Friday, 31 August 2012

I could make that myself!


I could make that myself.

That sentence is something that we hear a lot on Domestic Sluttery. Heck, some of us have even said it ourselves. It's never said with malice, it's never done with the intention of doing a Paperchase, but it does say something about the design industry and how we view independent designers, illustrators and makers.

We're not going to pretend that all design is excellent (Regretsy does an excellent job of surprising us on that front), but when you look at a product, you're seeing an end point in a process. You haven't seen the initial idea spark, the first drawings, the material sourcing and the creation. A lot of time goes into that. A lot of thought. That's a huge part of the job of a designer - whether it's a shark laundry basket or rude bunting - there's been an extensive creative process involved to get there.


But on the flip side of that, independent design can get expensive. While we absolutely think that designers should charge for their time, small print runs and making by hand push costs up. Often higher than some of us can afford. It's understandable that if you see something simple on Domestic Sluttery and you're a little bit crafty, you might try and whip up your own version.


So where do we draw the line? Vintage dress patterns are all the rage and no one has an issue if you follow one of those. Soy candles in teacups aren't really something with a copyright and you can do craft classes to make your own. When is it OK to 'make that yourself' and when is it hijacking someone else's hard work and creativity? Every creative idea starts somewhere, every artist is inspired by something, but the initial inspiration moves forward to create something new.


We're stuck in a strange place between high street and indy. We want original design at high street prices and that's not easy to achieve with quality. Often it means designers and illustrators running at a loss while they're trying to build up a following. Is the answer to this for the high street shops to be more keen to work with smaller designers?

Should we be making our own versions of Coulson MacLeod originals just because we can't afford our own? Is it OK if we're inspired by something rather than doing an exact copy? Surely if you're not selling the piece you make yourself then it's fine, right?

We're not sure what the answer is, but the Domestic Sluts debate about this behind the scenes a lot so we thoughts we'd open up the discussion. Do you make your own versions of work you've seen elsewhere? Or are you a designer who shudders at the words 'I could make that myself'? Grab a cup of tea and let's have a bit of a chat.

43 comments:

  1. I think a lot of the time it's a case of "Well I could...but I won't." Sometimes it's easier, or better value, to have someone do the work for you. Plus, never underestimate the all-important treat factor!

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  2. This is an interesting debate but using the example of following vintage dress patterns is a bit misleading. Dressmaking patterns - if they're available at all - have been made commerically available just so that people can think "I could make that" and then go ahead and make it. It's not the same as looking at rude bunting or a shark waste paper basket and copying it. The dress patterns are designed for that. What they're NOT designed for is for the home seamstress to use them to then go ahead and sell the dresses commercially for profit. So I don't think that's quite the same issue.

    But on the whole, no, I don't think it IS a problem to look at something and, if you feel you can make it yourself, giving it a go. It's how craftiness operates - you get inspired, you look, you learn. It's never going to be exactly the same. But I do absolutely think it's a problem if copying then starts to infringe the intellectual property of the artist, and then that's really a bigger and trickier problem!

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    1. Where is that line of intellectual property drawn?

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    2. I don't know! I think that's the bit that's definitely the hardest to answer. I suppose to some people it's where profit starts to come into it - so, if you copy something and then start profiting from it, thereby causing a loss of earning to the originator. But even that's not always clear! So, yeah, that's the bit that's the hardest to define, I think :)

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    3. There's a part of me that thinks the artist loses money when you make it yourself rather than buying. And I think that's the bit people will always disagree on!

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    4. Absolutely :) I've just wittered on about this a bit further down the page!

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    5. Your witterings are awesome.

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  3. I totally agree with Kat, plus I am so baaaaaaaad at arts and crafts that anything I attempt myself would look extremely home-made, and not in a good way! Having said that, I do think a LOT of the stuff on Etsy etc is just rubbish. Way too many people think they're artists when they're not, and while they're not harming anyone, it's not surprising that people are critical. After all, if you choose to put your goods up for sale you should be prepared to take negative comments as well as the positive, surely?

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  4. I think the key is that you're not selling the piece yourself. If you think of it in terms of the fact that you wouldn't be buying the piece regardless of whether you create your own version, then it is apparent that the designer hasn't lost out on any sales. As such, you're not impacting on their success.

    However, if you copy a design in order to sell it (a la Tatty Divine impersonators, or Paperchase), then you are making money and potentially impacting the original designer's sales.

    Of course the water gets really muddy when it comes to "inspiration". Creativity depends on inspiration, it always has done, but where do we draw the line between being inspired by, and outright copying?! Plus, much as I like to morally object to rip-offs, I have to admit to, on rare occasion, buying them because they are soo much cheaper and I would NEVER have been able to afford them= original anyway. Could I argue that this copying isn't impacting the designers sales, because I wouldn't have bought from the designer regardless? I suppose I could, but it sits uneasily with me!

    It really is a difficult debate!

    p.s sorry about the essay!

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    1. While I despise the independent designers being ripped off by the high street, I also find it trickier to define the line when expensive design companies "inspire" smaller ones, like when I see a dress on the catwalk I love, but would never ever be able to buy, and something similar pops up in Topshop, say.

      I recently bought some gorgeous wallpaper from an expensive and well established wallpaper company - I noticed a really similar version this week, selling for a 5th of the price. I felt ripped off for buying the expensive version, even though that was the original design, and it will obviously be much better quality. So I personally find it really really tricky.

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    2. I think part of my issue with the wallpaper was that I'd saved up to by something 'special' and when I saw the cheaper version it just didn't feel as special anymore.

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    3. But similarly, if I bought the cheaper version I don't think it would feel as special as saving up for the real thing.

      (When will our wallpaper obsession end?)

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  5. I definitely think it's okay to be inspired by something and put your own personal twist on it - as long as you're not making money from it. But all art takes inspiration from something before it, it's impossible to draw the line at 'original'. I think if you were selling replica copies of an artists work then that's a definite no-no, but I say go for it otherwise, a bit of creativity can't be a bad thing!

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    1. That's a grey area for me - if you're doing it yourself, I think you're taking profit away from the artist. You might not be benefiting commercially, but neither are they.

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    2. I disagree here - if I see a skirt I love but can't afford, and make myself a copy version, I haven't stolen money from the designer. I never would have purchased it. I've copied their work, yes, but I haven't done it for sale or personal gain, so I think that's acceptable. I'm not selling the skirt, or the pattern I made. I'm just wearing it. Same with if I see a cute stuffed animal and make a similar one for my kid, I can't see the problem in that.

      I think the line should be drawn where the copied (or "inspired by") item is used - if it's solely for personal use, then fine. If it's being exhibited anywhere (and I include online in that) or sold, then you're absolutely profiting from someone else's work and that's crossing the line.

      (Also, I sew, so obviously that's where my examples come from!!)

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    3. Sorry, I tried to reply to Siany! Rebecca, I don't disagree with you!

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    4. Oh, absolutely! If you make it yourself you're not buying it from the artist, which is taking profit away from them. But if you're inclined to make it yourself, you might *already* have been disinclined to buy it and therefore the artist comes out the same at the end anyway. I think one really good thing about feeling inspired to have a go yourself is that, for a lot of people anyway, it gives them a better idea of the craft and the expertise and the sheer time involved in making something. Or maybe I'm just being totally idealistic in thinking that!!

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    5. Yes, there is something in that - trying yourself makes you realise how hard something is and how much work goes into crafting.

      But I still feel there's something not right about missing out the creative process from idea to design to final product.

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    6. Yeah, I do agree with this too. That's what I think is so sad about seeing copies of designs in places like Paperchase. There's no soul there - it's not an idea, it's just a mass-produced facsimile and that's sad. It's the reason why, while I would never buy, say, a Chanel handbag, I'd also never buy a copy. It's just too sad because, as you say, it is totally lacking that creative process. But I also think that's where the line can come blurred between inspiration and copying. So, maybe I like the shark laundry basket but I can't afford to or don't want to buy one. I try to copy it exactly, and it looks a bit like a knock-off - sad. But if I think "oh, that shark laundy basket is awesome, but maybe it could be the shark from Jaws with Quint's legs in its mouth!" (um okay weird example, but I love Jaws) then yeah, I haven't started totally from scratch but there's still defintely a creative process from idea to design to final product.

      That said, though, I still wouldn't want to sell or exhibit or profit from my shark laundry basket because it's still too close to the original to not be infringing on intellectual property.

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    7. Maybe an ALLIGATOR laundry basket.

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    8. That would be awesome. I was in Florida in March and I felt totally cheated by not seeing any alligators. NONE. *Off to buy alligator-coloured felt*...

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    9. Oh, Roisin, please, please make this >>>>> But if I think "oh, that shark laundy basket is awesome, but maybe it could be the shark from Jaws with Quint's legs in its mouth!"

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  6. For me it's definitely a case of "I could make that myself... but will I? Will I really?". Once I factor in time, money on materials, messing it up a couple of times... I usually think it's better to buy from the person who's had the idea, knows what they're doing, and has had the motivation to create a business from it. I agree with you, Siany - it's a total grey area. If we all made shark laundry baskets, the original shark laundry bin wouldn't stand a chance. Or something.

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    1. As soon as you can buy shark laundry baskets in B&Q, then it's over for that design, isn't it? You might say it's erm... jumped the shark.

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    2. I'm sorry. I won't make any more shark jokes until 2013.

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  7. I think it's OK to 'be inspired by' or even to copy something for your own use or your own enjoyment. Selling it would be a completely different matter.

    I often see things that I really like but that I can't afford, and if I thought I could do a decent job of making one of those things myself, I'd probably have a go. I'd have something like the thing I liked originally (but probably not as good!) and I'd have the pride of having made something myself! I don't think I'd feel guilty for having 'copied' someone else's design.

    If I was going to make things 'inspired by' another designer to sell, though, that'd be totally different and I don't think it would be right. It's tough to know where to draw the line, though - how far can you stretch the idea of jumping on a trend bandwagon? I work in the book industry and we often make our covers look like other books that have been successful - you can see it right now, with all the books coming out by other publishers (not the one I work for) with covers blatantly aping Fifty Shades of Grey. It's a trend, and people are latching onto it. From a legal standpoint, it's OK as long as we don't claim that our book has anything to do with the original, successful book, and as long as we can't be seen to be passing off our book as something to do with the original. Are we intentionally duping the public? Is it our fault if people confuse our book with a more successful book? Can we be blamed for trying to get a slice of a successful pie? It really is a difficult debate!

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  8. If I had a pound for every time I'm at a craft fair or shop and I say ''I could make that myself" I'd be rich enough to afford the craft I'm looking at and saying I could make it myself!

    It is a tricky question where intellectual property is concerned. On the surface I'd say where a person is making and selling the object there has been a breach of copyright but then what about the object I've made depriving the designer of the money they would've got if I'd have just bought it?

    At the moment I'm knitting a ''Hufflepuff'' style Harry Potter scarf for a friend. You can buy the official one online or at the HP studios for about £25. In a way I've made my own design (I only caught a glimpse of it so not sure how many rows of each colour are on the official scarf) and I won't be selling these anywhere so I'm not making money out of this. But I am depriving WB studios of £25. Am I a bad person? Probably. But I'd like to think I've been inspired by the scarf and I'm not ripping it off completely...

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  9. Good point and great discussion.

    I think the line should be drawn at copying anything for commercial purposes. If someone wants to take a stab at making themselves one of those shark baskets for their own room? Awesome. Let them. Let them try at least, and they'll probably figure out it's not as easy as the artist made it look.

    And if they can copy it exactly? Excellent, good for them. They pinched some pennies with a DIY project and now have a nifty shark basket. The original designer will never even know, and since the copier isn't making multiples to sell, they aren't taking any value off the designer. Hell, they might even inspire friends who visit and see it to seek out the designer to buy one of their own (because, really, most of us CAN'T make that thing).

    If the person who copies the design are so fantastic at making such crafty things, they'll quickly get inspired and make something original, having learned through imitation. Surely, all these other independent artists were closely inspired by others at some point or another.

    As soon as the design is copied to sell, though, that's over the line. You're now devaluing the original artist's work and cutting into their rightful profits. After all, they're the one who went through the entire creative process (and inevitably costly wrong steps) to come up with something worth selling (and copying).

    Let people copy. It'll help them get better at their own craft, and hopefully start introducing works of their own. It will draw attention to the independent art community, and inspire others to either buy something pretty or try to make something worth contributing.

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    1. I think there's a lot of sense in what you say, Janna. I think a lot of really good creative people start be imitating people that they admire. But I do think it has to go somewhere.

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  10. I have been known to make my own version of things I see in shops and in blogs, but only for my own personal use, and with my own spin on it. But more often than not I just buy the thing I like, as I value the fact that I am supporting a small business. I would have no qualms about copying a commercial product for my own use though. Of course a lot of things you see out there you could make yourself, but making things is time consuming and the materials and equipment can be costly. I make and sell jewellery at fairs and markets and I get a lot of people saying they could make some of the things I sell themselves, and yes they could, but they would have to buy all the materials and then spend the time doing it. Once they realise that making it themselves would often cost the same or more (my prices are very reasonable) then they usually just buy it from me. Each to their own though.

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    1. I actually stopped making jewellery because I realised I wasn't doing anything different - it was all beads and fun, but often nothing that felt like my own design.

      Although threading beads while watching the telly is wonderfully hypnotic.

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  11. It seems to me drawing the line on the issue isn't about copyright and intellectual property--as the law does that for us.

    The line to draw in the sand seems to be about user/consumer appreciation and behaviour. Our world is intensely digital, viral and mass-produced. So we naturally are inclined to expect things to be made easily and businesses to function on small margins.

    I absolutely think, "Oh I could just make it." One day I will (probably when retired) with a wood sculpture wall-piece I saw in New England--which will inevitably be inspiration for and grow into my own work without problem. Creativity responds off other things.

    But then I remind myself the unique design products I find ARE worth the price because of the complexity, artistic craft and design work put into it. I love them BECAUSE Tesco didn't make it. One artist did.

    And thus, I shouldn't mentally undermine that fact by avoiding a purchase "because there's got to be a cheaper way."

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    1. I think the issue for me is undermining the artist. By flippantly suggesting that you could do something yourself, it's giving no regard to how much work went into the piece.

      Often designers spend years training to be good enough to sell their work, stating off the cuff that you could do it is often nothing short of rude. Even if it's true!

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  12. First of all, great topic for a debate. As a shopping addict, collector of stuff, AND a designer-maker, I've been pretty divided on this topic for a while and some of the points raised have been real food for thought.

    I've recently started selling my things at craft fairs and markets, and although I've been pretty lucky with window shoppers on the whole, I've definitely heard mutters of 'I could make that myself'. And of course, yes you can! It's all HAND MADE! Meaning, if you have hands, you can make it!

    It's not quite as simple as that though for sure....as has been said, will you ever get round to it?! I know I see things all the time that I know I could make....but is it really worth it? My time is precious, and it takes a long time often just to work out how to make something, find all the right supplies, and possibly go through a few prototypes. It can often be more expensive to buy supplies to make just one of something that perhaps the original, made up version is! I know I buy all my jewellery making supplies, canvases and everything in bulk, and I've spent time finding quality suppliers with good prices.

    There's just no way it's worth it most of the time!

    I'm absolutely an advocate of doing-it-yourself and having a go, but I think largely I'd rather leave things to an expert.

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  13. I don't mind the people who have a good look at how something is made, appreciate the time and effort that went into it but would like to use it as a source of inspiration and have a go at something similar themselves. Obviously I'd rather have them buy one as a sample rather than just spending 20 minutes at the stall prodding it and then walking away, but I know I'll see a fair proportion of them at a later event, when they've tried, failed, and come back to buy one.

    The ones who really irritate me are those who are sniffy about the products but want a free tutorial and list of suppliers, while giving nothing in return. Spend a quid on the cheapest thing on the stall and I'll happily give you tips on drying lavender so you can make your own lavender bags rather than buying mine. That's fine. Insult my hand cream and then expect me to hand over the recipe and details of where to get the tins. I think not.

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    1. Yes, I think there's a difference between being genuinely crafty and creative and being dismissive of someone's work!

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  14. It's the old thing isn't it "I could of made that" - yeah but you didn't. ;) I'm all for supporting independent designers but everyone and everything is inspired by somthing that's been done before. It's putting your take on it.

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  15. As many people have said so far in this discussion, it's about the money factor. If you would have bought it but are choosing to make it yourself then that's wrong. If you are copying it and then selling it yourself? That's even more wrong.

    For instance, Coulson McLeod as an example: I would never in a million years pay for a lot of their prints as a) they're just ripping quotes from films anyway b) I think they are over priced as a lot of that kind of art is. If I make my own? They're not losing anything and then if someone saw it in my house and asked I would say 'Oh I was inspired by Coulson McLeod... their stuff is great' maybe they have more money than I do and will purchase the real thing. The designer isn't losing out but actually getting more publicity.

    Paperchase aren't the only ones to rip people off, Urban Outfitters are terrible and ripped off a Johnny Cupcakes design. Big businesses should support local / indie artists. It's not like they don't have the money and they're just stealing as they're making money from it.

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  16. This is such a tough topic! But very current given the recent tatty Devine copies by claire's accessories and the cambridge satchel company and zatchels settlement. I make jewellery with wirework and semi-precious beads but so do a lot of other people. Is any of it entirely my own work? No because I've seen other pieces like it but nothing is exactly the same. That said, where dies the inspired by label end and the blatant copy one start? I think a lot of it is to do with the earning potential. I wouldn't copy something I had any intention of buying; it isn't an either/or. I would only ever copy something that I would never be able to afford and also where I din't feel that it would be worth saving for. As an example, I would never copy a Monet as I think they're amazing. I wouldn't have a problem copying a jackson pollock as I think they're rubbish! I know it's slightly bizarre but that's just me!

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  17. Difficult topic on where to draw the line for sure.. on principle I agree with the whole original should not be replicated for sale or profit but take for example crochet beanies for kids. the line is thick n smudgy eg the classic owl or sleepy owl beanie.. these are made by so many different people and factories in china. how do u know who was the original designer and if u can't buy them in ur country and it's difficult or equivalent or biggerl price for the shipping alone would it be fair to assume u could whip some up and sell them locally?? same thing with all the animal beanies.. all vary slightly( very slighty) usually more in quality but essentially it's a frog beanie?? this example I find extremely grey

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    1. Great discussion, have just put a link to it on our Facebook page.

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