A small business owner and fashion designer has rallied support and challenged large-scale clothing retailer Cotton On over claims the business launched a fashion range with very similar designs to her own.
News.com.au reports founder and operator of fashion business Billie The Kid Jayni Assirati has accused Cotton On of releasing a range of personalised trucker hats and backpacks sharing similarities to her own company’s products.
Cotton On launched its range earlier this week, and after seeing the new products Assirati took to Facebook to publicly criticise the brand, accusing them of having “lots of ‘inspiration’ in their range”.
“We’re certainly not a big fish in the pond, in fact we haven’t quite made it to the pond yet and that’s ok, it’s not our goal. It does make it even more disgusting though that an Australian company could flagrantly copy a small business like mine,” the business said in a Facebook post.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
“We can’t compete with them, nor do we try. We’re happy doing our own thang [sic] over here, making and creating and we’re proud of how far we have come.”
Speaking to news.com.au, Assirati said she had been pointed out the differences by her customers, and had contacted Cotton On for a “please explain”.
“I was disappointed to see a range so similar to mine. We’ve worked really hard to build strong, consistent brand image … I built my business in the basement of my house in the wee hours of morning in between breast feeding my babies. I don’t have a big design house, it’s just me,” she told news.com.au.
In a response to Assirati, Cotton On said it had investigated the matter and claimed the “ethical design process has been followed correctly”.
“The font and stylization of their letter is very different to the letters in your range as it is to all of the other options in the market applying the same trend,” the email reportedly said.
The issue has prompted a groundswell of support for the independent business on Facebook, with shoppers rallying behind Assirati’s business and calling for Cotton On to properly support local businesses.
“Cotton on would it not be better to come up with your own designs or acknowledge the original designer where your design and product ‘reappropriation’ team got the “idea” from??” wrote one comment writer said on the Cotton On Kids’ Facebook post.
“This really saddens me. You found a gap in the market, you did all the hard work & now some big business wants to reap the rewards. Just so know we might be a small army but we have your back & we can be very loud!” wrote another.
Trademark products and register designs: Legal expert
For SMEs concerned about copyright issues when it comes to product designs, IP lawyer and director at Hitch Advisory Olivia Hitchens recommends businesses trademark their products and register a design, but says even that isn’t a “magic ticket”.
“Registering a design can be expensive, so if you haven’t got one you’re looking at claims of misleading and deceptive conduct and proving that customers are likely to be confused with your product and the other,” Hitchens tells SmartCompany.
“Businesses can take inspiration and change elements of a design, so it would be up to a court to decide if the two are too similar and the new design hasn’t been changed enough.
“Unfortunately there is no hard and fast rule, and even if you have registered your design it’s not necessarily a magic ticket you can wave under the business’ nose.”
Hitchens believes “nine times out of ten” businesses will be able to resolve things amicably by contacting the business they believe to have a similar design, as in most cases they won’t be aware they’ve even done it.
“Sometimes they’ve not intentionally done the wrong thing and it’s just a case that they haven’t done their due diligence,” she says.
Cotton On has been the subject of a number of similar claims from designers in the past, including a designer of a soft toy who took on the business in 2015, and a US based designer who took the business to court last year after it allegedly used a slogan that had been previously used used on one of her t-shirts.
Cotton On did not respond to a request for comment for SmartCompany prior to publication, but in a response to news.com.au, the company said it “did not seek inspiration from Billie the Kid in the creation of the trucker cap and backpack range”.
“The Group has zero tolerance for the blatant copying of designers and takes these matters seriously. We respect the work of individual designers and in fact, have partnered with smaller designers and support the career development of up and coming designers through tertiary partnerships.”
SmartCompany contacted Assirati but did not receive a response prior to publication.