When you’re a small business trying to make ends meet on the e-commerce streets while designing and making your own products, it can be a slap in the face when larger e-commerce sites blatantly rip off your designs and make a killing by reselling them.
This is exactly what popular jewelry designer Rachel Stewart says is happening to her. Stewart has been selling her handcrafted jewelry online for almost eight years. She decided to go into business for herself after she was laid off from her job. Stewart wanted to take control of her own financial future and not put it into someone else’s hands.
Stewart’s designs can be seen worn by the likes of Kim Coles, Nelly Furtado and Beyoncé’s all-female band the Suga Mamas. When you look at Stewart’s products, you get a sense of pride when it comes to black culture. From her Afro pick-design earrings, appropriately named Soul Glo, to her Nola Darling broach, which pays homage to Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, the products are hand-designed and made by Stewart. But she says because of two larger companies ripping her off and selling products to other boutiques, her livelihood is at stake, her financial future now in the hands of copycats online and those who purchase items from sites like Alibaba and AliExpress.
In an interview with The Root, Stewart discusses how the blatant plagiarism is affecting her business and may force her to close up shop.
The Root: Can you go into a few details about how you found your items on Alibaba and AliExpress?
Rachel Stewart: I was alerted to it by someone else; I know that sites like these are a hotbed for knockoffs of everything you can imagine. They not only copied the exact design but stole the product shots I personally took of the pieces and even the models.
TR: Have you contacted these companies?
RS: Yes, the first time I contacted one particular seller, she said that someone sent her a picture of my earrings and asked her to make them. Of course, they don’t care who it belongs to, so she made it, sold it to the American boutique and also kept it in her own shop overseas. She also apologized and pretended that she was so sorry for everything.
She said if I didn’t take legal action she would remove them from her shop right away and make them for me exclusively. I thought that was funny. I produce my own product—just take down my work. She took them down and one week later changed the name of her shop and put them right back up. It’s not just these companies: Independent boutiques also steal my pictures and work; it’s rampant.