*This post is long, stay with me and thank you for reading!
I just woke up to a situation that breaks my heart and is sitting very heavy with me. One of our vendors, Cuero & Mor has been accused of copying an Agnes Baddoo bag design in a very public forum by blogger Summer Browner. First, I want to be clear that I respect absolutely all involved: all designers, Summer and all of those who have made comments on her Instagram feed. However, this also feels very much like a witch hunt, which does not sit well with me... Especially since others have started reposting Summer's photo, very quickly creating a snowball affect. It's quite easy and I can totally understand how one could come across a photo or post about a so-called theft and chime in, "saddened and disgusted", "that's wrong", "so terrible." What is created is a social media storm of hate and high-fives, a sense of comradery stemming from something negative and filled with anger. I talked with Pepe and Maria, of Cuero & Mor, this morning and they told me that they just last week saw Agnes' bag when Summer commented on their feed. That night (last Friday) they emailed Agnes directly to have a conversation and let her know that they had never seen her bags until that day. They never got a response, and instead woke up to a flurry of hate mail and comments. This is a hard subject for all and I am going to try and help by holding a forum, but want to say this one thing quickly and then will fully respond below: The reason they have deleted comments and blocked people is because they are scared and don't know what to do. They are human after all, not cold robots. Until you have faced this kind of hate and taunting, please don't judge another for not wanting negative people to continue to harass them. Ok? :)
The reason I am hesitant and defensive for not only my vendors but ALL parties involved, and what breaks my heart about the situation, is the feeling of such hate and accusation. As someone who is almost weekly the victim of racism and sexism, the feelings and hurt that come with being a victim of any kind of harassment are absolutely awful and I would wish that on no one. I take accusations and judgment very, very seriously. To call someone the N word without talking with them/getting to know them but just because the color of their skin is racist and cruel; to so openly call people thieves and gang up on them without actually having a conversation with them is similar. It's making a judgement without having a trial. I say this not against those who have left comments because they are coming from a passionate place, but to open eyes as to the fact that human beings are on the other end of all the hurtful comments. Two incredibly genuine, sweet, creative people who I have spoken with (I would never write a post without speaking to them) and absolutely did not steal or be "inspired by" any other bag including Agnes. It deeply disheartens me to think that all those rallying against them, and me, seem to choose to see evil in people by accusing them of theft, instead of seeing people as good and looking for another answer. Does that make sense? In other words, the two bags could absolutely be an awful coincidence, not to mention the handfuls of others that are out there that are similar in shape or use untreated, tan leather. It breaks my heart and I spent the last hour in tears to see my community, any community, doing this. Essentially, Cuero & Mor have not only been judged but are now being threatened and harassed (via email, social media, the phone), and are feeling scared and confused. THAT is fucked up. Theft is also fucked up, but that is not what happened. I don't think judging others can ever help solve anything - people need to talk to one another. It's easy to get angry and everyone should absolutely be able to voice their concerns, it's freedom of speech after all! But as a trained journalist I spent years being taught the importance of fairness, taking a step back and looking at evidence, never reporting anything without getting comment from all parties, and most important remembering that every single one of us bleeds the same. At the end of the day everyone involved has a heart and I think that is really important in this conversation.
To show how easily two different, stylish design minds can think so closely, here is a bag that LA-based Marie Turnor makes (and has made for years and years) and one by Agnes. There are things that make them different, but yet they are also the same. I don't think either copied the other and they are both beautiful bags. I understand Summer's wanting to voice her concerns, defend her friend, and let everyone know about authenticity and design. Who wouldn't? However, the ease and instant access to social media to get the word out is tricky - I have never really seen any resolution take placed from these types of things because they aren't really "conversations", it's one group of people speaking to another. In other words there's a lot of talk but no actual walk. Change happens when we change this; Summer created the post and has started something, and now I would like to make sure that I hold a forum at The Unique Space so that the community can have an honest conversation TOGETHER about this very tough and personal subject. In person! I will send an email to Summer, Agnes, Maria and Pepe, Cathy Callahan to set a date for a forum about this subject. Let's see what happens and when we have a date (hopefully this Sunday), I will let all know (via a post on the @uniqueusa instagram feed) and look forward to the discussion.
I believe in good and good people, and I will ALWAYS investigate all sides before publicly talking about it because these are peoples lives and livelihoods at stake. I know from experience that a person cannot know about everything out in the world, especially if that person is an entrepreneur/independent designer because most likely they have their head in 1000 places (if not in their hands) a lot of the time. Not only have I been accused of knowing about a "copied" product but my vendors have been accused of copying a design. I live in LA and had no idea the Agnes Baddoo bag existed - If I did I obviously would have never used a similar bag on our postcard and ad campaign, and would have talked to them about the similarities when they applied! It really hurts me that I've been accused of supporting design theft. Do you understand why I find this so frustrating and am absolutely defending Cuero & Mor while also understanding Agnes? I don't believe in "sides" and find that way of thinking very scary and damaging - it is CRAZY to think that people would steal a design and then come to us (the largest market in the country, with major buyers and all the media attending) to sell it to a very large, vocal community. Who would do that on purpose?! No one I know. And not Maria and Pepe. The reason we chose their bag to feature in our ad campaign was because it is made with incredible craftsmanship and care, it's modern and exquisite. And because they are wonderful, warm, humble people. I also know Agnes is an amazing person but had quite honestly never seen her bags until now.
Being accused of something so publicly is pretty hurtful. I work incredibly hard, all day, every fucking day, because I am passionate about what I do but more importantly about the community that I serve. The thought that I would know about every single thing being made here in LA is insane. I do probably know more than most but there are literally hundreds of thousands of makers in this city (just one of the numerous cities that we have vendors from and do markets in). Every year I probably look at 1000-1500 applicants and potential vendors across the country, but that is a drop in the bucket of people out there making products! We quite honestly are so swamped looking at applicants throughout the year that we don't have time to spend looking at people who don't apply, and don't have time to go to all the shops in LA to scout, or surf blogs or magazines. Maybe we should but our jobs consist of event production, all of the logistics that go along with that, as well as producing our business conference and running a creative space downtown. It really doesn't leave time for researching what else is out there, and because I am not a stylist and do not come from the fashion world, I'm not in that community. What may be common knowledge to someone in those worlds is not common knowledge to me. I feel like I'm having to apologize and be made to feel bad about not having time to know everything that goes on in every neighborhood in LA! I'm a business person and an entrepreneur which means my head is mostly in new technology, business logistics and human resources, as I try my best to manage a staff the best I can. Plus you'll all now know how uncool I am but I'm old-fashioned so read all of my news in the actual printed newspaper. That's not to say that I don't shop, keep my eyes open for cool designers or network in various communities, I do. And I love going to the Echo Park Craft Fair, where from her blog I can see that Agnes sells at. Simply said, I didn't go to the last holiday event and previously I've somehow never seen or noticed her bags. What else can I say?!
Man, this has taken awhile to write! Let's move forward in a positive way, as a community not a mob. Let's meet and have a discussion about everything, hear the stories of both Agnes and Maria and Pepe, talk about the role of the media, and you know, treat each other with respect and love. I'll also invite a lawyer who can also be there to help us fully understand how designers can protect themselves. I truly believe that all involved create beautiful work, and what is an awful coincidence should be put behind us. We are a community. Let's talk.