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: