Business Agony Aunt

Ask Ronke Lawal: How Do I Deal With A Competitor That Copies Everything I Do?

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Miss O Asks;
I am a designer; I started with a little capital so I decided to set myself apart from the big names in the market by focusing on a niche market and making sure that my designs are really unique. I also made sure my branding both offline and online is very unique, and I am very creative with the use of my social media.

Here is the problem. A designer that has been in the market for long is copying every little thing I do, my branding, colors, designs and even slogan. Everything I do to set myself apart, she copies. It is really getting at me because I spend a lot of time and resources to do these things so that I can have a competitive edge. She copies them and because she has a larger market, I look like the copycat. She follows me on every social media platform and even sends me anonymous emails pretending to be a customer so she can get details of what I am doing.

Customers now ask me if I am copying her! I am frustrated; I have no idea of what to do

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Ronke Lawal Answers;
I had to take a few moments to calm down before I wrote my response because I have seen this time and time again in business and in fashion. Being a partner in a ladies wear fashion label (www.simonewilliams.co.uk) we have seen people copy elements of our lines many times before but quite often it is on such a small scale we have not had a strong enough case to do anything.

However you have a case and you need to make it public. Your designs are protected by international copyright laws. If you are based in Nigeria please contact the Nigerian Copyright Commission immediately about your concerns – http://www.copyright.gov.ng/ – they can offer you advice and guidance on how you can protect yourself and what actions you can take.

If you have any budget whatsoever it may be worth seeking legal counsel too.  Your designs are your intellectual property; in the UK you can prove that this person is copying your designs (a design is not an idea if you have documented it and have evidence that you created it) if your work is 100% original, you created it first and the copying is deliberate. It sounds like you fit all of these and thus should have a case. I would also release a press statement about said designer to your database and relevant press.

You should also consider perhaps approaching her for a meeting first to request that she STOP copying your ideas (this maybe where you need legal representation or a letter from a legal body).  Preferably we would not like this to go to court but if you have a case (based on intellectual property legal advice) then go for it.

Ultimately though if this all looks too distressing for you. You need to strengthen your branding and make it clear when you release your garments that they are your exclusive designs. In business you have to be strong but more importantly you need to have integrity; cheaters never win in the long run. This individual will reap what she has sown through her lack of integrity and will ultimately fail. You need to decide which path to take now and be strong. Do not let this person’s behaviour distract you from your ultimate goal.

I would like to leave you with the story of Tatty Devine Jewellery (an independent designer) and Claire’s Accessories (a major high street costume jewellery chain). Tatty Devine discovered that Claire’s were copying their designs they wrote a blog statement and about it and asked customers to decide. This caused a real stir in the UK media which was a PR disaster for Claire’s Accessories but a major uplift for Tatty Devine (which was already growing in popularity). Tatty Devine took on a big player in the industry because they were confident in their case! Read more here: http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/02/24/tatty-devine-vs-claires-the-trickle-down-effect-or-outright-copycatting/

You need to be tough and confident if you are to survive in the fashion industry but like the story of David and Goliath; do not judge what is possible in life by mere size alone; even the smallest of entities can beat their largest foe.

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Company founder Ronke Lawal was born in Hackney, East London of Nigerian parentage. Having graduated with honours from Lancaster University and the University of Richmond Virginia (USA) with a degree in International Business (Economics), she started her own business in 2004. In 2011 Ronke Lawal was honoured to receive a Precious Award for Inspirational Leadership. In January 2010, Ronke became the Chief Executive of the Islington Chamber of Commerce where she remained until the end of 2012 and became a non-executive director of The Hoxton Apprentice in 2011. She joined the board of Trustees of Voluntary Action Islington in 2012 and is currently on The Employers Panel for the National Employment Savings Trust.  She is a passionate business woman running RSL Management Services and the Simone Williams fashion label.  Apart from her active and involved business interests, her varied passions outside the business world include food, travel, music, literature and most importantly living a life she loves.

 

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