Are you a target?

In real life, other designers may pick up on a detail or two of yours and incorporate it into their lines just as all of you do too. I mean, all of you find details you like that you incorporate into your styles and make your own but rarely does anybody engage in wholesale design copying (we’re not discussing piracy here, none of you are on that level). Still, sometimes this does happen. Let me explain how.

Designers, buyers and company managers shop boutiques. If they find something they like, they may buy it and take it back to the factory. It may dismay you to know this but very often, the knock-er off-er, doesn’t even realize they are being not-nice when they select your style for replication. The reasons are that if they find it in a boutique, there are errors in replication across units and styles are not uniform (meaning bad patterns), there is no style number, there is no RN number, it’s not lined or lined poorly -and at those price points- they will think you are just a home sewer who is sewing for pin money so they would be genuinely surprised that this would be upsetting to you. They will take your style, clean it up and make some money. If anything, they think they are complimenting you. The thing is, everything you’ve done says “home sewing” so their thinking is that were you serious, you wouldn’t have made it like that so of course they don’t know they have done anything “wrong”. I’m not saying this to defend the practice, I’m just trying to explain where they’re coming from. Therefore, I could not be more sincere when I say that product quality is the best indicator of whether you’re a knock off target.

It does not matter how high you think your quality is, it is rare that labor intensive hand stitching adds value to the product. It is the small details that we notice. DEs only notice the big things like flashy pricey buttons and expensive fabrics. There’s no trick to noticing the big details; professionals start with the tiny details that can be seen and analyzed. Professionals don’t realize they’re your competitor if you miss the standards of basic manufacturing (such as fusing hems). If your hems are buckling, nobody cares that your fronts are all pad-stitched. If you can’t cover the basics, you’re a target.

For example, when I see a hem buckling -a hem edge on a jacket that is not crisp when the styling warrants it- it’s clear the company needs to be better prepared and explore the values that define quality. It doesn’t matter how pretty the hang tags are or how cute the marketing is because too much was spent on building an image when a better priority is a product that doesn’t require cutsey-artsy glitz to move it. Anyone will know production costs are unnecessarily high and the company is bleeding money from every orifice. A knock-er off-er knows they can clean it up, make it crisp and clean and still beat the price points, even manufacturing in the US.

The buckling hem solution is a trade secret (if you define a trade secret as something not in sewing books) but barely worth thinking about for the average manufacturer who does it as a matter of course. DEs get knocked off because a competitor will notice the cool design from someone they think is on a home-sewing level, only that buckled hem just jumps up and screams, “take me! take me! take me!” and the rest is history. Other things we notice are sleeve caps, how they sit and how crisp they are.  I just don’t understand why people think high quality is defined by sleeve cap ease, when it’s merely bailing out a poorly cut armhole and sleeve. The most expensive suit coats have horizontal stripes running across the body and a quality suit will have the stripes matching identically across the sleeves -front to back- and this can only be accomplished with no sleeve cap ease. Before I forget -please- never describe your products as “couture quality”. Trust me. The broader perception is that the more a designer proclaims her high quality, the worse it usually is. Quality is not issued by proclamation.

In summary:
To prevent being a knock-off target, you must clean up your product quality. The first step to cleaning up is to buy items -the quality of which you’d like to emulate- from thrift stores. Buy several items, doing a broad survey by taking them apart and incorporating the shared construction features you see there. There is no other way. This is what professionals do when they want to learn how to make new kinds of products so why would you do things any differently? Quality is aptitude, not attitude.

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Are you a target? pt.2

    In my first post, I discussed ways others may unknowingly select you as a target for knock off. As I said before, the greatest tip-off to a target is product quality. This post will discuss other ways you may be…

  2. Copying processes #5

    Before I continue with this segment of the series, I want to reiterate why people on my end of the business won’t want to sign confidentiality agreements. First of all, every designer out there swears up and down that their…

  3. vee says:

    I enjoyed your columns. I had to recover from sickness and put my apparel business on hold . I have my Rn number and will be purchasing your book this weekend. I hope to be working back in my studio in November. Thanks for all the advice given to home sewers.

Leave a Reply to vee Cancel reply

You have to agree to the comment policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.