Last week, someone we know went into an independent boutique and discovered a piece that looked a lot like our Fremont cuff bracelet for sale for $16. She bought it and gave it to us to have a look. The original Fremont Bridge cuff bracelet sits on the left, the one we believe to be a copy sits on the right. The tricky thing is that only one of these bracelets is the Fremont Bridge cuff that you've heard about here, here, and here. Only one of them is the cuff you've purchased at our store, online, at a show, at one of our amazing retailers' shops. The other one isn’t. The other one is a cuff bracelet that we have not thought up or touched or sold. This is not our cuff. This is a cuff bracelet that we believe is made in China and that is distributed by a wholesale accessories company with an office in NY. They sell their cuff to other retailers for only $5. We believe they may have copied our design. Last week, when I first held this other cuff, confusion, sadness, disbelief, heartbreak, cloudy head all set in. Last week, I was a wreck. All I could think about were the countless hours and the countless steps it took to take that idea from just that--a shy, fuzzy little bug of an idea--to the real life, original Fremont Bridge cuffs we produce everyday in our Portland shop and studio. Every possible scenario poured in and out of my head about how this could have happened or what it could mean for us. We soon discovered the cuff on other retail websites (all for under $20 retail), and the spiral continued. It is one of the most helpless feelings I've ever experienced in my life. Two geometric cuff bracelets lay side by side, one designed and made by betsy & iya and the other we believe to be a copy of the original design. I've had good friends in similar situations and it's just so disheartening to know there's really not much we can do as smaller designers to protect our ideas, our product, our work. Legal action to stop big companies from copying designs would take some serious money, time, and effort. It is my opinion that bigger companies know this. They know smaller designers really don't have the resources to protect their designs from duplication. The guard isn't asleep, she's just not equipped to defeat a team of robots with laser guns and jet packs and an appetite for fresh ideas. That's where this post comes in. I figure if we can expose our process, our business, the care that we put into our work to even just ten people, maybe those people will affect their economies in positive ways by understanding what it means to support a smaller designer, a small shop that supports small designers, and how big of a positive impact that can have on their own communities and the American community at large. In the end, that's the only defense against robots and laser guns, right? At betsy & iya, we do everything in our power to provide interesting, valuable work, at the most affordable price we can offer. What does this mean? It means we consider our process and everything that goes into it to determine the fairest price to offer our customers. In the case of the Bridge collection (which includes the Fremont cuff), this is what you've purchased from us:

• inspiration gathering: an entire lifetime. • research: 40 hours • concept building: 80 hours • sketches: 40 hours • researching and implementing best production practices: 40 hours • digital file conversion: 40 hours • phone calls, emails, ordering relevant parts/materials: 5 hours initial, 5 hours/mo continual • prototype building: 10 hours • production training: 10-20 hours • ongoing production: a team of 3 full-time, 40 hours/week employees, 1 part-time employee, and me, based right here in Portland. • small-batch production process for this piece: filing, annealing, deburring, shaping, work-hardening, tumbling, oxidizing, retumbling, quality testing, about 30 minutes/piece • selling, display building, social media, traveling to trade shows, driving cross-country to meet with independent shop owners, etc: a continual expense and effort (and we love every minute of it.)

  Bottom line: DESIGNED IN PORTLAND, by us. MADE IN PORTLAND, by us. A comparison of two virtually identical looking cuff bracelets. One is designed and made by betsy & iya in Portland, Oregon. The other we believe to be a copy of the original design. In the case of the other piece (I can't be sure, but), this is what I believe you've purchased from them:

• discover a piece they think will be popular (maybe at a trade show we traveled to or on a website we designed and built or in an independent shop whose owner we've probably hugged): a few hours • preparing and getting production files to China or other developing country: a few hours • mass producing "their version" of this thing: a few minutes/piece • shipping it across the ocean: who knows. Boats are fast these days, I bet.

  Our Fremont cuff has a connection. It comes from something. It has soul. If you want it shined up, come by our shop, we'll do it for free. If you want to know more about how the idea came to me, come by our shop, I'll tell you all about it. If you lose it or run over it with your car (true story) come in and we'll get it fixed right up. Our bracelet might cost a little bit more, but it's not disposable. We know because the woman who literally ran over hers in her car brought it back to us for repair instead of throwing it away--and we repaired it. There are stories behind that piece, it will last you longer, and you know who made it. You know who had meeting after meeting after meeting about the best material to use, the best angle of the bridge, the best way to get the core feeling of the bridge without being overt about bridges and architecture, the best way to use all of the above without you (our beloved customer) having to pay an arm and a leg for something special. ALL of that goes into our work. Full disclosure, we really care about you. I wish I could tell you how many times I've teared up from your stories, our conversations with you, your gratitude for what we do and vice versa. ALL of that goes into our work. I'm pretty sure other companies don't care about you like we do. In comparison to ours, I believe a copy of our bracelet is meaningless and disposable. You have no idea who made it or where it is coming from. An image showing the interior of the betsy & iya Fremont Bridge cuff bracelet with the other being what we think is a copy of the design. I can tell you that when you spend money with us, it goes towards this:

• two Portland partners who care about their city and putting money back into their own community as much as possible. • a 9 person crew that is for the first time in 5 years getting health insurance and paid time off. • 1 local bookkeeper • 1 local insurance company • 1 local payroll company • local and regional material suppliers and extensions of our production • 1 local website dude • local events that support the small designers • finding, buying, and telling you the story of the amazing work of other local and independent designers from around the world that we bring into our shop • should I keep going?

  Do you have any idea what your money is going towards when you buy the $5 bracelet that looks a lot like ours? I have no idea. But as a designer and manufacturer, I can tell you that it would be impossible for us to pay our ourselves or our employees if we only charged $5 for the cuff, much less insurance, paid time off, or those occasional "thank you" lunches for our staff from local gems like Lela's or Little Big Burger or Besaw's or Salt & Straw (there's nothing wrong with ice cream for lunch). Someone reading this will think: "Well, economies of scale. These guys just don't have their distribution figured out yet. If they were making more cuffs, they could sell them for cheaper."  Not true. Our makers are pushing out about 90 pieces of jewelry every single day. We've eked out every ounce of productivity we can find while still respecting things like carpal tunnel syndrome, 15-minute breaks, lunches, and laughter. We believe our product is better because of that. For those of you who do care (most of you, I'd venture to bet), I would challenge you to go that extra step to find those pieces that are functional for you, things that make you think, give you that twinkle, things you are proud of. And I challenge you to stop buying things that you find are meaningless, things that have no function, story or place in your life. The original Fremont Bridge cuff bracelet sits on the left, the one we believe to be a copy of the FB cuff design on the right. When I started this tiny beast at the crest of 2008, I had nothing on my mind but to create something real, something I could connect to, something that had soul, something that felt like home to me; and I hoped to share that feeling with the community. So I started working. I was so invested, so excited to be moving my hands everyday. I was blown away when someone wanted to buy the work I had created. I couldn't believe it. It worked. I mean, I had no idea what I was doing, but it worked. Which made me want to work even harder. And I did. Now in our 6th year, we are a team of 9 and growing. We are committed to creating work that speaks to you, work that you're proud to own. We are committed to supporting and uplifting the small independent designers and celebrating all the incredible hard work they do. We are committed to selling our work to the smaller boutiques who have supported us from day one. We are proud to be even a small part of a massive consumer shift toward localism, toward a personal connection to the things you buy. We are moved by your stories and your interest in what we do. We are honored that you want to shop with us; we are honored that you keep coming back; we are honored to create these special relationships with you. We cannot thank you enough for choosing our cuff bracelet instead of one that costs $5. We cannot thank you enough for all that you have done, for believing in us, for sticking by us, for feeling happy when you shop with us. I'm teary eyed when I write this---it is because of you that I am where I am today. How in the world could I express to you what this means to me? My heart swells with love. To celebrate our original Fremont Bridge cuff, we're doing something we've always wanted to do. We're making them out of gold. And because gold is a bit spendy, we’re raffling three Limited Edition Gold-Plated Fremont Bridge cuffs with the word "ORIGINAL" stamped inside. These three "Original" Limited Edition Fremont cuffs will be numbered and hand-stamped by me personally. So for $5 bucks, you can enter our raffle to get one of these three special pieces. And even if you don't win the grand prize, you'll still walk away with a discount code for 25% off any betsy & iya purchase, just for entering. It’s our little way of saying “We love you, too” and we hope you know we mean it. Click to get your raffle ticket now and while you’re at it, tell a friend or two or three about this post.  (UPDATE 7/6/13: The raffle is now over; a big thanks to everyone for all the support and love.  It means the world to us!) My deepest gratitude for riding along with us. Betsy ***Song of the Moment: Foreign Bodies, by Radiation City*** *Remember that original indie-boutique where we discovered the other cuff? To the store owner's deep credit, when we contacted her to show her our original design, she pulled her remaining stock of cuffs off her sales floor. That’s community.

34 thoughts on The True Story of a Small Designer.

Anna:

We are so happy to share and thank you for your support, Valerie!!

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Mette Frejvald:

So well written! The same thing happened to me and one of my dresses. I will share your blogpost on my Facebook.

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

mouserface:

I’ve been buying from you since you were a tiny little shop on etsy. Last year, my boyfriend bought me a St. John’s cuff for Christmas because we take our dog to the park there, it had the coordinates of the bridge, and it’s one of our favorite bridges (besides Jeff, of course). He didn’t know how much I love your stories, the designs, the story behind the success of your shop too. Sorry to see this happen, but you get what you pay for and good things happen to people with integrity. Ideas keep coming. Designs keep being inventive. Keep doing what you do. xoxo.

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Jen:

Such a great post! i buy Betsy and Iya for fun Portland gifts for friends . i would hate to have bought a phony! makes me sad this happened! Keep up the great work and inspirational pieces!

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Melissa:

I love what you’ve shared here with us. It indeed makes each piece a special purchase. With social sites like Pinterest (I love) it makes it easier for large companies to troll the internet and find someone else’s idea. I bought a canvast tote bag from a large craft store chain and used a Sharpie marker to draw a sugar skull on the front, then crocheted the handles. I was so proud of the final, finished product that I posted it on Pinterest. Two weeks later while shopping in the same large chain craft store I saw a bad remake of my bag, almost identical in design and concept, used as an “example” of what you can make with the canvas tote bag. I wasn’t proud, I felt ripped off. I suppose there isn’t much to do once the idea leaves the hatch. It’s just a drag that credit isn’t given to the original idea hatcher.

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Valerie Heck:

Thank you so much for sharing this. I truly love to support artists and buy the work straight from them or a trusted gallery. I used to work for the Buyers Market of American Craft and I worked hard to make sure anyone that was manufacturing outside the United States/Canada was not allowed in the show. And even though I don’t work their now I really support American/Canadian made art, wishing you the best. Valerie

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Melody:

I can imagine how upsetting that is (I would be furious if someone ripped off my illustrations), but I wanted to say that even without knowing what goes into making it, yours is obviously the superior piece.

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Jen:

I’m so sorry this happened to you! I remember stumbling upon your Facebook page when you only had around 500 fans, and thinking you had something really special going on. Unfortunately, when you’re talented and have an eye for design, people will sometimes be dishonorable and take what is rightfully yours. Urban Outfitters has made a killing ripping off Etsy artists. Luckily, the internet allows you to share what has happened, and let people make informed decisions.

You’re so awesome, and you totally didn’t deserve this.

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Megan:

I wish this was an uncommon thing, I’m sorry this happened to you guys. Just know that your original works, craftsmanship and lovely store are worth more than a crummy design stealers knock off. My husband and I recently came into your store and got some earrings and bracelets for my birthday. I LOVE them and wear them constantly. I love that their original, I get compliments constantly!

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

sword+fern:

I’m sorry to hear this happened to you, Betsy+Will.
Getting ripped off hurts at first, I know from experience, but the thing is, they can never steal your super positive energy, your future dreams and ideas, and your really rad life. So just let that be a comfort. Sending a hug!

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Lauren:

I am so sorry to hear this, it’s heartbreaking.
Best of luck in any resolution possible.

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Rachael:

This makes me so angry, so sad and yet inspired. I’m an artist and I understand the time and imagination and work that goes into designing something of meaning.
I’m so very sorry this happened to you and I hope it only brings you more business.
Counterfeiting funds drugs, child and slave labor as well as terrorism. For these reasons and then some, I never buy counterfeit anything. True design means something to me and I know it does to others as well.
Best of everything to you!

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Jessica:

It is possible to fight back, with bad press: http://nymag.com/thecut/2011/05/jewelry_designer_accuses_iris.html

Find out who the distributor is. Call them out.

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Kira Pinski:

Just wanted to say I LOVE MY Betsy & Iya bracelet. I just moved from Portland after a lovely 8 years. The cuff was given to me as a gift to remember this wonderful city! Now I’m in San Diego working as a hairstylist. This photo shoot might make you happy from 2 Portland transplants:) I wear my cuff almost every day and the rings I bought at Betsy & Iya! Love you:) http://www.continuumphotography.com/blog/san-diego-hair-stylist-kira-pinski/

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Maba:

Always one more thing…this is for ANY company or individual who decides to copy another artist or creation … DON’T! Quit being copy skimmers! Put the time in and create your own originals, pay someone to do it, or if you like someone’s creations so much that you have to have it, contact the artist and pay for it if they are interested in selling.

:)

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Ember Haynes:

Thank you for taking the time to share these thoughts !

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

jen goff:

Betsy,
This is a beautiful post, one that reflects your grace and brilliance. I am not surprised that you took this difficult situation and turned it into something heartfelt, honest and inspiring. What you make is truly unique and beautiful, no one will ever be able to take that away. I will support you always.

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Cate:

Thanks for taking the time to write this—in my business of music this also is happening at an alarming rate. Companies or individuals “take” someone’s composition or production and blatantly use it as a backdrop to sell something else, or claim it as their own.

This is beyond “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and beyond imitation as learning from a master.

Greed, soulessness and lack of imagination bristle off the copy. Anyone with connection to Spirit will sense this. You did the right thing—you took your hurt and anger and transformed it with integrity. And because of that, your business will not suffer.

Continued blessings on your work!

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Kirsten Hadley:

“I would challenge you to go that extra step to find those pieces that are functional for you, things that make you think, give you that twinkle, things you are proud of. And I challenge you to stop buying things that you find are meaningless, things that have no function, story or place in your life.”

Well said!

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Maba:

Three things:
1. Your talent is immense.
2. Reminds us ALL to buy the originals and local.
3. I need to place an order! :)

Lots of Love and Happy Sales to You!

P.S.
You have us fired up to fight those pesky parasites…individually and collectively!

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Nancy Simon:

As a fellow designer, I have to tell you that I’m so upset for you. I can relate to the offense of being ripped off. When your work is taken it is like a physical blow. I often wonder, if you cannot afford your rights, do you really have them? I will pass this on and ask that my friends support locally made.

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Aaron Palermo:

I understand the feeling you described when you held the knock-off in your hands. It’s a catch 22, you want to promote your work on the internet, but…

Imitation is not the greatest form of flattery. Imitation is an act of intellectual and societal depletion. Mainland Chinese were poor for so long they feel now that they have a right to do anything.

As others have mentioned, they can steal a design but they can’t steal you. Keep fighting the good fight.

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Jess:

Girl, this is a wonderful piece showing not only your process but your heart, your contribution, your personal and artistic value of your life’s work. Thank you.

Copying and knock-offs will happen when you’re cutting-edge, like yourself. Something to remember, copiers will always be many steps behind your fashion forward momentum and they will never internally understand how and why you create, so they can never anticipate the next piece. You and your staff are the original creators of your unique point of view and for that we ALL thank you!

Stay strong, sister!

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Laura Robberts:

I’m so sorry for this very personal pain. It is horrible when people/artists steal ideas to make money off of ideas that are not their own. My heart feels for you.

Very sadly, this sort of practice happens all too often. Stealing is stealing. No amount of twisting or turning of the facts, or slight changes to an idea changes the fact that it is still theft.

Thank you for sharing with us your painful discovery. More people should pay attention.

Sincerely,
Laura Robberts

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Kate Ellen:

The one thing you have that these clowns don’t is VISION. Keep your head high and your eyes clear—you have a lifetime of ideas coming to you, plus a great community of folks out there who love what you do. Stay strong, stay inspired! L O V E + M E T A L, Kate Ellen

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Laura:

I’ve never shopped at your store, but after seeing this post on facebook…I will be buying something this weekend! Very sad this is happening. See you soon!

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Valerie:

While this stinks, GOOD FOR YOU in standing up for yourself and publicly showing just how much work it takes to be an ORIGINAL independent designer.

This was an amazing post and I hope it goes far into educating buyers and consumers in how products come to market, and how you really do get what you pay for. I hope people grow to appreciate the importance of buying work from the original designer. Btw, it is evident even in the pictures how much higher quality yours is.

I always try to tell myself that if my design was ripped off I would just move on to creating something new, but deep down every designer is attached to their work and it would cut deep.
(p.s. love your work!)

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Janine B:

I’d rather have one Betsy & Iya bracelet then 3 of those fake ones!!! Every time I drive over the St. Johns bridge I happily look at my bracelet and think of that sweet little shop on Thurman :)
You guys rock!!!

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Colton:

I don’t think you should worry. You guys should take this knock-off as a complement. You know you are a popular company when you start getting your awesome designs knocked off. Besides the same customer that shops B&I would never buy the knockoff and anyone who would buy the knock off would never shop B&I. They are two different markets!

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Megan:

Great post. Thanks for showing just how much dedicated work goes into your pieces. I bought one of your necklaces (Frank and Ava) at Hoot+Louise in Memphis, TN back in October and absolutely love it. This post has me determined to buy more of your jewelry to support small designers like you who put so much thought and hard work into your designs. Thanks!

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Amy Olson:

wow. Betsy, this post is so powerful. I have tears in my eyes. the soul, energy, and love you put into your business emits out from everything you say and do. I’m so sorry that this happened, but I truly know that your community, your customers, and everyone who comes into contact with your jewelry knows it’s your work, heart, and soul. and that will always be what keeps you and your team from never slowing down! I can’t wait to get my hands on a gold bridge cuff :)
love you all!
xo

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Sunny Sattinger:

What a beautiful and measured response to something we all dread as smaller scale designers. I am so impressed and glad to have read this work of art. xoxoxo Sunny

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Kristin Larson:

Well, I was already smitten with you, and now it’s full blown, love! First and foremost, I am so sorry that this happened. A designer’s and artist’s worst fear. But with the spirit of a true artist, you turned it into something brilliant that radiates who you are. You DO care about your work and our community. You DO support and uplift small independent designers. You wrote a blog post about Crafty Wonderland that was so inspiring to me, and I wrote about it and how I was so nervous to do my first show. And then you took the time to come over and cheer me on and help ease my anxiety. You really do care about all of it, and everyone who is a part of it, even at the smallest level. It shines through in what you do. It comes through in your work. This was beautifully written Betsy. So some mass producers can copy your Fremont Bridge bracelet. But you ARE the bridge, and they can’t copy that.

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

Christine:

This makes me very sad and I am so sorry. But you are doing amazing things. Sounds like you’re rising above it, and your work and ethics will serve you well. Thanks for doing what you do and for sharing your story.

Also, the link for the raffle doesn’t seem to be working…

October 05 2016 at 09:10 PM

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