Where to begin. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But what about when that imitation is simply a poor recreation made by someone that clearly doesn’t understand the purpose or the process?
Last night, a friend and fellow designer/maker tipped us off to this guy on Etsy - treesizeverse. Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have been contacted about this specific seller - customers have also told us about him in the past. At that time, it was one design he “borrowed” from us, but now it seems he’s gotten more ambitious and has at least 3 designs of ours for sale in his shop. Maybe even 4.
Now we can be angry and call him all kinds of names. We don’t personally know Ronald but since he has clearly been “admiring” our work from afar, we thought we’d use this opportunity to give him a bit of advice, to pass along some knowledge since we seemingly share similar interests (and apparently very specific ideas). While we are not ones to speak negatively about someone else’s work, I think in this case we can make an exception - which is only to say take a look at his complete body of work and an astute observer will notice quite a few other designs borrowed from other designers, as well as an overall lack of a clear design aesthetic - his style is kind of everything. Which makes perfect sense.
The following are all thoughts we’ve possessed for quite a long time, and I’m sure are often the topics of conversation between designers/makers/creative people in general, as is the case for us.
You’ll never know where to go next.
You’re traveling down a dead end street. You’d be much better off in the long run and much more satisfied knowing that you did it on your own. It would be impossible to not have any creative cross pollination in a world of content bombardment, but you must be vigilant in tuning some things out and finding your own voice. And it actually is kind of easy: as you’ll learn in a bit, what we create is actually not what we necessarily want to create but rather what we are destined to create, not in some philosophical sense but because our “work” is a direct reflection of everything we experience in our lives, and thusly a reflection of us as individuals.
To get a bit philosophical, what you design or make or do is the sum total of everything you’ve experienced in your life, right? So what does it say about a person that borrows very specific ideas, beliefs or characteristics from another person? If you show your friend something you made that is actually a copy of something someone else made, what does that say about you? What then is your role in creating this hypothetical thing? And if you continue to borrow from others, what do you really have to contribute in the larger sense, other than being a human photocopier? Are you even you? Admittedly, this is a bit esoteric, but it’s something to consider for anyone who creates things.
Here’s an instance of life imitating or rather instructing art. Since you’re clearly fond of it, let’s take the Brimfield Bag as an example. Although it is not the most complicated thing in the known universe, there are quite specific ideas at work. Is it a tote-backpack or a backpack-tote? In fact, it was a tote first that became a tote-backpack through a Frankenstein-like process. The genesis is actually a longer story but the simple version is that the backpack straps were added to a standard tote in order to be more useful at a specific flea market called… Brimfield! It can get hot out there in those fields so a backpack is not always ideal, but a tote can be a pain because sometimes you want two hands to examine different things. And a bag filled with (in my case) heavy metal tools and similar items can get heavy to hold in one arm, so your back is sometimes better. It’s a tote and a backpack that was designed specifically by me (Patrick) to use at Brimfield, to take on-and-off-and-on-and-off my back while I walk the market. We make backpacks and we make totes, but neither work well as the opposite. I always knew the Brimfield was useful but thought it looked too weird for others to want, until our friends saw it and wanted one - and eventually another one. And then other people started wanting one so we refined that original sample and started selling them. And it snowballed into something kind of insane. And then you Ronald, treesizeverse, saw it and decided to copy it. But you didn’t understand it and you still won’t even after reading this.
If you don’t have anything nice to say, keep your mouth shut.
It is so easy to become (or pretend to be) “x” “y” or “z” overnight - want to be a leather craftsman? Head to YouTube, watch a few videos, grab a few supplies and start selling your goods on Etsy or any number of other point-click online marketplaces. Forget about taking time to hone one’s craft. Forget about being respectful to all the folks that came before you who have established time honored methodologies and techniques. And all those who over the years have fine-tuned the various materials and tools that all of us currently rely on - forget them too. But what these “forgetful folks” don’t understand is that when they run out of ideas and inevitably drop off, the truly passionate folks will continue to push various mediums forward until the next generation takes over and hopefully does the same.
Like it or not, we all like some degree of recognition, which in the correct doses can be a very positive thing. Let’s be really honest - as creative people we love when our work receives recognition and/or praise, especially those things we create and choose to share with the rest of the world. Some folks create solely for recognition - call us old fashioned but we think that is kind of pathetic. Recognition should be the byproduct, not the end goal of sharing your creative voice. Unless of course you don’t have anything to say.
Inspiration - is it real?
Again, we don’t personally know Ronald and while we don’t know his exact methodology, in cases like these we often see this nasty word “inspiration” getting thrown around. In my opinion, the truest sense of inspiration has absolutely nothing to do with seeing a product (in this case) and wanting to make something that is similar even in a small way, or in this case VERY similar. In our experience, which I suppose is relevant since we are talking about our work, inspiration manifests from either a) some sort of life experience that usually has very little to do with the resulting “creation” or b) inspiration hits like a bolt of lightning from seemingly out of nowhere, and its meaning seldom able to be verbally articulated. For example, and maybe this is unwanted information, but my (Patrick) best moments of inspiration happen while taking a shower - now you know.
But in any case (for us) inspiration is typically not something tangible (like for instance a bag) or even quantifiable. Anyone who authentically designs or makes or sings or dances (or fill in the blank) typically does so for at least one reason, and that is because they physically have to. You can try to make them stop but they will start up again eventually. For a true artist, the desire to create is seldom a conscious act, at least not for the good ones. Which is why the true creators will never run out of ideas - they are generated, not collected.
Design is not a simple copy/paste process. Good Design is, amongst other things, a long process of discovery and decision making. A decent person and/or decent designer can’t let others do the hard work and then expect to swoop in at the end to take all the glory. Hopefully this has provided some insight into the mind state of two dedicated and passionate designers. The best advice we have is simply be yourself! Stop scouring the internet for “inspiration” or whatever you call it, and do what comes natural to you.
And Ronald, maybe all this is too much for you, maybe your goal is simply to “make a bunch of cool bags and sell them in your Etsy shop”.
If that is the case, just send us three easy payments of $9.99 and we’ll send you our complete set of patterns, material sources and sewing instructions. And if you act now, you’ll get our bonus offer which includes every single life event we’ve ever experienced, which in turn has resulted in our past, current and future creative endeavors for the remainder of our lives. A truly priceless item.
Never assume (creative) safety, especially on the internet.
Etsy - There are so many positive things about it, including how it helped us launch our business. But this is the dark side of the platform - spend a little time searching for any number of different types of products and you’ll find quite a few knock offs. This is to be expected on any platform of this size.
But here is what really stings: We expect to see this sort of activity from gigantic, soulless mega-corporations or overseas chiselers (which you will find quite a few on Etsy with impossibly low prices) but not from our own people. Not from folks who are supposedly of similar mind and believe in the idea of handcrafted, quality items made available without having to deal with the gatekeepers of commerce, instead delivered direct to the people.
Etsy has a great community. We’ve met folks who work there and they are 100% believers in the goal of Etsy and extremely supportive of us. However, incidences like these are what made us jump ship. We decided a while back to stop selling on Etsy after seeing designers we personally knew and some we simply knew of getting ripped off gratuitously. Of course our work is easily viewed on our website http://layerxlayer.com as well any number of other sites. But since Etsy is kind of the hotbed for this type of activity, we did not want to “alley oop” anyone and make it that much easier.
And we were kind of right but kind of wrong at the same time.