Imitation, flattery, and some deep thinking about copies
I've been running into something unexpected at my events so far this year. I have to be honest and admit that my first gut reaction wasn't positive, or gentle, or any of the things I aspire to bring to my business and products. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to find a small delight and a kind of sweetness there.
What I have been encountering lately are copies of my pocket belts. I'm not talking about other variations on the concept of 'pocket belt' -- those have been around for almost as long as I have been making them, and I am not arrogant enough to think that I was the first person to think of the (very useful and handy) idea of a utility / tool belt that you can wear every day. What makes these different is that they are very clearly copies of my work, and are almost certainly made by the person wearing them.
Like I said before, my first reaction wasn't pretty. But I felt motivated to explore that a little deeper, because I have spent a lot of time thinking and having many conversations with other artists about knock offs, rip offs, "being inspired by," and copying in the creative realm. I've had one of my products ripped off lock, stock, and barrel by another artist in my small community, such that I am no longer allowed to sell that product at several of the events that I sell at. That didn't feel good. But for some reason, this feels different, and I started to wonder why?
We've all heard the cliché about imitation and it being sincere flattery, yadda yadda. Small comfort when your designs are staring you in the face in someone else's booth, and the rip-off artist doesn't see anything wrong with being "inspired by" your work and technique. But that's not what this is about. These folks aren't about to set up shop as Cyan Moon Designs selling pointed tapestry pocket belts. My business is not suffering for them having made their own version of what I make. From what I can tell, these are crafty folks who made an honest attempt at something that they probably couldn't really afford, and they probably learned something about sewing in the process. So I really should set the first and loud thought aside ("How dare she!"), in favor of the second, more gentle thought, which says "How adorable!"
And I really was able to change that knee-jerk reaction into something much more positive. It finally got to a point at PantheaCon that I just boldly started asking folks about their belts. And, to my delight, the two people I spoke to about it were actually really sweet about it. They admitted that their belts were copies, and one of them even told me that she refers people to MY site when someone asks about her belt. That isn't something that I would have expected at all!
As much as I might want everyone on earth to have a Blue Moon pocket belt (just don't order all at once!), I can't really expect that. But what there is room for is a bit of surprise and delight when I look closer at something that on the surface feels unpleasant, but after setting aside my ego and feelings of being threatened, actually turns out to be nice folks genuinely being inspired and motivated to make their own art. Now I'm not necessarily saying that I would welcome it if the booth next to mine at my next event has almost-exact-replicas of my stuff. But what I am saying is that there are nuances to this imitation thing, with facets that I haven't really explored yet. And that in some cases, imitation really is sincere flattery, and can be taken at face value.