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 ideas are original and perhaps they are -to them- but that doesn’t mean the rest of us haven’t seen a nearly identical product in the marketplace, often years earlier. Either we’ve seen an identical product (or nearly identical, perhaps owing to creative synchronicity or perhaps not) and a designer will either deny this is the case or will argue hers is substantively unique (and it’s not). Usually, we won’t bring it up because it’s guaranteed to make a designer angry; nobody likes to admit to anyone -much less themselves- that their ideas aren’t unique.

Now, I like uniqueness. I like to buy DE type products because they often have a unique twist that I enjoy -creativity is so refreshing. Below you’ll see a photo of one such item -a handbag- that I bought at a garage sale.

It’s definitely a DE type product and I even thought it was unique until I saw the same bag in a book; the product was from a very famous designer named Michael Kors. By the way, people have the tendency to think that whichever designer they’ve seen with a given concept is the originator of the concept so you should watch that bias in yourself. Just because X designer is the first designer that you have seen with X concept, does not mean that designer really was the first -just the first you had seen. I mean, just because you hadn’t had the chance to see a preceding designer’s work doesn’t mean the precedent designer’s work did not exist.

Anyway, I thought this bag was kind of cool; the pattern shaping is pretty unusual (below).

I don’t have a sketch of the pattern pieces made up for you but the shaping lends itself well to fitting into a marker. Sketched out, the pieces are similar to the pattern shaping typical of baseballs; that’s why I bought this piece. Plus, it is oversized and roomy, just great for overnight trips. Anyway, I always thought this piece was original (the label reads “Beth Mitchell Originals” no other information at all) until I saw a photo of a Michael Kors bag that was identical to this one. I have a picture of a similar red Michael Kors bag from pg. 246 of Handbags: The Power of the Purse by Anna Johnson (great book!) below:

To see a photo of the M.Kor’s black version, go here. Now I realize his bag is much larger than the DE bag I have but I know that I’ve seen a photo of a Kors bag this same size; I just can’t find it (maybe Natasha can, she’s good at that). Anyway, I know you can’t see enough detail of the Kors bag to know that these two are basically identical from a pattern stand point. In the end, I don’t know which designer was the originator although I suspect Beth’s bag precedes the Kors bag since I bought it already well-used around 2002 (the Michael Kors bag is dated Spring 2002). And don’t anybody get the wrong idea here. I am in no way implying that Michael Kors copied this unknown DE bag designer. For all I know, they both copied somebody else entirely or this was yet another example of creative synchronicity.

Returning to my topic of DE quality making one a target for knock off, the maker of the bag I have could have had “Target” tattooed on her forehead for all the subtlety of it. The reason is that it was a cute idea and very practical but the quality was atrocious. It was a target because the product had so many deficits that someone could have come along and added a great deal of value to it for not a whole lot of money. It was a target because although it was cute and practical, it looked a little too crude to consumers who have the disposable income to buy it because let’s face it, it wouldn’t have been a budget priced item (this DE bag probably cost at least $200). People who are willing to spend significant sums on handbags want handbags that look like they cost the price that was paid for them. I mean, nobody’s going to pay $200 for a bag that looks like someone made it as a home economics project. Quality is aptitude, not attitude. While an idea is a great start, execution is what matters.

Now I want to show you some details on Beth’s bag so you can see how somebody like me will know the designer is not professional. As I mentioned in Are you a target?, some DE products have some great design details, it’s the execution that’s a problem. The first problem with this bag is that it’s not lined and the finishing is very crude. I don’t know what the original price points were but I guarantee a lining would have justified a good $50 in value; it would have been much cleaner looking. Below is a photo of the bag flap.

There are several things worth noting here. One is the crudeness of the leather cutting of the inside hem and second is the rippling of the sewn hem. The rippling hem tells me that it’s unlikely a walking foot was used to make the bag; the latter is required on this weight of cow hide.Still, leather commonly stretches even with good equipment which is why many manufacturers will fuse these areas to minimize that (this couldn’t have been fused if it were not lined). If she did use a walking foot, the machine wasn’t adjusted correctly. This problem (leather stretching) is also evident along the side seams of the bag in the first photo. Either that or the pattern pieces were disparately sized (pattern required correction) and one side was forcibly stretched to meet the other. Also, although there are two lines of stitching, it was done by single needle. Not that the latter is a problem per se, just that the rows of stitching are not even. Lastly, the side seams of the bag appear to be a flat felled seam but it’s not. First the one edge was stitched under and then the bag was joined by overlapping from the top-side with a second row of stitching. If the bag is full of stuff, the seam pulls open and you can see the first turned under edge flipping away from the piece it’s joined to by 1/4″. Now below you’ll find a photo of the back of the bag:

The two points highlighted in white wax pencil are showing the top of the stitching for the inside pocket and this bears improvement for three reasons. First, if the bag were lined, an inside pocket wouldn’t have been sewn to the shell so this stitching would never be visible. Second, whenever you are setting a utility pocket like this (including welts and patch pockets on jackets) the weight bearing side must be fused but this is not possible if an item is not lined. Third -and most evident- you can see that the pocket is not placed correctly; it’s sitting higher on one side than the other. This means Beth doesn’t know about pattern guides to ensure uniform placement of details like this one. Below is another demonstration of quality problems:

Above you can see that the hemming of the opening of the bag is not uniform. Maybe some of you think this isn’t a big deal -and maybe it’s not for personal projects- but consistency is the single greatest demonstration of quality. All items are uniform. I also don’t like how the bag’s side panel is attached (off to the right side of the photo) but again, the bag wasn’t lined. By the way, linings serve a multitude of functions, the most obvious one here is the concealing of a myriad of sewing sins. Linings also enhance durability and product life in two ways. The first is that with a lining, you can use stabilizers such as fusibles (yes, even on leather) and two, linings provide a barrier. Instead of one layer getting all the wear, a lining can absorb wear from the interior side thus prolonging its useful life.

Returning to my “target” topic, perhaps now you can see why someone would see this product as potential for their own product line. It would take very little to bring it up a whole bunch of levels and they could make it for less than what it cost the designer to make even if they did it stateside. It’d be cleaner, look more professional and last longer. My greatest professional frustration has been in working with clients like Beth who won’t listen to the quality problems I’ve itemized. It is very frustrating because designers like Beth have already done the biggest portion of work and it really only needs a little additional tweaking to bring it up to a professional level. It would have been much easier to find a financial backer if she’d taken the extra steps too. Buffoons aren’t sophisticated enough to appreciate or pay for fine details while quality and attention to detail will always attract money.

Copying processes
Copying processes #2
Copying processes #3
Copying processes #4
Copying processes #5
I couldn’t make this up if I tried

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  1. First Kathleen, your discussion on the “quality of handbags” was really great education, and I am going to ask my “designer protégés” to read it.
    Second, I love your comment “every designer out there swears their ideas are original” – and most that I’ve met over the past 25 years really believe they are their own – and about “creative synchronicity”. In the 1980’s I was teaching part-time at a fashion school, and had a couple of design students come to me crying that their idea had been copied by a famous designer no less!! I explained something like your “creative synchronicity” and now will use that delightful term.
    Next I want to say a little about the apparel industry history in America. Which started in the Boston, Massachusetts area at the turn of the 20th century by creation of pattern making. When I first went into the industry in the 1940’s as a factory stitcher, then in the 1950’s as a designer, every apparel manufacturer, except for the really cheap, were COPYISTS. Boston and New York. Creativity came from Paris. I went to New York to learn to climb up the experience ladder in design rooms. My final job in the 1950’s before coming back to Boston as a designer, was advertised as “Designer-Copyist” – it was so common. Gradually in the 1960’s the fashion schools promoted creativity, and thus began America creativity. But Boston was known as the “technical design center” because we concentrated on the technical and perfected it. As I began my successful designer-manufacturing business in the late 1960’s, I became a production expert because I had that technical pattern background from the factories – and pattern making makes the production system. Other manufacturers in the 1970’s tried to copy my high fashion (leather & suede) styles, but they could not copy it for less cost, because f my efficient production systems. See my web site
    My first time adding a comment to your great blog. Kathleen. Keep it up.

  2. Kathleen says:
    “I mean, nobody’s going to pay $200 for a bag that looks like someone made it as a home economics project.”

    The problem is, this is NOT TRUE. the underground fashion scene (and that’s ALL we have _here_) consistently puts out overpriced, shoddy work because there IS a market for it. It’s not a huge market, but it’s enough to allow designers to convince themselves that ideas are enough and quality isn’t necessary.

    The problem comes when you want to grow, and a lot of the designers I know don’t WANT to grow–they’re artists, and they’re perfectly happy making ends barely meet with their art.

  3. Designers at craft fairs

    Last weekend I went to the Dona Ana Arts Council Renaissance Craft fair; it’s an annual thing. I like to go to these things to shop the designers. Well not to shop exactly, I guess I spy on them (spying…

  4. Cinnamon says:

    This is fabulous and something I can completely identify with. I haven’t used leather to make bags since I still feel that I have a lot to learn with fabric and fabric is more forgiving of mistakes, and far cheaper usually, than leather.

    Whereas “Beth” probably wouldnt’ have wanted your criticisms, this is exactly what I would love to have, and pay to have. It’s a matter of where to start.

  5. Gigi says:

    Ever since you posted this I’ve not been able to get this bag off my mind! This afternoon I finally cut a baseball apart to see if I can come up with my own pattern (for my personal use only, of course). I brought home a new walking-foot machine yesterday and thought this would be a perfect first project. Of course, I’ll be fusing and lining mine!

  6. Carol Kimball says:

    Re: Gigi and cutting apart a baseball

    Toni Scott’s THE COMPLETE BOOK OF STUFFEDWORK, out of print but available on, is one of the best sources for getting your mind into morphing flat patterns into three-dimensional shapes. Translates beautifully to clothing for bodies.

    I used to have two copies (won one for my own soft sculpture in addition to my previous well-thumbed copy) but the loaner is still loaned…

  7. Kathleen says:

    Carol, thanks for the tip. I bought one too. So great that you included the link! I have another pattern book about soft toys that I like for this same reason.

    Gigi, keep me posted on the project. Sounds interesting. I also bought a baseball for the same purposes but never made a project of it. Do you want to borrow the bag?

  8. Charlotte says:

    I followed this link from Pinterest. I believe the “original” bag you have was made from a Vogue pattern designed by Bobby Breslow in the 80’s. I made several bags from the pattern-added some changes to a couple of them. I searched and searched to find this OOP pattern a few years ago and finally found it! The shoulder bag came in 3 sizes and it included a unique clutch/makeup bag as well. I have not used the pattern since I got it but for som reason I had to have it-such a great bag! I don’t believe MK had the idea first-Bobby did!

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