For the umpteenth time, I got an email from somebody -who claims to have read my book- who wants to know how they should go about getting their contractor or pattern maker to sign a confidentiality agreement. Friends, if you’re wondering about confidentiality agreements, I already know you’re a newbie because that’s not how ideas are stolen -or protected. Contrary to urban myth- these kinds of agreements are very rare in the business because they are not necessary. That’s right, not necessary. We’re not the ones stealing your ideas. It’s your friends and competitors and not the ones sewing your product. Put it this way, if we really were the ones stealing your ideas (assuming they were worth the effort) don’t you think you’d know? This business operates by rumor mill and no one can afford the slightest tinge of scandal. If you think about it for a moment, you may realize that confidentiality agreements are an insult because you are implying -at the outset- that your contractor or pattern maker is such a scummy operator that you have to use legal sanctions to keep us honest. And if you think we’re scummy operators, why would you hire us in the first place? That’s no way to start off a productive relationship with folks who can help you.
If you worry about getting a signed confidentiality agreement, you’re going to get boxed into a category in other people’s minds. Right away, you’re a pickle to work with so if we do anything for you, it’s money up front. Chances are better though that you’ll have a hard time finding a contractor in the first place since our most common practice is to show you the door the minute you whip out that contract. Another thing is that requiring a confidentiality agreement lends the impression in the other person’s mind that good ideas are so rare for you that you have to go to extremes to protect them. Unfortunately -this is the awful part- the ideas that I’ve seen DEs want to protect are weak, lame or redundant ideas. I’m sorry if you don’t like hearing that but it’s true. And others who’ve seen the prototypes from confidentiality seeking companies know it’s true too. That’s why I’m saying you don’t want to get boxed into that category in other people’s minds because that’s what we’re used to. If the designer-entrepreneur wants a confidentiality agreement we know it’s either redundant or knocked off of somebody else in the market place. All the contractors out there are cheering from the roof tops.
I worked with another woman last year who -prior to meeting me- wanted signed confidentiality agreements. Her idea was the lamest yet. Her design was a “athletic sports bra” as she defined one, to be worn while working out at the gym. It was a strapless -yes strapless- bra made out of swimsuit material with the pattern pulled exactly from a page of Armstrong’s pattern design book. I tried to explain to her the bra wasn’t very functional but she wouldn’t hear of it. She insisted D cups would get adequate support from it too but I begged to differ. She was trying to sell me on the bra’s utility when it’s real purpose was concealed -mostly from herself I think. The reality was, she was very small busted. Very small. The bra was so padded it qualified as a flotation device. By the way, she’s now a “garment industry consultant” and boy, could I tell you stories. Talk to me before you hire anyone.
If you’re a professional service provider, non-disclosure agreements are a joke. I worked with a high-tech company called NeuroScan and I was never asked to sign anything and their products go for $1,000’s of dollars. The more professional a company is, the less likely they are to require a confidentiality agreement. However, if a non-disclosure were required by a well established (multinational) manufacturer, I”d sign because they know what they’re doing. DEs let the cat out of the bag themselves; through their product quality and delivery problems, they announce their newbie status to the world.
Non-disclosure agreements are an insult to the integrity of any person who’s chosen to assume the role of support services in this profession. Believe me, the reason why I’m not a designer is not due to a lack of good ideas! Rather, it’s quite the opposite. I have so many good ideas that I can’t choose between them. It’s also an insult because assuming that I fail to design because I’m a no-talent, is dismissive of my life long chosen vocation; one to which I’ve committed a lifetime of study and professionalism. The reality is, a pattern maker can do what you do but a designer cannot do what a pattern maker does, so why would you insult someone who is more competent than you are? And I say this as a person who’s mother is disappointed -that after all these years- I’m not good enough to be a designer ;)
I have yet to hear from anybody -who manufactures in the US- who really has been knocked off by their contractor. I think it’s an urban myth. In 20+ years, I’ve only met one person who was knocked off and it was by another DE -not a contractor.
In summary, DEs who want confidentiality agreements are largely presumed to be limited in imagination, integrity and intellect, that’s just the reality so if you don’t want others to think that about you it is directly within your control for them not to think that. And let me tell you -I’ve run into doctors (M.D.s) who have tried to get me to sign, so one’s education and purported IQ is immaterial. Besides, let’s get real, everything made today looks so much the same that it’s hard to know which DE company is copying whichever other DE company. You should be worrying about coming up with ideas that are worth the bother of copying instead of boring, redundant and not at all unique. DEs copy each other. We don’t. Contractors are more inclined to copy each other’s processes, not products.
The easiest ways to protect your product are to produce professional looking products -our standards are higher than yours- and to issue style numbers instead of using dopey product names. If you look like an amateur, you’ve made yourself a target for anyone who buys your product in the store or off of a website. Since we have no control over who buys your product or what they do with it, you can see why we’d resent being held responsible.