Three reasons you’ll be knocked off pt. 1

Let’s be clear before we start. We’re talking about line for line copies, not someone with synchronicity and has picked up on the same trend you have however nascent. We are limiting the discussion to competitors who are much larger than you who may knock you off. We are not discussing being knocked off by someone on your same level or below it. For example, Etsy is off the table. It’s become a teeming pool of copyists left and right often knocking off people bigger than they are -how is this ethical? There are no fewer than twenty Etsians copying Josh Jakus; he’s a little guy, they should be ashamed of themselves. Even hobbyists post patterns and sewing instructions for his bags. So much for integrity in the handcrafting community so I cannot fathom the increasing obsession with idea protection among the smallest of players. We are also not discussing people who knock you off when you >cough< are copying someone bigger than you are. With me so far?

The three reasons you’ll be knocked off by someone more established than you is due to:

  1. High Price + Poor Quality
  2. Limited scale or distribution
  3. You make it unnecessarily difficult to buy from you

The subject of today’s post was supposed to be #3 but that will come tomorrow because I have to get 1 and 2 out of the way.

1. High Price + Poor Quality
Poor product quality is the best indicator of whether you’re a target for knock off. I’ve written a lot about it but this is a refresher. I also describe how targets are selected in my book and how to prevent it. These designers are usually committing a whole host of other mistakes they think don’t matter like crappy style numbers (if they have them at all), lack of continuity, it’s endless (you must know all of these things). It’s the number one reason I won’t sign NDA’s because once your product is in the marketplace, you’ve said a whole lot more about your operation than you should ever want anyone to know. The worst part is that most people think they put out great stuff, really high quality. Unfortunately, even many of my readers think I mean everybody else (80% of young people think they’re in the top 10% for performance), not them. I can tell you one thing. The more someone uses the word quality, the worse it usually is. Ditto for couture. I’m past the point of exhaustion on that one. We now have couture dog stairs, couture medical scrubs and couture bumper stickers. The situation is utterly hopeless. One thing is certain; it’s rarely anyone but start ups in the United States that use couture to describe themselves. In France, it’s illegal to say that unless you’re a member of the syndicate. Just sayin…

The point is, someone more established will see your stuff in a boutique with the $6 buttons you bought at retail that they will pay 50 cents for the same exact thing, only they won’t be using fabric from the fabric store or mill ends from last season’s designers they bought online and they won’t be using a store bought pattern with 1/2″ seam allowances sewn on a home sewing machine. It’s very obvious. I’m not saying you shouldn’t start with what you can get but you need to up your game by being honest with yourself. If your sourcing is limited, your construction has to be better. Your pricing must be too. You need to re-calibrate your frame of reference; it doesn’t matter what your neighbors, friends or mom thinks. How does it fly in the big leagues? The people who will buy your stuff to copy will eliminate all those little “touches” your favorite sewing expert lauds but they won’t be degrading it when they do it. It’s the polar opposite. In this category, copyists improve the quality, they rarely lessen it (remember, we are talking about small companies not designer labels or piracy). That is the most painful truth of all. They can see what you’re selling it for, buy inputs for less and construct it better and for less money. The solution? Do it before they do or hire someone to give you an honest assessment. That’s the clear message right there. If someone knocks you off, buy one and figure it out. And let’s be honest although it pains me to say it; many of today’s start ups are either copying each other or copying trends from more established companies because they haven’t found their groove yet so really, who is copying whom?

2. Limited scale or distribution
Of the three, this is the most difficult to control (#1 and #3 are within your purvey). This concept is perfectly illustrated by Diane Von Furstenberg when she copied Mercy (ironic that DVF wants to put other independents out of business). One of her designers bought a Mercy jacket and copied it line for line, down to the fabric. Mercy is a tiny company with limited distribution, who was to know the difference? DVF almost got away with it were it not for the discerning eye of one blogger. Insult to injury, DVF sold her copies at three times the price of the originals. Something similar also happened to one of our designers recently. Insult to injury, the copyist contacted the designer and tried to sell them the very products they had knocked off. Seriously. Some people have no sense of propriety.

Of the three, this is the one you can least control so minimize the damage by focusing on the two you can because those can mitigate the worst of it. The most common advice you’ll hear is to switch gears and go onto something new and let the copyists scramble to catch up until your label is better known and coveted in the marketplace.

3. You make it unnecessarily difficult to buy from you
Don’t make it so hard to buy from you that your customers go to your competitors and beg them to knock you off. It happens. A lot. That’s tomorrow’s story.

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  1. Kids Coats says:

    Sweet post. One other reason to get knocked off IMO is Great Product + Poor Delivery. When the copy is ringing the register two months before the original, there’s much less demand left for the original. The buyer therefore presumes the copy is better than the original due to better selling.

  2. ClaireOKC says:

    Gosh Kathleen – you are right on target here. Although I’d really like to respectfully suggest a #1a – a variation on #1: High Price, Period! I think several makers of those all-too-famous prohibitively expensive handbags, are missing a bet here by knocking themselves off. They can carry the hugely expensive bag under their main “name”, and do a knock off under another name. They are really limiting themselves to a very small market, when they could open up to a much larger market with their knockoffs.

    But poor quality will always drive a need for a knock off.

    From the personal confession department – my favorite thing to knock off is a new design concept – such as inserted darts or fitting mechanisms into what look like appliques and/or other visual design elements – not fitting elements. Your German pattern fits into that category. I love to “hide” fitting elements into what looks like design elements.

    Great post.

  3. Mary Allen says:

    Wow…this is like being in a book club. I think I know what I am doing and then I have a whole new perspective on the subject after hearing from the other readers…Thanks for sharing

  4. birdie says:

    Thanks so much for your comment on my knockoff post. It’s true – with more knockoffs, there’s less innovation… that said, a lot of well known designers take 40’s designs, dissect them, and reassemble them – to be sold *au courant*.

    I think pricing buyers out of the market (discriminatory high-end pricing) is going to beget knockoffs on some level. If it hurts your business to have your items knocked off, rethink your discriminatory pricing strategy. That’s Econ 101 right there.

    Thanks for this post! I have you in my reader, but lately I’ve been bad about commenting. :)

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