In the latest installment of the war that independent artisans are waging against copycat designs by larger retailers and wholesalers, Oakland-based artist Lisa Congdon tweeted on Monday that her illustrations had been stolen without her consent.
The artist said Friday that she reached out to her Facebook and Twitter followers after receiving a Flickr account titled “Indie Rips Offs.” There, side-by-side, she viewed examples of artisan originals, including her own illustrations from 2011 (shown above), next to alleged knockoffs by gift wholesaler Cody Foster Inc.
“I was shocked by the blatant plagiarism,” Congdon said of the Nordic lookalike designs. “There are cultures in the Nordic region that put jackets on reindeer. I didn’t invent that. But I did design the jackets, which are very distinct to me and my style. It’s 100% mine.”
Congdon’s posts eventually went viral, capturing the attention of West Elm, who recently made a $35-million commitment to hand-crafted goods and regularly showcases the work of independent artists.
On Thursday the retailer made a bold move: Citing “authenticity” issues, West Elm canceled any future orders with Cody Foster and ceased doing business with it.
“We saw Lisa’s post about it on Monday,” said Abigail Jacobs, publicity director for West Elm. “It was heartbreaking because that’s the community that we are involved in -- small independent artists.”
With the proliferation of artists who now sell goods independently on Etsy and at craft shows, copycat designs are becoming more common. In February we reported on Annabel Inganni, the Los Angeles designer behind the Wolfum line of home décor accessories, who discovered that her animal bookends appeared to have been replicated by Threshold, a Target-owned brand. And in 2011 we reported on the Venice store Obsolete’s accusations against Restoration Hardware.
Jacobs said that West Elm immediately consulted its team of buyers, who realized that they had indeed purchased ornaments from Nebraska-based Cody Foster. (The lumberjack ornaments, also listed on the Flickr account, look similar to those by artist Mimi Kirchner).
“It goes against everything that we’ve been building with this brand,” Jacobs said. “We are committed to not buying from them again.”
West Elm social media manager Aaron Able said the response to the decision was immediate and overwhelmingly positive.
“We knew we did the right thing but it just reinforced that,” Able said. “You should see the emails that have been flying around. Lisa’s mom even went on our blog and commented.”
West Elm learned Friday that it was able to cancel its order with Cody Foster prior to any ornaments arriving in stores or distribution centers. Any customers who have pre-ordered the ornaments online will be fully refunded.
Though Congdon said she is pursuing legal action, she is also heartened by the public’s response. “If nothing else, I feel so glad to be educating people about artists’ rights,” she said. “I make part of my living licensing my artwork for products. It’s our creative capital and we deserve to be compensated. A lot of companies think they can get away with it because they are big and artists are individual people and don’t have a lot of power. “
Cody Foster did not respond to requests for comment.
Friday afternoon, online retailer Fab announced that it will also no longer sell Cody Foster products.