The post was to the point: Not cool, Urban Outfitters, not cool.
Stevie Koerner explains that her United/World of Love line, sold on Etsy, enabled her to quit her day job. But, she told her readers/customers on Wednesday evening, @UrbanOutfitters was selling “I Heart Destination” necklaces that ripped off not only her design but some of her marketing copy.
I’m very disappointed in Urban Outfitters. I know they have stolen designs from plenty of other artists. I understand that they are a business, but it’s not cool to completely rip off an independent designer’s work.
What else happened?
- Thursday morning, BoingBoing: Did Urban Outfitters rip off an indie designer, yet again?
- Thursday afternoon, Newsweek’s Tumblr reposted her entire article
- Thursday afternoon, Business Insider: Chicago Jewelry Maker Claims That Urban Outfitters Shamelessly Ripped Off Her Necklace
- Thursday afternoon, HuffPo: Grand Tradition of Ripping Off Designers
- Thursday evening, The Village Voice: Are Brooklyn Fashion Designers Being Ripped Off by Urban Outfitters?
Wee hours of Friday morning: the necklaces in question are no longer on the UrbanOutfitters web site. (Trust my eyes or check the link yourself.)
Of course Urban Outfitters (also owns Free People & Anthropologie) acknowledged the chatter! Data from Topsy show just how abnormal the @UrbanOutfitters mentions were:
Amber Karnes, a member of the independent crafting community, points out that @UrbanOutfitters was trending on Thursday (so was she). Globally. In fact, “Outfitters” still is trending. Globally:
What about Facebook?
Angry folks there, too:
1. As others have pointed out before now, groundswell often starts with discussion within a niche network. In this case, the story spread initially through the indie arts/crafts community. For example, Karnes has been retweeted 104 times right now (per Topsy).
2. A David-and-Goliath story is like honey to the media. In this case, the story played out in online (not traditional) media, both semi-traditional (Newsweek’s Tumbler, BoingBoing) and interpersonal (Twitter, Facebook). The momentum came from sharing the original story; subsequent media posts added facts and tidbits but the basic story was unchanged.
3. Industry norms are coming under scrutiny for the same reason the open-source software movement works: many eyes see all bugs. Fashion designs can’t be copyrighted. (Labels can, however, be trademarked.) Usually, however, the copying moves in the other direction: haute couture serves as a template for less-expensive knock-offs. In this case, the power relationship was flipped on its ear, and many consumers were not amused.
4. Don’t underestimate the power of a few passionate people. In the overall scheme of Urban Outfitters — customer base, products sold, revenue — this wasn’t even a flea. And yet. The Philadelphia-based company pulled the items off its (virtual) shelf. They have yet to explain why, but the fact that the product was GONE within one business day of the story coming to light … that’s a holy cow!
If your company isn’t monitoring its name and brands on Twitter and Facebook, your life is a train wreck waiting to happen.
Oh, and take a bow, Twitter, even though this sort of action was not why the guys created the tool.