Saturday, October 19, 2013

BE Original. Be BRAVE.

I've been thinking. And I can't keep this one in. It's about the whole copying thing. Specifically as it applies to art, design, & concepts. And Lisa. And Cody. And West Elm. And it's kept me up at night. In fact it's a major driving force behind why I do what I do, and the integrity with which I approach my work, how I interact, how I walk through this space called life. Always has been. Always will be, as long as I'm sane. It's my soap box, as many of you know.

I have followed Lisa Congdon through social media channels, watched her success, and admired her process. She is generous with what she shares. She knows how she wants to be represented in the market, and firmly stands for it. She tenaciously continues to build a very strong personal brand with great integrity. The fact that she immediately took on sharing this situation over social media is a huge game changer, huge. And one that couldn't have unfolded the same way if she hadn't built the solid foundation & brand strength that she has done. At this point of writing, her blog post alone has been shared on fb over 233K times, and retweeted over 23K times. That's visibility that didn't used to be possible at all. And that's Brave. Below is a perfect Eleanor Roosevelt quote by brought to life by Miz Congdon's hand.. I think she perfectly illustrated the importance of this conversation.

"When you adopt the standard and values of someone else... 
You surrender your own integrity. 
You become, to the extent of your surrender, 
    less of a human being." 
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Copying. Just don't. It's as simple as that. Simple. It seems that it should be, right?
But apparently it's NOT. This is nothing-nothing-nothing new. It has been going on since the dawn of time. The second guy to make a wheel probably copied it from the first guy to make a wheel.
But did he ask? Did he put his own spin on it? Did he credit his friend?

"Art is either plagiarism or revolution" -Gauguin

"If we steal thoughts from the moderns, it will be called down as plagiarism; if from the ancients, it will be called up as erudition."-CC Colton

We can't do it. It's not ok. it's never ok. Artists work SO HARD to create work, to constantly keep the creative process moving forward, to be found, to create their niche. If someone takes that from them, it can erode business, confidence, all that one works so hard to build. And when done without permission, it creates false reality & threatens livelihood at the very least.

We get our ideas from a million different places. I made my own art. Products made from my hand. Did I think of it all by myself out of my head? Of course I did. The very first piece I made was because I was inspired by something that I saw. But did not copy. It came out of my life experiences & inspirations. I made a living from my art. I sold my work in to small galleries & boutiques nationally. It was in magazines. It was in books. It was seen. Did I live through the anguish of having someone copy my art? Yes indeed. The first time it happened I literally got sick. Eventually my work was copied by a wholesaler who knew I was too small to do anything about it. This was years & years ago. Before Etsy, before social media. So you just talked about it to your friends, or maybe a lawyer. It was a small frustrating cloud of knowledge shared. It was learning how to differentiate yourself & move forward. These experiences taught me a lot. They brought small artists & wholesalers together, made us family. Then & now. Because we all experienced similar growing pains & experiences.

I knew, early on, that I would never be a copier. In any way. And I would fight the same fight for others, and educate. I am conscious of it all the time. We have to be aware. We have to speak up. In every industry it happens. Food. Music. Words. Wherever there is an original thought, it can be borrowed, innocently or not.

Individuality drove how my Mom & I chose product for our retail store, Tantau. It was important for us to be distinctive. We wouldn't buy from companies who we knew copied. I learned from that. It drove me to create, with Artist Aaron Foster, our wildly fun & successful wholesale business, Relish. We represented small artists nationally & internationally. We became known for the fact that we would always have something unique and different, we could always be counted on for handmade, unusual, fun. I would coax the artist from retail into wholesale, from local street fairs to the Halls of Harrods. ("So you can only make 40? We'll sell 40! To Sundance!) Retailers knew they could come to Relish and have something that would set them apart. I am forever proud of that stance.
In fact, one of those small artists Relish represented was Cody Foster. He made amazing things on his own, he has a fabulous curators eye & intuitive talent. He had started finding great vintage things to reproduce. We took more orders than he could even produce. It was crazy busy & exciting, that first time we showed his line on the Piers in New York. That was 2001. That's how companies grow. That's how they begin. How they choose to continue, has to sit on their own conscience. That has to be owned & directed by what they feel is right. Integrity goes a very long way.  I'm very sorry he didn't grow with the same personal individuality his business started with. It undermines what is Brave.

I eventually took my entrepreneurial self to the halls of corporate. I wanted to learn more about manufacturing, about how my wire pieces could've actually been made in China or India. About how all those products out there were created. What these companies already did well. What they did or didn't take time for. As a small artist I couldn't fathom it. And as the Creative Director of a large company, I could learn. And I did, oh I did.
I thought Corporate would have it figured out. I thought they'd know about originality and integrity. For the most part, many do, but many more don't. That's why I chose to work for the two companies that I worked for. But still, things would show up on style boards that was ART by people I KNEW! It happens every day, worldwide. And it would lead to conversations & the potential of product, sometimes. I questioned & stopped many things along the way. And these were innocent idea threads, not planned plagiarism at all. But honestly, I think especially when people on the inside haven't had to sit in their dining room & make art & try to figure out how to sell it all on their own, they don't really think all that through. Just my take on it. When I started with the largest company I worked for, within week-one I taken a stand & had a gift bag pulled from production. Because I knew who's idea it was originally. And I knew it could cost both sides. You can't be afraid to stand for what you know is right. It's a big company. It had slipped through, and no one knew it wasn't designed from within, because of all the layers. And bear in mind, they educated every employee on plagiarism. Everyone watched a long video & participated in conversation about it & signed off that they would never. Refreshing, actually. But it's life, and ideas flow, and sometimes people aproach the gathering of ideas less stringently than others. Images are absolutely everywhere today. Things happen. We have to stand for awareness & promote it, take steps to educate & know where things come from.

West Elm has separated themselves from the norm. Over the past few years they have been paying attention. Taking risks. They partnered with Etsy to showcase Etsy artists.

They have figured out how to incorporate these works into their product mix both locally & in their catalogs. It's admirable, & it isn't easy. To pull key product from a tightly developed mix right before the holidays, is saying that they are firmly standing for this point of view. I think that's fantastic. I didn't expect it. It's one of the things that will take the conversation about originality to the retail level. Good for you, West Elm. There are some Brave people in that corporate office. With admirable integrity. Stay the course.

I 'm fascinated by social media & it's reach & strength. It's a powerful platform. I get new ideas & find new artists every day. It's what I DO. I'm passionate about it. I've been there. I am you. I work with small businesses & artists to help them get to places they didn't think they could. I know it can happen. And now I work again for a seasonal gift decor company, and a home decor company. I was asked to come in & help them regain a solid unique stance in the market. An exciting proposition. We have an outstanding team of in house artists, and we get to find & license & create product for many Independent Creatives. I love this part. It ties in to my experience, my passion, & others get exposure.

Live by what you know is right. Be BRAVE. Work with passion. Do what you love. Do it with your own personal integrity, and this will shine through. Always. It will win. You will.
Stand on your hands. Sing out loud.
It's worth it.
Every. Single. Time.



kelly rae said...

Margot, I love and adore you already but this post makes me love you even more. Bravo, mama!

Linda Thiltgen said...

Great post Margo!! you hear applause! With love and thanks!!

Paula said...

Well done Marge-very well balanced. Counting the days. xop

Katya said...

Thanks for continuing to educate the world about what we, as solo artists, must deal with as we try to create and make an honest living.
I'm thankful that Lisa brought this to light and that so many folks are joining in this discussion.
Best, Katya (a.k.a. Kate---Kristin's friend)

Tamera Beardsley said...

Margo... what a thoughtful and insightful post dear friend! Your voice and your soul need to be out here in 'blogland'! I have so much to say about this post... I don't even know where to begin!

The first time this happened to me... I was shopping in a chain store... walked by their accessories department... and there it was... one of my holiday pieces.. filling the a cheap knock off of the hand made pieces that left my studio... I can still recall that instant.. like it was yesterday.

I love what you wrote here... because your soul and passion ... and integrity shine through so very brightly! I envy any artist lucky enough to be working with and supported by your intense artist's soulful spirit... YOU my dear Margo... are one of a kind!

Susan Branch said...

WONDERFUL POST! Loved to read it, such an important subject, and now we have this wonderfully leveling playing field! Lucky us! It's been many years of frustration for so many, but the times, they are a changin! Thank you Margot! I just sent it out on Twitter .... keeping the ball rolling. Susan (friend of Sarah Powell's who's a friend of your mom's)

Kathy Weller said...

Amazing post. I'm going to Facebook this. More people need to read this and truly understand... what you describe.

ellencrimitrent said...

it would be nice if everyone had your integrity, but sadly it is not the case. I cannot tell you how many times I have been ripped off. I decide to just keep one step ahead of the game since you cannot afford to go around suing everyone.

The worst is when other artists rip you off- how can they even claim they are an artist- basically they are copy cats! I have a great artist friend who was ripped off beyond not only by her style, but her client knew it and still took the other artist's work since they were getting it cheaper! This artist has ripped off many others- she has no real style she copies those who are original.

Obviously no one can corner the market on animals with patterns in them or typography design since many use the same quotes, but you can refrain from making it look exactly the same.

I also want to say forget about companies ripping of artists with their actual work- how about ripping them off with crappy contracts. Only the savvy artist can negociate a great royalty and advance. Those who have no idea are getting ripped off by the day. Know your worth people and know where the cutoff will be. Its not enough to be creative today you really need a head for business!!

ellencrimitrent said...

oh I don't mean to sound or come off crude I just wanted to elaborate on what I see in the internet. Those who know you Margo know what a great collaborator you are!! :))

I think this economy has companies and ppl running scared and such the case their will probably be more companies ripping off artists just to make the goods without paying royalties. Oh it may not look exactly the same but you know who it is they are ripping off. Its not pretty.

Sharyn Sowell said...

I have admired you from afar for ages but now I want to say it to you directly... Your professional reputation is clearly well deserved and your strong stand on this issue makes me want to shout BRAVO! We artists are all behind Lisa - goodness knows we have all faced this same situation.

Well said. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Yay Margo! I am so glad you spoke up. My thoughts exactly about Cody, he is a talent in his own right, no need to plagiarize anyone.

Love you!!

cheryl rogers photography said...

Margo, I'm totally with you on this! So glad Roe shared it on fb. I LOVE it!

the messy nest said...

Bravo on your bravery!
Some days it can really feel in short supply. Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (which has ironically been famously plagiarized & borrowed). Integrity and ethics take resolve and stamina especially in this digital sharing day & age. Thank you for continuing to fight the good fight for us little guys!

Jennylulovesart said...

This is just so refreshing to hear from your side of things! I love when you say be brave. I must admit as I have walked thru life, growing in my craft, there have been times I wanted to grey the lines on some of my work and am so grateful that I chose the higher road. It is always challenging, especially when there is art you really like and identify with. You made a good point that not everyone knows the artists and may not know a copy or knockoff. We are all responsible for our choices and I will not forget this post. Thank you!

Krysten @ Why Girls Are Weird said...

I am so with you on this, thanks for sharing!

LindyM said...


May Leong said...

Thank you Margo, what an encouraging post for me !