Hold the Phony

Two members of Be Original Americas talk about their struggles with counterfeiting

05.01.2015
By Erika Templeton

Untitled Document

Carey Schuster
Director, U.S. | Yellow Goat Design

Why did you join Be Original Americas?
We have been frustrated at the increasing amount of projects where we have spent hours on custom design work for clients that is then taken and “bid out” and fabricated by someone else. This is also the case with our current designs from our catalogue. Our value is in our design work. We don’t charge for our design process, so when clients take our designs and get them made elsewhere, it hurts our business.

How much of your resources go towards fighting counterfeiting?
We are often trying to educate clients and guide them toward original designs, turning down business that is asking us to knock off others’  designs, and are always following up on our specified projects to protect our own design work from being taken elsewhere and copied.

Where do designers and architects need to be better educated? 
We try to be as proactive as possible and are strategically weaving awareness of design integrity into our process from the very beginning.

We are often approached with other peoples’ designs and are asked to fabricate them in our factory. We have a standard response when people ask us to do this: “We are designers ourselves and value design integrity and therefore are not willing to knock-off other people’s designs.”

What is one specific, actionable anti-counterfeiting lesson all designers should hear? 
We all, as designers, should value and protect design integrity.

This shouldn’t even be an issue in our industry. I find it completely ironic that it is.

In the commercial market, how much of the knock-off demand is coming from designer-specifiers versus developers and contractors? 
Most of it is from purchasers/contractors who in my opinion most often have no interest in the design, just the bottom dollar.

What role do clients and end users have in curbing demand for counterfeit products, and how can designers better educate them on the issues throughout the design process? 
Budgeting for whatever design they want early on is helpful, and then understanding and then communicating the work and hours that go into creating designs. There is a lot of thought, time, and effort that goes into creating something from nothing. If someone isn’t a designer, I find it’s incredibly helpful to talk about the design process and not take for granted that everyone knows and understands what goes into it.

Have you ever had a product specified for a project, only to find out that the finished space employed a knock-off in its place?
All the time. We have seen spec sheets with our fixtures and another manufacturer listed. We get in contact with all parties involved and let them know that our designs are proprietary and what they are doing is not acceptable.

What can designers do to preserve the integrity of their work and keep their specifications original once the project is in the hands of a developer? 
We offer to write the designer’s specs for them and literally write into them that the designs are proprietary and no substitutions are acceptable.

If we don’t write them for the designer, we advise them to include this language in order to preserve their specification and design intent. We then do our best to track the project from that point through to bidding and purchasing, continuing to communicate to the parties involved after the specs are submitted the fact that the designs are proprietary and knocking them off is not acceptable.

Looking out five years from now, what improvements do you hope to see in the industry’s handling of counterfeit goods, and what is Be Original Americas doing to move us in that direction?  
I think it’s educating the purchasers involved in these projects. And that responsibility falls as much with us as designers/manufacturers as it does with the specifiers and end users. Be Original Americas is definitely helpful in empowering us to be more protective and proactive in protecting our designs and it’s also a great forum for industry sharing. If we share experiences and tactics that help preserve the integrity of design, we will make progress and improvements. Communication and education is key.

Joyce Romanoff
President | Maya Romanoff

Why did you join Be Original Americas? 
As a company that has built itself on proprietary design, art, and creativity, it is particularly important to form an alliance with companies that have a similar mandate. This organization is not only dedicated to supporting
integrity of original design, but also to call attention to those that disregard and profit from copycatting.

How much of your resources go towards fighting counterfeiting?  
At one time we devoted a great deal of energy and money to fight the various American and Chinese companies that have directly knocked off our designs, but eventually we found that these efforts distracted us from our business and our forward momentum. We also did not see any satisfaction or remuneration for all our efforts. The inherent difficulty in pursuing cases like this is why an organization like this is so important.

To what extent are professional interior designers and architects aware of the impacts of counterfeiting unique to the A+D industry? 
Designers and architects are aware of counterfeiting, but some will substitute our products for copies to meet a budget or increase profits. But I also find that designers are very proud when they do use authentic Maya Romanoff product in their high-profile projects. I feel that authentic products have a wow factor and an elegance of design that will immediately distinguish itself from copycats.

Where do designers and architects need to be better educated? 
Authenticity in original design and investing in elements that support a designer’s vision should be a priority, as it will distinguish spaces from the status quo. Increasing awareness through Be Original and through CEUs should be on the forefront to inform designers the importance of the efforts and culture that goes behind original design.

In the commercial market, how much of the knock-off demand is coming from designer-specifiers versus developers and contractors? 
At times, designers that specify knock-offs are unaware of the original product, and once they are in dialogue with a manufacturer who makes the knock-off, they are not always confronted with this fact. That said, these replacements are mostly coming from the purchasing side and contractors who will sacrifice the quality of the interiors in order to meet budgets and build profits.  

What role do clients and end users have in curbing demand for counterfeit products, and how can designers better educate them on the issues throughout the design process? 
Designers cannot promise that the finished space will have the proposed look when inferior products are substituted. When designers are specifying their project, they need to be savvy to their own budgets and know where they can invest, and know where they need to hold back. We would prefer that designers replace our product with something completely different as opposed to making something similar, but of subpar quality.

Have you ever had a product specified for a project, only to find out that the finished space employed a knock-off in its place?
Many times, unfortunately! I recently had a designer recount to me a story in which our Mother of Pearl tiles shown above were literally falling off of a ceiling installation in a hotel lobby. I was shocked and appalled, but when I looked into it, it wasn’t our product at all! It is even more tragic to think that designers are out there thinking a shabby knock-off is our product.

What can designers do to preserve the integrity of their work and keep their specifications original once the project is in the hands of a developer? 
If I only knew that answer!

Looking out five years from now, what improvements do you hope to see in the industry’s handling of counterfeit goods, and what is Be Original Americas doing to move us in that direction?  
I do think that social activism and making these instances of imitation public on a well-respected platform is the best way to counteract this ongoing issue. We are so pleased to be aligned with Be Original Americas and the companies that invest time and energy to move our cultural dialogue forward through innovative design.


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