Grave breach of trust: sales rep

Please don’t use my name but I wanted to tell you about something that recently happened to me! I have a sales rep that carries about 30 lines of clothing. Since the Fall 07 season is right around the corner, she had asked me to supply her with a list/pictures of the fall fabric choices I would be using so there would not be a conflict between my line and another “similar” line she is also carrying. I thought when I had sent her my fabric choices it was “confidential”…not so! Apparently she had sent my email of MY FABRIC SWATCHES to the other designer! As innocent as she may have “thought” she was being, I feel this was MAJORLY wrong of her to do.

What do you think?

I am stunned, without words so other than to sit here and stammer stupidities such as “I can’t believe she did that” or “how unprofessional”; I can only think this rep knew exactly what she was doing and you should -minimally- drop her! And, were it possible, I’d encourage you to tell people (in the forum) her name so that nobody else gets stuck with this rep.

This is beyond an outrage; it’s way out of bounds. I’d want to know more detail about your relationship with her and whether you can get any money back; I’d love to know what this person says in defense of themselves! Readers, what say you? How should our friend handle this situation?

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  1. Karen C. says:

    This is so outrageous, unprofessional and a breach of the fidiciary duty that rep owes to her client. Please post her name so this doesn’t happen to anyone else. We work so hard to get a collection together then to have someone who is supposed to be in your corner betray your trust like that is just unacceptable. I’m sure her other clients would also like to know how she treats people.

  2. Andrea says:

    Sue her. Yup, that’s right…she ruined your season, furthermore, she violated any trust that she could ever have with any designer ever for all time…dispicable. Please publish her name and the group she works for (if she has one). I would also publish the name of the other designer as well.

    Hope this ends well.

  3. J C Sprowls says:

    Let me first preface my input with this disclaimer: I am not an attorney.

    With regard to suing the rep or designer, I suggest there is insufficient evidence to warrant a cease & desist order. Before that option can be explored, the following must occur:

    – Provenance. This designer would need to release her line to the market before the suspected designer does.
    – Copyright Infrignement. This designer must also prove that the 2nd designer to market is manufacturing a product that resembles hers so closely as to create confusion within the marketplace.
    – Damage. There must be measurable and quantifiable evidence of damage to this designer’s business.

    A retailer saying they won’t buy because “so-and-so’s already doing that” is not damage, it’s information you can respond to (i.e. change up your production). Being able to say that style #1234 performed at X-level and Y-level for the past two seasons, with no indication of levelling off; but, pitfalled during the 3rd season when designer #2 knocked it off, is proof of damage. It is unlikely an award will be granted beyond cease & desist, however.

    The rep may not have ruined this designer’s season. She’s certainly caused our designer, here, to figure out how to adapt her business to cope, though. The rep potentially compromised her market edge. So, what can be done?

    Some suggestions:
    – Fire the rep for the season. There’s no two ways about it. If this was indeed a mistake, the rep is too green to handle your line. If you reconcile at some point in the future, that’s all well-and-good. Right now, you need to focus on keeping your business successful.
    – Analyze (nay, scrutinize) what you plan to bring to market. Is the strongest selling point of your product its colorway, fibre content, or style? You may find that you are compelled to replace styles or colorways simply because it won’t perform well in the marketplace.
    – Rep it yourself. By getting in front of customers, you will be in a position to elicit market feedback, on the spot. You’ll learn more about what retailers are looking to buy – just, please don’t tell these people you’re the designer, too.
    – Mitigate Risk/Get Lean. By this, I mean: don’t cut unless you have orders. If a colorway/fabric doesn’t sell because ‘so-and-so’s doing it, too’, that’s vaulable feedback you want to hear! It tells you:

    your R&D cycle is too long,
    that the style isn’t distinctive, or
    the style has been on the market too long and you’re getting knocked off.

  4. La BellaDonna says:

    I believe that what the rep has done in this instance is what’s known as “industrial espionage.” The rep should absolutely be fired. Do you have a written contract with this rep? What are the terms of the contract? While anyone can file a suit for any reason, the terms of an existing contract would undoubtedly have some effect on the success of any suit.

    Do you know the other lines of clothing this rep carries? Do you know if the other designers are aware that they can have no hope of confidentiality from this rep? (The subtext there being, if the others are not aware of what happened to you, and you let them know about this breach of confidentiality, the sales rep could wind up representing no one, which would be entirely appropriate, IMO.)

    Add me to the stunned and appalled group. It does make it easier, Kathleen, to understand why some DEs are so paranoid about being ripped off – even if their paranoia is usually aimed in the wrong direction.

  5. Big Irv says:

    What this rep did was wrong. I can’t help but think it may have been an boneheaded mistake on the rep’s part, as bad news in any industry travels quickly. And news like this in the apparel industry travels fast.

    What about the 30 other odd lines the rep carries? Her actions will most definitely affect her relationship with them once word gets around about her latest stunt. This is a major breach of trust afterall.

    Lastly, how could you receive good sales representation from an agent that reps 30 lines ?
    Call me “Corncob” but I don’t know of any agency(s)that carry even 10 lines.

  6. Mike C says:

    Yeah, it sucks. The rep was out of line and some response is required.

    However, anyone advocating a lawsuit is going (way) too far. Lawsuits are expensive, time consuming, distracting and ultimately unsatisfying.

    Whether or not to end the relationship with the rep depends on a lot. Why did the rep do it? Cluelessless? Newness? Malice? Favoritism?

    What actual harm was caused? Was the competitor actually helped in any material way or was the damage mostly a feeling of insult and indignation?

    A rep who sells merchandise for you is worth a lot and can often be harder to replace than you might expect. Though it may be quite possible that the correct thing to do is terminate the relationship, its important to at least consider other options before going that route.

  7. J C Sprowls says:

    I was so consumed with re-positioning the operation to mitigate the risk that I overlooked LaBellaDonna’s point of view re: the rep’s contract terms. Thank you for raising that.

    It’s interesting to hear Big Irv’s perspective about repping too many lines. I suppose an effective interview question should be: “how many lines do you represent?” in addition to: “what types of lines do you represent?”

    Is it untoward to ask a rep for their references? Do any of us have suggestions for interview questions that might have ferreted out this rep’s behavior before she was contracted?

  8. I agree with everyone, I am shocked and disgusted by the lack of integrity this sales rep has shown. It seems it gets harder and harder to find people who value more their integrity than the love for a quick buck.
    Please let us know who this rep is so no other DE goes through this again, at least not through the same hands.

  9. Christy B. says:

    This last post really freaked me out. My experience with reps and trade shows is all from the childrenswear market where prints are a huge deal. My boss would pick prints, show in January, and in March all of her competitors would have the same ones. The fact that your rep would give your competitors this info is outrageous and a horrible
    decision on her part. I would drop her immediately, try and get back any money you’re able to, and tell people about her so that it doesn’t happen again. If you don’t want your name out there you could ask Kathleen to post a comment in the forum stating her name and her wrongdoings.

    Christy B.

  10. Blu says:

    Great topic !
    At what stage of the process are designers willing to showcase their work? Is it when they have completed their design and made a prototype? At the drawing stage? Or do they feel more comfortable revealing it once the line has been manufactured?

    Also, to whom do the feel comfortable disclosing their designs at each of these stages?

    I am actually doing some research and am trying to draw parallels between design and other fields, and would appreciate candid responses. Thanks

  11. Esther says:

    From my experience, childrenswear designers have a natural ability to all pick the same “hot” print each season. After all, they all go to the same fabric trade shows with the same fabric sales people. Getting sample fabric after a trade show can be a headache. This is a very small industry.

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