11 February, 2010

fear of the big box

Large scale retailers are smart. This isn't necessarily a compliment.

When the indie craft movement became more widely accepted a couple of years ago, the big guys took notice. They hired artists from that world to start making their "one of a kind" and "unique" designs and turning them into mass-produced items. When I started seeing tote bags at Target with some hand-sewn elements I hurt inside. These bags weren't made with love, an interest in art or craft or making people happy. There was no possibility in satisfaction other than a paycheck. Soulless kitsch, and they sold like hotcakes.

Recently Caribou Coffee began selling cup sleeves. Knowing several people who make them I thought it was a great idea, until realizing that these are all made-in-China imports. Granted, it's possible a local or smaller artist may not be able to reproduce their work in the quantities needed, but did they ask? Why be a company that stresses charity and community, while not looking within your own community for products to sell within your stores?

Then today I read this story. This artist has some pretty damning evidence that some of her designs were ripped off by those working for a well-known company. What are the chances she'll win this and get them to drop the designs in question? Probably not good, but there's enough talk about it out there that the company actually made a statement.

It sucks that this happened to her, but what bothers me more is the extreme potential that it's happening even more frequently. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if people in the creative departments of big-name retailers are trolling sites like Etsy and 1000 Markets, looking for ideas to cannibalize. Yes, I understand that in the world of fashion knockoffs happen all the time. But it's sad when it happens to individuals who do not have the money, the power or the lawyers to fight back when their ideas are thefted for cheap substitutes. I know it's not possible to buy local or buy handmade all of the time, but every instance of supporting the small business when able will make a difference in the long run.