January 15, 2012

Project Rip-Off: How Laura Kathleen became a jewelry designer

The fashion world is full of knock offs, but my mind was blown this week when Laura Kathleen Planck (a recent Project Runway contestant) launched her new line and career as a jewelry designer.

Laura Kathleen (from St. Louis, MO) contacted Katie and Garnet of Scarlett Garnet, a St.Louis/Kansas City-based jewelry design duo, at the beginning of last year's Project Runway season. She approached Katie, offering to use Scarlett Garnet jewelry throughout the taping of the season, with the idea that her celebrity status would gain exposure for their designs while she was able to accessorize her models for the show. A perfect cross-promotion!
(Left: Project Runway's Laura Kathleen and Jewelry Artist Katie Miller wearing Scarlett Garnet jewelry)

Then Laura Kathleen asked Scarlett Garnet to collaborate on her final project for the Project Runway Mercedes-Benz week fashion show. The idea was to produce a garment collection made with assembled brass pieces. SG has a local network of vendors that they have worked with to refine the processes for cutting and finishing metals for their designs, and have been growing their small business steadily with dreams of it becoming their full-time career. After years of tedious development in their construction process, they were excited for this opportunity to help LK, a fellow local artist, turn her idea into a reality for the show.

SG introduced LK to the vendors that they worked with to engineer the process for the jewelry pieces. They set her up with all the tools and resources she would need to assemble them. They facilitated the production of the materials from start to finish.

Finally, Katie and Garnet created the new designs to use for both LK's "love armor metal fabric" for her runway finale, as well as for their own upcoming line; an interchangeable "glam" series of jewelry.

The "love armor" garments were a hit and LK won an award for her runway show.

Meanwhile, Scarlett Garnet launched their line of 'parallelogram glam' jewelry on their website while taking it on the road to boutiques, craft fairs, and trade shows.

(Right: Laura Kathleen wearing one of the pieces from the Scarlett Garnet collection above)

This week, Laura Kathleen has announced the launch of her own jewelry line, made from the same brass "dress" pieces SG produced for her runway show. She plans to continue her jewelry design career by using her new knowledge of SG's vendors, production processes, and construction methods. She has offered nothing in return to SG except an explanation that her lawyer has advised her to no longer talk to them about it. Although you may have seen this part coming, Garnet and Katie did not.

Here is a clip from "Great Day St.Louis" that features LK's new and oh-so-original jewelry line...

...Before overstepping these boundaries of trust and ethics, I would have thought LK to be a talented and creative fashion designer. Now I have my doubts, as this move discredits her as a designer altogether.

But Laura Kathleen did not do anything wrong - at least, not legally. There was no written agreement that stated she would compensate Scarlett Garnet for their labor, design, or consulting. There was no written agreement stating that the brass pieces, the jewelry designs, or even the manufacturing information was property of Scarlett Garnet. There was no non-compete agreement signed when SG taught LK everything about their production methods for jewelry.  As her Twitter profile states, "I might look like a Barbie, but I bite."

So artists, designers, craftresses - please protect your work. Even if you do not have a lawyer, take the time to think through every possible scenario before you begin a working relationship with anyone. Always get signed agreements in writing, and NEVER divulge information about vendors or processes that you would not like someone to take for themselves. If you want your unique work to remain original, treat your business as a business and not like a casual friendship.... Because some friends are opportunistic backstabbers!

The good news is, I do know that Scarlett Garnet's business will not suffer from this situation.
Last summer I had a customer from Etsy who decided to create their own shop that closely copied my packaging design, products, photos, and branding. After I finally got over the initial shock and months of feeling sick to my stomach, I took all the legal steps necessary to get her to discontinue her business. Although it was an extremely painful situation, it also pushed me make my branding, packaging, photos, and ideas stand out even more. It gave me the drive to bury all potential impostors with my ability to put together new work that makes my old work (and their new work) look boring!

There are people out there who do not seem to have access to the creative energy that some of us are naturally tapped into. Recognize your endless inner source of inspiration as your true asset, not the design you made six months ago. Although in these extreme cases it is important to protect your work legally, make sure that most of your energy is directed toward making your own work more visible, more recognized, and more amazing.

Here is an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the collaboration throughout the Project Runway season:


  1. Great post, that is disgusting that people will do that. They are effectively defrauding people and in some/most cases stealing from children (if the owners have children) to benefit their own greedy selves.
    Naming and shaming is the way forward in all cases and i believe that taking action is a must.

    Don't worry hunny, i don't believe anyone could better your business even if they 'tried' to copy your ideas. You are unique and unique is always best. xx

  2. It is truly amazing how brazen some people can be and heartening to know that there are people who will call them on their bad behavior. *Excellent blog post*

  3. Great post! yes, may be she was a little naif or over optimistic, but even so, its so disgusting, and quite plain stealing. Hopefully she won't suffer too much from this!

  4. Thank you for posting this. As someone in the creative field, I have seen this happen in a handful of different scenarios. As you shared, in most cases it resulted in a push for my artist friends to 'up their game', so to speak, after the requisite disbelief, disappointment and anger. A copier will always be exposed, it's only a matter of time for her/him. Cheers to those of us who put in the genuine thought, time and hard work it takes to be a true artisan!

  5. Outstanding post. And this sentiment really resonates: "Recognize your endless inner source of inspiration as your true asset"

    Off to support Scarlett Garnet! :)

  6. Thanks for bringing this story to the surface. I do hope that a lot of people will read this and similar stories to expose out what a fraud Laura K Planck is.

  7. http://pmccblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/sage-advice-from-gambler.html

    Please read "An Important Note". Scarlett Garnet may have more resources available to them than they realize.

  8. I am new to following your blog Jill and have purchsed from your shop. After reading this 'call out' on another creative person I am a bit soured by your comments. Let's get a grip - they are brass cuffs and jewelry art. They are not identical as Scarlett Garnet's but similar, both are very nice pieces. If not for the connection of the parties involved there would not be the big 'oh my gosh what a B'. It is a little close for comfort but the fact is there are so many creative people out there, every one improves upon someone else's idea. Where did Scarlett Garnet get their ideas? They are not 100% original. Most likely designed from an idea created by someone else, from a photo, in an archival or ethnic drawing, any number of places. I am an extremely creative person and I can see my ideas in what other people have done - that I have not even yet brought to fruition. I think to myself great minds think alike! I will just improve upon it or change it to reflect ME. That is what has been done here.
    I am sorry someone copied what you do. Your branding is quite original however you are not the first to use lockets for perfume or any of the packaging you use. What is unique is your label design and your fragrance combinations. They are amazing! I myself enjoy the sea and have used sealife and shells on my packaging. Just because you do cannot I not do so? I think this kind of thing gets so far out of hand. And I am beginning to realize I too have to get my nose out of the air and realize I am not the only creative person walking this planet. I just can't agree with this bashing.

  9. Thank you so much for this. It's informative, shocking and yet ends on a very inspiring note. I had a similar situation with a copy-cat of my Etsy shop and it did literally make me feel sick and weak. I never actually said anything to this copy-cat, you've inspired me to stand up for myself in this situation.

    p.s. I use the pine cone lip balm every single day. Can't wait to get more amazing potions from you. I absolutely love your work.

  10. Brenda,
    The person that copied my items last summer crossed a line beyond having similar inspiration. She even copied my writing and pasted it into her own profile and descriptions. She went out of her way to use my work as her template.
    I am not bashing anyone, I am just telling a true story of events that have happened. I will let you decide for yourself what you think of the situation.

  11. Dear Jill,

    From what I can tell, most of your listings sell two key products: scent and packaging. If you consider packaging/visual branding to be your main product, it would be upsetting indeed to see another Etsy seller ripping off your style. However if perfume is the focus of your product, only talented noses would have any hope of copying your recipe by merely sampling your products. Those with such talents are most probably creating rather than stealing.

    Copycats might make the sales for a while, but the essence in the bottle is what keeps customers returning for more. Other than getting broken into and having your recipes stolen, the heart of your products should be nearly impossible to steal. This elusiveness one of the most beautiful things about perfumery.


  12. Thank you, Fiona, that is so sweet. I do put a lot of energy into the concepts, writing, images, and every element of packaging as well. It felt as if someone had ripped off more than these things.. since I feel interconnected with my work, it felt like they had ripped off a part of my self. This is why when I saw what is happening to Scarlett Garnet, I felt the need to stand up for them, and I just want to warn others that this kind of situation can sometimes be easily prevented. Artists want to feel free, not in legal entanglements. Thank you everyone for the support and please understand I am not trying to be negative. I am trying so support some great designers who deserve better.

  13. The fact is that LK went to SG for information and help.... she did not take inspiration from SG she stole intellectual property.... something Forever 21 does allot! Yes this happens often in this industry but it is up to the consumer to know and support the original work. When you shop at Forever 21 you know you are buying knockoffs.... in this case you are talking about a designer not a fast fashion company so I think LK is ruining her reputation. She should have gone to SG to do a collaboration or given SG SOME credit in the least!! NOT presented it as her own original work!! The pieces are even constructed in the same way!!!

  14. Scarlett Garnet will continue to flourish no question. It is sad how people use other people to get ahead in life. Fortunately Scarletty Garnet has something that Laura Kathleen doesn't and that is huge fans! If you have ever met them they are kind down-to-earth people who are driven. Karma is a B.

  15. A few things to set straight. LK and SG worked together to design the parallelogram glam, so "ownership" of intellectual property is already vague.

    Yes, LK was inspired by SG (all artists derive inspiration from others), and I believe LK was even willing to give SG a small portion of sales as a thank you for the inspiration (not as a royalty). SG refused and immediately severed their artistic relationship concerned about the added competition.

    If we're all so nervous having our ideas "stolen", it may lead to a lot of missed opportunities to collaborate. LK is clearly talented (she can do more than just jewelry), and SG is just fencing herself into a corner.

  16. LKP cut all ties, not SG. She never planned to compensate SG for anything. Also, Katie from SG designed the metal dress that LKP sent down the runway so it looks like SG designs more than jewelry afterall.

  17. who's still watching Project Runway?

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  19. Laura Kathleen Planck is a dumpy hick