Economics Social Networks

Sharing Gets More Influential : Urban Outfitters v Indie Artist

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.

Of course, she tweeted. And we retweeted. (Topsy says 12K references.)

tweet from stevie I Make Shiny Love

What else happened?

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.)

No acknowledgment in the UrbanOutfitters tweet stream that they’ve pulled the line, but they did acknowledge the chatter. (We re-tweeted that, too.)

twitter urban outfitters

Of course Urban Outfitters (also owns Free People & Anthropologie) acknowledged the chatter! Data from Topsy show just how abnormal the @UrbanOutfitters mentions were:

topsy - urbanoutfitters topsy urbanoutfitters chart

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:

TrendsMap : 12.50 am PDT Friday 27 May 2011

What about Facebook?

Angry folks there, too:

facebook urban outfitters
Entire Discussion Thread : Urban Outfitters Facebook Page : 1.00 am PDT Friday 27 May 2011

My Take-Aways

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.

:: WiredPen Permalink : Follow Me On Twitter

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

4 replies on “Sharing Gets More Influential : Urban Outfitters v Indie Artist”

My comment on BoingBoing:

Reading the comments by people who’ve offered up “competing” designs has been illuminating — not a single one (even the guy with the extruded mold) has matched the design on Etsy. Her states are stylized, the hearts are small. It’s nothing like the Texas charm or the Skymall “stars.” And it’s REALLY nothing like the “bling” state necklaces. The “sudlow” necklace on Etsy was the most similar but it was a one-off (only CA) — Stevie has every state.

CONCEPT and DESIGN are two different things.

The CONCEPT of a state-based charm or necklace is not new. The concept of “heart’ing” something isn’t new, either.

However, the implementation Stevie has on Etsy appears to be unique. It’s done well enough that she says it helped her quit her job and work at art full-time. That suggests it hit a chord with a significant number of customers.

And no, fashion designs are not copyrightable. That’s not the point, at least it’s not to me. It wasn’t to Stevie, either. She didn’t say she was going to sic lawyers on UO. She appeared resigned to losing business due to UO. Then her David-and-Goliath story caught the imagination (or indignation) of a lot of non-artists.

The fact that Urban Outfitters pulled the necklaces from the online store but didn’t say word-one on Twitter about that action speaks volumes. The big question: did an employee of UO commission this design or did some other company pitch it to them? I doubt that we will ever know that answer.

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