article on Tips for Protecting Your Brand

As an interior designer or retailer…

  • Educate! Ensure that you, your staff, and your clients understand the importance of protecting original designs.
  • Promote authentic design as part of your brand messaging. Both authenticity in your own interior design, and authenticity in the products you specify.
  • Commit to working with trusted sources.
  • Respect the work of your peers.

As a consumer…

  • Practice Ethical Consumption: Think about where the products you buy originated and in what context they were produced. Think before YOU shop. Consider how your lifestyle affects other people and communities, as well as the environment.
  • Look for cues that a product may be a knockoff. Often vendors will use the words replica or inspired by in their descriptions to try to protect themselves.
  • Inexpensive good design exists—so make the choice! Look for young designers or small companies. They don’t have the same overhead as larger brands. Or try vintage and antiques!

Everyone!

Expose! If you see a copy or knockoff, expose it, share it on social media, notify the brand being knocked off if you know who they are. The more out in the open the discussion is, the better.

Original KOKET Kelly Sofa (Top), Knockoffed and shown in the exact same finishes by a company from China (Bottom)
Original KOKET Kelly Sofa (Top), Knockoffed and shown in the exact same finishes by a company from China (Bottom)

To Wrap Things Up

Unfortunately, the reality is, at the end of the day there will probably always be consumers who think it is ok to buy knockoffs and producers who think it is ok to knockoff, but that doesn’t mean YOU have to be part of the problem! Instead, do your part. Remember the saying, “often imitated, never duplicated”. Stop buying knockoffs and stop knocking off. Educate yourself and others. Do your research and be diligent. You have a choice.

Words by Anna Beck Bimba

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