The seventh letter
In this newsletter I want to tell you a story that deals with intellectual property.
The last time I logged onto Instagram, I was alerted about a post in which I was tagged. In the post you can see two young women dressed in a similar manner. They are wearing loose-fitting Haori style jackets and pants with a front fold that creates an asymmetry. Without a doubt, they are wearing the Pekka jacket and Papao pants. It’s a beautiful photo, the garments have been beautifully constructed and my first thought was to download the photo to repost it. The caption is in Spanish, the young women are South-American; geolocation on the photo shows they are in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In skimming the text I noticed that neither my brand name nor the name of the patterns were mentioned in the caption so I decided to do an automatic translation.
The caption indicates that their new collection just came out and that they are absolutely delighted to share it with their followers! They are inviting them to order clothes directly from their website.
It was then that I realized that I was only tagged in a comment to the post and it was the reason it showed up in my feed.
Here was the comment: “ Ayyy que lindo ! El kimono me hizo acordar al #Pekkajacket de @ready_to_sew (smiley cœur) Un sueño !”
Translation could be: Oh, how pretty! The kimono makes me think of the #Pekkajacket by @Ready_to_sew (smiley heart). Dreamy!
None of the other comments mentioned my name. They were all along the lines of “Magnificent!” “I want them!” “Bravo!” etc.
I immediately went to their online store and saw that they sold different Montessori-style childcare items and only a mini-clothing-collection, made up only of Papao and Pekka. The clothes are sewn in a gabardine fabric and offered in two different colors. Apart from a small tie added to the Pekka jacket, they are in every way identical to my patterns. And the cherry on the cake is that my technical drawings were also used to give more information to their clients. It was this final detail that convinced me unquestionably that there was no way this was a coincidence. In any case, such a coincidence is made more unlikely with a pattern as original as Papao and the distinctive pockets of Pekka.
As you know, the sewing patterns that make up the Readytosew catalog are subject to intellectual property and any and all commercial use is forbidden. This is mentioned several times on the pattern files, in the FAQ and in the terms and conditions that the buyers signs before purchasing a pattern. From here on out, it will also be mentioned on the product webpage as well as the instruction booklet to avoid any, “Whoops, I didn’t see that!”
A slight inspiration from the photos too, why bother after all...
Of course I contacted these people but I never received a response… so I attacked. To force them to react, I posted a story highlighting the fact that they had copied my work. I tagged their profile and responded to their followers’ comments under the photo in question to warn them that they had stolen the work of another created. This immediately got their attention.
After several message exchanges they agreed to stop selling the clothing and to take down the product photos from social media. They admitted to using my patterns but responded by saying that they had modified them ( Please show me the modifications I can't spot them ), hadn’t seen the copyright mention on the sewing pattern files and that to them, having purchased a pattern was sufficient to warrant using it for commercial profit. They tried the manipulation game by saying that taking down the products was going to be a huge financial loss, especially given the economic situation in Argentina and that the life of an entrepreneur was complicated (no joke- I of all people understand that).
Their naivety seemed a little suspect but I in spite of everything I took the time to give them a crash-course on intellectual property.
Basically, what I wanted to tell them is this: “You want to make a living with your brand, you want others to respect your work so you should start by paying and respecting the work of the stylist and designer who is behind the entire identity of your pretend brand. A compensation of 10 € seems fair to you? “
At the same time, one of their friends contacted me. She wrote that I was harsh and unsympathetic and she reassured me that these three friends were remarkable women and young mothers who were also entrepreneurs working hard to make a better life for themselves. I responded that her description reminded me of someone, but that person would never dream of stealing someone’s intellectual property ?
One of the entrepreneurs had apparently confided in her that she was so excited to find two sewing patterns that fit so well with their brand image and the style they wanted to convey. So excited? You don’t say? Tiny investment, nice profits- perfect combo!
It’s the third time I have discovered a brand using my patterns for commercial gain without my permission. And each time, I have bitten very hard, because I hate copying and take copyright very seriously. I am sure there are others out there that I have yet to spot.
And you? Have you ever experienced something similar?
Beyond the philosophical aspect, we will see why it is a bad idea to launch a fashion brand using existing sewing patterns?
Home sewing patterns are simply not made for production. A sewing pattern for home use does not include fabric shrinkage. The home seamstress will wash the fabric before cutting it whereas for the production of a clothing line the fabric will not be pre-washed. There will therefore be an application of a % of shrinkage for each pattern. If the same shirt is made of linen or tencel, the pattern will be different.
Believe me you won't want to try to fit 20, 30, or 100 yards of fabric into your washing machine!
In a factory, the layers of fabric are arranged on a vacuum table, one on top of the other. Then the fabric is covered in plastic and put under vacuum which makes the stack of fabric stiff. All the pattern pieces are programmed into a computer and arranged like a puzzle in order to obtain a maximum of pieces in a minimum of fabric to reduce production costs. In a home sewing pattern, the difference between a 1cm and 1.5cm seam allowance is negligible, but when multiplied across multiple pieces, it really impacts the amount of fabric waste.
Perhaps some of the aspiring fashion designers contacting home sewing pattern designers are aware of these technicalities, but are faced with the not insignificant challenge of finding someone to custom design and grade a pattern for manufacture. It is true that this information is not easily accessible. The clothing industry, including fabric importers, prototype designers, production houses... Is quite opaque. It relies on an old network of family businesses. These people do not need to advertise.
If the person is lucky enough to find a pattern maker, they can achieve their goal for an initial cost. But often, these costs along with the delays are daunting. If the designer comes to the pattern maker with a sketch of a simple pattern, he can walk away with a pattern in a medium size for around €300. That pattern would be within industry specs. Then, for a fairly similar sum, it is possible to have it graded in a few more sizes.
It is certain that a more accessible directory of pattern makers and production houses, and more transparency on the workings and the cost of the process, could be a real asset for young designers.
It is obvious that a sewing pattern like Papao, at 10 € graded from 32 to 58 is more tempting than spending 500 to 1000 € for a more simplistic pattern and graded up to 46. using a home sewing pattern could work at first, when the company is very small, with only two or three models, when the clothes are made to order by a seamstress and not by a production house, when the fabrics can be pre-washed, etc. But it's not sustainable at all. The pattern you started your line with for €10, you now realize, should cost around €300 and once you decide to wholesale your products you’ll find yourself in a pickle because the true cost wasn’t figured into your pricing from the start. If you aspire to have a long-term business, it is wiser to factor the true cost of production into your pricing.
Also, if you use sewing patterns from an independent company such as Readytosew, you will run into the problem of the brand's production limits. No independent designer really has enough patterns for you to create an entire clothing line. You will end up mixing brands and your sizing will have no consistency. Even if your marketing is amazing and your collection incredible, if people can’t rely on finding their size easily between garments and styles, it’s not going to sell.
I don't think it's a bad idea to practice and experiment with home sewing patterns to figure out what shapes and type of garments you like to work with, but when you're ready to start a legitimate long-term business , you must be prepared to draft your own pattern or hire a pattern maker to bring your specific ideas to life. Even if you are working with simple and basic shapes, having a basic knowledge and understanding of patterning and how garments are made will give a stronger foundation to your work and contribute to original garments of better quality.
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