What’s the big deal about knockoffs? This is the educational focus of Be Original Americas, a nonprofit organization that advocates for design authenticity. We believe that copies undermine an entire creative ecosystem that fuels innovation.
Bringing a new product to market takes considerable investment in terms of time and money.
For example, Skyline Design, the custom architectural glass manufacturer, says it budgets $250k for developing a new product and dedicates roughly a year to the process.
The self-adjusting tilt system used in Herman Miller’s Cosm chair took eight years of research and development alone.
“Counterfeiters don’t put that same time and effort into the process, and that places a tremendous burden on our company financially.” says Charlie Rizzo, founder of Skyline design.
In fact, economically speaking, counterfeits are quite expensive. The 2018 Global Brand Counterfeiting Report calculates that the amount of total counterfeiting cost the global economy $1.2 trillion in 2017 and is bound to reach $1.82 trillion by 2020. This hits close to home in loss of U.S. tax dollars and jobs.
As outlined in President Trump’s April 2019 memorandum against counterfeit and pirated goods, the negative impacts of pirated goods run the gamut from impairing the country’s competitive edge by harming intellectual property rights and diminishing the trustworthiness of online markets to cheating consumers and threatening public health and safety.
Benefits of Supporting Authentic Design
Supporting authentic design affords designers and manufacturers the resources and creative freedom to be innovative. It allows them to take design risks that may have the potential to fail and never come to market. It pushes the boundaries of what’s possible.
And counterfeit designers don't typically take the same care for materiality and sustainability as originals.
For instance, they might use the cheapest materials available, which can often include toxic chemicals that then end up in landfills in a short period of time.
Gregg Buchbinder, CEO of Emeco, explains, “Counterfeiters only copy what is successful in the marketplace. We only know if something will be successful after we have made the investment.
Counterfeiters will reverse-engineer the physical appearance of a chair, using the least expensive material, and the least costly tooling.
Our R&D investments are largely focused on aspects that you can’t see just by looking at the chair – such as the material’s impact on the environment and its durability. The copies don’t just impact our business, they also make bad use of our planet’s resources.”
Many original brands are exploring original design practices in sustainability and pioneering new materials, upcycling, and environmentally-friendly sourcing and manufacturing processes:
- Kartell, a brand synonymous with plastic furniture, launched Woody—a new seating collection made from wood—as a move to more sustainable materials. The patented design took over 30 years to develop.
- The wood used in the iconic and widely copied Eames Lounge chair is sourced from sustainably managed forests.
- Emeco avoids virgin materials as much as possible and instead upcycles waste materials.
Ways to Combat Counterfeits
Litigation: Legal action is an option, but not always the best solution because of cost. Terzani, the sculptural lighting company, registers designs in Europe, China, Canada and the U.S.
“We attack when we find out about counterfeits but unfortunately fighting counterfeits is very costly and often useless,” says Nicolas Terzani, president and creative director. “There is not enough protection available for small companies.”
Work With Agencies: Be Original Americas, along with member companies including Emeco, Herman Miller, Ligne Roset and Vitra, works closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to educate and train customs officials to help them identify copies. This has resulted in a significant increase in seized containers of counterfeits.
Education: Through events and CEUs held across the U.S. and Canada, Be Original Americas provides a crucial educational platform, as well as a network for raising awareness and supporting creativity and authentic design. This stance ultimately serves future innovation and strengthens the industry.
Your Support Helps
What can you do? Purchase original. “Every purchase of a knockoff directly affects the future of the industry and the ability to fund research and development for the creation of original designs,” says John Edelman, president of Be Original Americas and chairman of Herman Miller Consumer Group.
“You can support authentic design and the future of the industry by continuing to join the conversation about original design and by making informed purchasing decisions that meet your clients’ needs without affecting the future of the industry,” he explains.