2011: The Dark Side of Design by Natalie Basurto
 
 
 
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Her next step was to talk with a lawyer, but they all said there was nothing she could do. Tuohy-Novinski said that Richard Hayne could “smash your business to pieces and you could lose everything, including your home, if we were to go after him,” she explained. And copyrighting her work would not only be time-consuming and expensive, but also wouldn’t leave her with enough money to protect herself from any company that tries to knock her off.
This incident opened Tuohy-Novinski’s eyes to the brand she was almost about to collaborate with. Through research, she learned of Hayne’s previous alleged deceptions and his right-wing beliefs. "It’s outrageous,” Tuohy-Novinski said.
But she and Koerner aren’t the first independent designers who have claimed they have been stolen from. Two jewelry designers who sell their collections at the Brooklyn flea market noticed copies of their pieces on Urban Outfitters' website shortly after they unveiled their pieces, according to brooklynpaper.com.
And jewelry isn’t the only thing that Urban Outfitters is accused of stealing. After t-shirt designer Johnny Cupcakes was contacted to sell his line at Urban Outfitters and the deal fell through, exact copies of his designs, featuring airplanes dropping cupcake bombs, popped up in the company’s stores, according to consumerist.com.
The money from Urban Outfitters' profits goes to supporting causes that most youth would be angered by, such as anti-gay rights candidates and propositions, but the edgy, tongue-in-cheek style still has teens and young adults reaching for their wallets.
Tuohy-Novinski refuses to buy into the hype. She is a strong believer in supporting independent designers and small businesses. She also has a strong taste for vintage: “I like to wear things that have other stories… stories of people that have worn them before.”
Even though she has always tried to stay away from mass-produced items, this ordeal was “the icing on the cake.” To this day she is still boycotting the company and any other brand linked to it. Beyond the Urban Outfitters corporation, she also stays away from any other companies, like Forever 21, that mass-produce items. “Our culture wants everything so easy and trendy,” she said.
When asked how the ordeal made her feel, she explained her hurt and passionate rejection of the brand: “[I was] so disappointed, confused, angry. How can a brand that promotes ‘alternative’ to the mainstream rip off little guys in the business and then use profits to support causes opposite to the image they portray? It is infuriating and deceitful.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
There’s a reason the mass-produced hipster retail store Urban Outfitters has been infamously nicknamed Urban Counterfeiters by multiple skeptics across the internet. The almost identical creations that the company has been accused of stealing from independent designers seems like proof enough, but could it be mere coincidence? Or is it a tale of an evil corporation stealing from independent designers to make a quick buck? There is still no conclusive evidence that Urban Outfitters copies designers. There is only speculation and those designers’ stories.  
Urban Outfitters owns not only its namesake stores across the country, but also the bohemian-chic Anthropologie stores and the brand Free People, which is sold in boutiques and department stores across the country. The brand targets young adults with its on-trend clothes that appeal to fashionable partygoers. Decades ago, the same style that would have labeled you a geek or a nerd is now hot and in-demand. Think thick-rimmed glasses, chunky sweaters, and t-shirts emblazoned with wolves howling at the moon. These items are available almost everywhere (like local boutiques and thrift stores) but Urban Outfitters stocks the geek-chic style to the brim, and customers love the lifestyle they sell.
Not only has the company been accused of stealing, but if you take a closer look, that fun, life-of-the-party appearance falls flat. The brand’s president and founder, Richard Hayne, is anti-gay rights and has contributed large amounts of money to Republican candidates, such as U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, who has been quoted saying “gay sex leads to man-on-dog love-making”. That’s not exactly a good way to appeal to the youth of today, who are leading the fight in the gay-rights movement.
But one search online could bring that stylish façade down. Typing either “Urban Outfitters knock-offs” or “Richard Haynes prop 8” yields hundreds of scandalous articles about where the company might really be getting their ideas.
Many designers who claim they have been ripped off, including the most well-known of whom is Stevie Koerner of Chicago, say that their original items were copied, mass-produced in a cheap way, and then sold in Urban Outfitters stores. She has been creating jewelry for two and a half years in the shapes of countries and U.S. states with a little heart cut out in each. And Urban Outfitters started selling necklaces with a similar style and reaping the benefits, according to Koerner’s blog, imakeshinythings.tumblr.com. But has since removed the product from their online store.
Sacramento jewelry designer, Pamela Tuohy-Novinsky, also says she was ripped off. She heads the brand 2ETN jewelry, which consists of handmade original jewelry pieces that she creates along with her artist husband, Ed Novinsky. According to her story, back in 2008 when the couple were creating their limited edition line, Pamela Tuohy Jewelry, she contacted the company for a possible collaboration.
Tuohy-Novinski remembers that they acted extremely interested in the line and furthermore seemed to love the fact that each piece was handmade. “I really thought they had the smaller artist’s/designer’s best interests in mind,” she said in an email interview.
But when they wanted her to create a few hundred pieces to be sold in stores, she decided she didn’t have enough “woman-power or money for that large of a collection”.
When the deal fell through, Tuohy-Novinski didn’t think she would soon see knock-offs of her work being manufactured by the same company only three months after their last contact. The incident first came to light when her niece, who worked for an Anthropologie store in Berkeley at the time, noticed necklaces that were eerily similar to Tuohy-Novinski’s style. But when she contacted the company, they had no response.
 
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Natalie is a 22-year-old senior at Sacramento State who is about to receive her degree in journalism this spring. She loves anything that has to do with fashion, beauty and music and is especially excited to be published for the first time. She also loves to travel the world, go dancing and meet new people.
The Dark Side 
                        of Design 
 


                                  
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WRITER
NATALIE BASURTO




The Dark Side of Design, December 2011 
Vhcle Magazine Issue 8, Design