The average person doesn’t understand just how difficult my job is, or how difficult any small business owners job, can be. I am it. We are it. We run the show. We each wear 18 different hats, every single day. I’m fairly certain that every small business owner feels the same pressure that I do - to produce, to sustain, to grow, to achieve, to succeed. On top of all of these emotions, we feel guilt. Most of us are mothers. We have other obligations and we must find the time to balance it all.
Most of us work from home, while watching our children. Some of us are the sole earners of our families. Many of us are not only mothers, but also wives, daughters. Some of us employ our husbands, children, fathers. Our businesses are very much a family affair.
And because we work for our families, and sometimes with family, we understand, truly understand, how important family is. In fact, we care about your family, too. We care very much about our customer’s families.
We work tirelessly to design and create, to bring you a product we hope that you’ll love. We are honored when you choose to incorporate our craft or design into a major life event. We hope you will continue to support us, our family, and our dream.
This is our job, but it is also our life. We are human. We are like you. We know what it is like to carefully lust after an item, watching the price in the hopes that it becomes more affordable for your family budget. We appreciate that not everyone can afford the products that we make. We try to make them affordable. We do. We run sales. We take on enthusiasts and reps to try and build a family of support, for those who are willing to trade support for a discount.
Enter, rip off artists. I hesitate to even call them “artist."
I work and worked endlessly on my clothing line, only to see my best sellers pop up on a site called AliExpress out of China (I won't even link to their site out of pure principal). This site has my items for sale at 1/4 of the cost that I list it (it was actually listed at below the amount it costs me to MAKE the items). My designs have been stolen. Just like that, I felt as though I had been punched in the gut.
Many small business owners have fallen victim to rip offs. It happens to many beloved brands.
Here are two images. LOOK at how bold the fake is.
And, here it is. It's been copied onto a romper and sells for $9.98.
This is a well known brand. A well known design. They simply do not care. They are emboldened by consumers who continue to support their rip offs. We must stop this madness.
Now, as a designer, I have two choices, just like with everything else in life - I can do something OR I can do nothing. That’s what it all boils down to, right? The trouble is, there is nothing to do. I am a small business owner. I do not have deep pockets. I cannot fund a lawsuit in China, the ONLY venue that I would have jurisdiction to sue (maybe). I cannot fund a lawsuit that may or may not be heard and will likely end in defeat (either I will lose or I will run out of money). This is our reality. This is the reality a small business owner faces.
You see, all designs can obviously be copied, but, even if yours has not been, it’s important to speak up. Even if you are solely a consumer, if you care about this community, it’s imperative to try and help educate those who may not be aware. It’s essential to CALL OUT THOSE WHO KNOW AND CHOOSE TO IGNORE.
Here's an astonishing tidbit. Brace yourself for this one. There are shops that sell exclusively items from Ali Express. Yes, there are shops who sell only stolen designs. They know that illegal copies of successful designs from other well known shops (or even smaller shops) are being sold on Ali Express for a fraction of the cost (some copies even containing the original shops LABEL inside - it’s unbelievable to what lengths they will go). So, they buy the fakes and try to pass them off as real in their shops or in their Facebook groups.
Make sure that when you intend to shop small, that you are in fact shopping small. It sounds ridiculous, but people become confused - or they seek out copycats on purpose to save money. I beg you, please don’t do it.
I hope that this voice is loud enough to reach the scammers, the copycats, the unoriginal and that this article makes them think twice. Some people may not even be aware that they are ripping off others. When you buy product from a source like AliExpress, you may not even realize that they STOLE nearly every design that inhabits that website. Hopefully, when you know better, you do better, right?
Take the time to learn about the brands you care about and help them to survive by spreading the word. This copycat business is like the plague for us small business owners. Most of us are just trying to make an honest living, doing what we love to do. Shop small. Promote Small. Live the small life. AND REMEMBER, use the hashtag #ishopsmallbecauseican to help promote.