Monday, June 3, 2024

That Company Copied My Design - It Happens All The Time

Has Dunitz & Company had designs ripped off? I thought I'd jot this blog post because I'm regularly hearing about and reading about designers having their creations copied. Artists on Etsy complain about it often. And many of my wholesale colleagues have had similar experiences. I know I have. Many many times over the years. The best defense? If you're a good designer you can come up with new designs! I recount some of the more than bothersome stories of being copied below. Believe me. There are others.

 

When I was first starting out, Dunitz & Company primarily focused on home accessories from Guatemala. I was admitted almost immediately to the New York Gift Show when there supposedly was a long waiting list. This I was told happened when you offered "new to market" items that were otherwise unavailable. I offered beautiful handmade and handwoven pillows from Guatemala. In 1990, there were few wholesalers working in Guatemala because the country was in the midst of civil war and it just wasn't that safe. One of the designs I offered were these lovely rectangular pillows created using handwoven placemats from Comolapa. I placed them in several lifestyle furniture stores. A prestigious catalog company came by my NY Gift Show booth and loved what I was doing and we discussed this specific pillow at length. I might have even sent them a sample, but of that I can't be certain. Back in the day all the larger companies asked for samples before they made decisions. The next season something almost identical was in their catalog. They weren't from me. (Obviously they had found another source to make them. At the time, I was almost sure who that was. But it was never confirmed.)
 
 
What a mix of emotions. Not too long after introducing beaded jewelry to the wholesale market, my colleagues and I collaborated on wide cuff bracelets in a host of patterns and colors. The first cuffs we offered were about 2 inches wide. Bracelets of many widths followed. Upscale boutiques discovered them almost immediately and sales were quite good. There was a fancy boutique located in Soho. Everyone drooled over this store and they got a lot of press. If they represented you, you were in the in. So there I was at the New York Gift Show. A very well dressed man and woman came into my booth, provided their card from this tony store and proceeded to took copious notes on our cuff bracelets. They spent a lot of time studying our designs and colors. They asked permission to take photos. And then they ghosted me. Turns out they took all this information and went to Mexico where they had Huichol women bead similar bracelets. The bead stitch was different, but to those who don't know about such specifics, they seemed the same. They gave away their bracelets to celebrities, got tons of press. Their wholesale prices were double ours. Even more people noticed our cuff bracelets then and they all thought I had copied this fancy Soho operation. Gosh I was irritated. You know what happened? Because our wholesale prices were half, we had one of our biggest revenue years. Stores flocked to us because they viewed our prices as being so much more reasonable. I'm sure you can guess what happened next. The cuffs were knocked off  on the low-end. Obviously artisans were paid substandard wages to produce similar looking pieces. You get what you pay for and the quality was terrible. Those cuffs had become such a big part of our business, and it seemed overnight our business died. We had one sales rep who told me we had had a good run and we'd need to reinvent ourselves. Seems we've had to do that many times. (The picture here is of the one cuff I kept for myself!)
 
 
 
I've always joked that I must be so self centered, that I don't always "know" who all the other players are. Customers often ask me if I'm familiar with this other designer or that one. And sadly most of the time my answer is "no." I now recount the time a stylish woman came into my Los Angeles Gift Show booth, spent some good time studying my beaded jewelry designs and placed her $500 order COD. (COD- Cash on Delivery. Pre-Credit Cards, guys. UPS would deliver a box and collect a handwritten check, that was then mailed to us for deposit. That was a common way of doing business in the 90s.) At that time, this designer had a boutique in Palos Verdes. The punchline. She had already studied my line. She refused the COD and ghosted me. Why bother writing an order, having us produce it and then do that? Frankly that's just mean. When you're young in business, cash flow is crucial. I'm sure she did that to lots of small businesses. Over the years this person built a fashion dynasty which still exists today. When I met her, her business hadn't grown to what it has become. The annoying thing is she soon after that offered some trendsetting bracelets that definitely referenced ours. People would say to me that our designs looked like hers. In my gut, I always knew it was the other way around. (Side note: We sold these bracelets and similar to J Jill for a few seasons. At the time, the buyer told us they were the best selling bracelet they had ever offered. I think that was around 2007/8.)



My mini-scarf necklaces were one of my best sellers of all time. This design supported me for two or three years when the market had nose-dived in general. Lucky us! And none of the hoity toity designers caught on during those important years. They sold so well that every season I had to find new ribbons to keep our customers satiated. Boutiques and museum stores reordered and reordered and reordered. After about three years, most stores were looking for something new. Our sales on our mini scarves were reasonable, but they had slowed. It was at that point, a customer came running into my booth showing me a catalog from a Chinese producer that was offering necklaces that looked identical to ours. They managed to use ribbons in the same colors and didn't even change our beading accent colors. Bead for bead. Color for color. They were wholesaling at half our prices. Oh ugh.  It was the same season I randomly went into a Target and saw necklaces that looked exactly like one I had designed using black lace. You know what that meant? It was time to reinvent ourselves again. Did you sell our mini scarf necklaces back in the day? I have some stock if you'd like to offer them again? By now, they'd be new again because they're long forgotten.
 
 
 
Over the years we've sold tons and tons of (finger) rings. One design that sold particularly well were these big 'ole faux pearl and crystal baubles with a herringbone stitch band. I mention it because as I was writing about the mini scarves above, I was reminded that that same company that had ripped off our mini scarves, also made exact copies of these rings shown here. And again, bead for bead and color for color.
 
 
I am so thankful for the "fair trade" community and retailers and customers who believe that artisans should earn living wages and be treated with the respect every human being deserves. Thankfully to this day, there are many who continue to buy products solely from verified Fair Trade Federation members like us. 
 
It's already several years ago (but well after the refused COD story above,) a young man (well, younger than me) spent significant time in my Los Angeles Gift Show booth. If I recall, his badge indicated he had a store in New Mexico. He came back on three days in a row, which was unusual.  He had picked up all my designs and studied them so carefully. Truthfully this is not how most buyers shop. The behavior is of someone who actually beads themselves. When I asked him if he was ready to place his order his response was not one I was expecting. "Oh no. I'm just looking at your line. You're the queen of beaded jewelry from Guatemala, I know your reputation. (He actually bowed.) I'm now importing jewelry from Guatemala too." #$%@^&#! Seriously.  This man is now responsible for importing bales of beaded jewelry from Guatemala at low low prices. I know well how long it takes to make a necklace or bracelet. Believe me, the people making the jewelry he offers can't be even making $1.00 per day. You can't feed a family on that, even in Guatemala. This man now earns money in both directions. The small Guatemalan vendors who sold Czech glass beads by the ounce were put out of business. This fella now exports Chinese glass beads into Guatemala. They're not the same as Czech beads, but in many cases look quite similar. Obviously they're much cheaper and now easily available for purchase in Guatemala. I believe most of the beaded jewelry coming out of Guatemala now is made with Chinese beads. (We import our own Czech and Japanese beads for the jewelry we offer you.) 
 
 

Sadly, copying and stealing designs also happens within the fair trade community. Dunitz & Company has always worked in a clandestine workshop where our newest designs are not easily seen. Once they've been introduced to market, it is tougher to protect those designs. Actually, you can't. There are bead workshops in Guatemala that produce goods from designs they are given or have seen. I am familiar with "fair trade" companies that buy from some of these workshops. These companies select items to sell, but they are not involved with designing the items they choose to sell. I cannot judge these workshops with respect to wages their artisans are paid. But I certainly can vouch for designs they sell that were 'borrowed' from what we originally created. I was particularly upset when I had to retire a very good beaded paisley earring style we sold. We could no longer produce them and compete with lower wholesale prices I discovered in the marketplace for replicas.  A few years back we labored over a new teardrop design and it was fun! I ordered samples so I could photograph them for our website, sales rep books and on models for social media posting. What happened? I was ready to introduce them at the trade shows. Before I could do this, the artisan we collaborated with was so pleased with the design, he took a pair and showed them to other workshops.  They took photos of his work. You guessed it! They were copied (not as beautifully made, I might add) and chosen by another 'fair trade verified' company to offer at wholesale. I caught wind of this and I retired the design before I even introduced it. I sold my initial inventory at cost to one of my retailers. And sadly that artisan we collaborated with got no work for his efforts, except for the initial 24 or 36 pairs I'd ordered. This sadly was not an isolated incident.
 
Alexx is a lovely musician who has modeled for us several times. The photo shown reminded me of several points. First, she's wearing the paisley earrings we retired from our wholesale lineup that I previously mentioned. She also is wearing a coral necklace that we introduced in the 90s and still sell today. It's one of our best necklaces that has been copied numerous times. If my ego got in the way, I would have retired it. Our customers continue to tell us our quality, the way the beads softly hang and our color combinations are superior to anything they have found elsewhere. At their regular request, we still produce it for wholesale, only because they are willing to pay the price we ethically must charge.
 

See those little skinny bracelets Alexx has stacked on her wrist? I remember when Dunitz & Company first introduced them. Damian from Aid Through Trade (who has always been seen as our main "beaded jewelry" competitor, even though I think what we offer is quite different) came storming to our trade show booth in New York. He had heard that we had copied their best selling roll on bracelets that are made in Nepal. We could have copied his bracelet easily and offered it, as so many other copycats in Nepal and Guatemala have. I quite frankly told him I didn't need to do that, and although we could, I wouldn't. (And I never have.) I walked him in my booth and showed him bowls filled with these little bracelets. He breathed a sign of relief and felt better once he saw what I was exhibiting. Did you know back in the day, Damian actually wrote a recommendation letter on our behalf for our Fair Trade Federation member application? It shows how respectful we are. Just saying.
 
Most long time designers could go on and on with stories like the ones I've shared above. They are endless. My mother and grandmother before her always would say 'emulation is the sincerest form of flattery.'  That's not what any of us want to hear when it affects our livelihood. What do I respond when my artistic friends share similar tales of woe? "You are safe because you will always be capable of coming up with new and original designs!" Keep designing my friends. That's what we do at Dunitz & Company. - ND
 
*note: I have consciously chosen not to call out the culprits described above. But if any of you are reading this post, karma is a beast!

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Fair Trade Federation Rebrand & New Logo 2024

Fair Trade Federation Logo 2024
New Logo 2024
Dunitz & Company has been around for quite a while and we're long time members of Fair Trade Federation. FTF just rebranded (again) with a new contemporary look and logo. As a long time member, I've now seen 3 logos and Dunitz still has collateral materials with the original. What to do? The easiest update is changing the logo on our websites and email blasts. Done!






While running a business, you need lots of printed materials for this or that. When you run out, you print more. What happens? You print a run of a 1000 sales order forms (for wholesale trade shows) and it takes a long time to go through them. For many years, Dunitz & Company exhibited at 16 wholesale shows per year. Pre-Covid, we were down to 3. Now we're no long doing shows, for the most part. When we attend the occasional Fair Trade Federation conference or Museum Store Association Forward trade show, we use very few forms. Looks like we're all set until retirement with these sales order forms.



I actually liked the original FTF logo showing two hands intertwined. We added it to all of our collateral materials including postcards, trade show hand-outs and an informational display card featuring artisan photos. At the time, FTF encouraged us to create informational materials that also included the organization's logo. This made a lot of sense because we discovered many buyers were not familiar with Fair Trade Federation and the principles members live by. On the back of this card we included more information about FTF. We still have a bunch if you'd like some :).

 

In 2016, Fair Trade Federation rebranded for the second time. I even wrote a blog post about it. Read it here.  The explanation for this logo and rebrand? This logo reflects the essence of 360° fair trade. The circular mark created by four interdependent hands communicates the holistic cooperation, across cultures and geographies, that defines FTF membership.

 

 

 

 

What's left in our stock room with this logo? Lots and lots of business cards. Some with my name. Some with no person's name. Some exclusively for wholesale. Some list our retail website. And lots of "story cards" we provide to retailers who want to pass them on to their customers. We probably will run out of story cards this year. And when we print more, we'll update the logo to the one introduced earlier this year.


Once again, Fair Trade Federation has rebranded and introduced a new logo this Spring. The previous logos we posted to our website and collateral materials indicated that we were "members" of the group. The newest logo exchanges the word member for "verified." I was told this was done because the FTF board and staff believe the word "verified" assumes membership. (Fair Trade Federation members are verified, not certified. I might take that on in another blog post. Customers are definitely confused by these terms and how they differ. This could be one of the reasons the word "verified" was chosen for the new logo.) The FTF website explains the latest logo as follows. The new verified logo features a modern woven pattern, symbolizing our fair trade community's global reach and interconnected commitment to fairness and equality. It represents rigorous fair trade standards, giving consumers confidence in their purchasing decisions.

Members are allowed to post the new logo in black & white, white, terracotta (a rust color), or cenote (a dark teal-green shade.) We chose terracotta for our websites.

 

OK, my fellow verified members - here is some clarification. If you were either at the recent Fair Trade Federation conference or you weren't but you saw oodles of selfies and conference pics on Instagram and Facebook, you might have noticed signage that showed off the new FTF logo in pink, seafoam green, navy blue and a host of other fun colors. I asked FTF staff about that. I was told that members can only use the colors noted in the paragraph above. Chris Solt, Executive Director of FTF told me "the organization uses a few additional colors in the full branding." Phooey.  I was digging the fuchsia shade they used in some of FTF in-house artwork. 

 

So it's 2024. And Dunitz is VERIFIED Fair / Trade Federation.  We proudly post the latest logo on our websites with those from other organizations we're proud to be affiliated with. Museum Store Association. Green America. Fair Trade Los Angeles. I promise, when we run out of and reprint more story cards and business cards, they also will feature the newest logo. One more question. What do you think of the most recent FTF rebrand and logo? -ND

Friday, April 5, 2024

Fair Trade Jewelry - Custom for Your Store & Exhibitions

Dunitz & Company's been at it for a long time! And one thing we adore is collaborating with our clients on custom designs for your stores and art exhibitions.  Back in August, 2021, I wrote a blog post sharing some of our custom projects we had created up until that point. Here are some others from recent times, not in any particular order.

 

In 2022, Santa Barbara Museum of Art hosted a Van Gogh exhibit.  Through Vincent's Eyes: Van Gogh and His Sources was a very well attended exhibition. We collaborated with the gift shop buyer so she could offer earrings that featured the artwork actually on display. This one of white flowers on a pale green background was one of my favorites. They offered dangles and studs of each of the custom designs we made for the show.




The Dayton Art Institute presented a wonderful exhibit, so I was told, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: The Birth of Modern Paris, which closed in January, 2024. Sadly I live too far away and couldn't get there to see it. The store buyers at the museum wanted to offer some earrings that featured one of the artworks that was up on display. This is what we came up with.

 

 

 

 

We've created several custom earrings for the Michigan History Museum and when they staged an exhibit showcasing the work of beloved artist, Mathias J. Alten, we were there to help. Several of his wonderful paintings became earrings! These shown here are my favorites.






But it isn't only about the paintings. The Michigan History Center also manages many regional museums. The earrings here feature the Tawas Point Lighthouse. Did you know that Michigan has the most lighthouses in the United States? More than Florida or California.






Back in 2022, the National Building Museum in Washington DC showcased Notre Dame de Paris with an interactive exhibition. We scoured every image of old paintings we could find and created these for their gift store. It's always fun to take a souvenir home after visiting a museum and these were a perfect choice for many museum visitors.






We've worked with the Detroit Institute of Arts for many years. Did you know I am originally from Detroit? And my aunt was a docent there for many years during my youth. This museum has a very special place in my heart and when I ship our fair trade jewelry for their store, I have to share widely to my Detroit based friends and family.  The DIA presented an amazing Van Gogh exhibition late 2022-early 2023. It was actually postponed because of the Covid lockdown. It was really fun to create dangles, studs and pins using paintings from their permanent collection. They sold a lot of the earrings we created for this show. That's good for everyone. We love it when these special projects provide a lot more work for the artists we work with in Guatemala.



For years the buyer from the Museum of Flight in Seattle and I had been discussing what we might create together for their store. From mid 2023 through January 2024, Art & Flight featured work of several talented artists. Seattle artist, Angelina Villalobos created two amazing murals for the museum. With her permission, the earrings shown on the right were created. Fun right?



What happened next? The staff at Museum of Flight thought it might be fun to offer stud earrings that look like paper airplanes. If you visit their website, you'll see a paper airplane serves as their site cursor. That's so cool! The earrings shown here can now be purchased at the Museum of Flight's gift store. They can also be purchased from us directly for your store.



 

 

Sometimes a store owner wants to show off their own amazing artwork. And in the case of Julia Mooney, a talented watercolor artist and owner of My Fair Trade Lady in Haddon Heights, NJ, this was the case. She had created a wonderful painting of the local train station. And on earrings, these make a terrific gift and souvenir. She provided a high-res image of her painting, and we created earrings. You too can purchase a pair here.



The truth is all you need is a good idea, and we can help you create just about anything. We have a lovely customer who is crazy for all things music. And so are her customers. In her case, most of her jazz fanatic clients are in Taiwan. Sora Designs had exhausted the musical instrument studs we offer.  We created custom bass violins, electric guitars and accordions for Sora. These have been turned into earrings, lapel pins and you name it.


Don't forget to revisit our original blog post where I highlighted other custom creations Dunitz & Company has made. We even laser cut out the state of Missouri for one of our clients. Our minimums are low. Our quality is excellent. And if you're already a Dunitz customer, you know our prices are more than reasonable. What are you waiting for? I'm here to help you create your next custom project. -ND

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Women's History Month: Nancy Dunitz is Interviewed by Fair Trade Winds

I was honored to be interviewed recently by Fair Trade Winds. Evidently every March, to commemorate Women's History Month, they choose to feature women on their blog who lead the way in the fair trade world. This year's theme is #InspireInclusion and for that they chose to highlight Dunitz & Company and have a chat with me. With their permission, I am reposting the interview here.

FTW: When did you begin your company, and what inspired you to get your start? How as it grown since then?

Nancy & Alisa
NANCY: It’s such a long time ago. I actually left a good corporate gig, where I was not happy back in 1989. I was already a seasoned traveler, loved learning about other’s crafts and have always been a bit of an artist myself.  At the time I didn’t know if I might start a retail or wholesale business. And while I was exploring what I might do and how to do it, I went to Guatemala which was relatively close to home. I managed a few trips there while I was still working corporate. I was young and innocent and had not processed that Guatemala was in the midst of civil war and not entirely the safest place to be traipsing around. I could write a book about all this, for sure. What I found were so many struggling artists without opportunity. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I just jumped in. I knew there had to be a market for the beautiful work I discovered there.  In the beginning my product mix was quite diverse. I offered textiles, pillows, glassware, wood products, traditional painted boxes, you name it. Back in 1989, “fair trade” wasn’t even a concept people were familiar with. One thing I can say about me is I’ve always lived by the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I mean Fair Trade Federation wasn’t even founded until 1994, and it’s not overnight that consumers have a light bulb go off.  I knew other wholesalers at the time who browbeat artisans for the lowest possible prices which I’m certain were below what would have ever been remotely fair.  I think it was always in my nature to listen and be fair.

To be honest, it took a handful of years before I think I really made a difference. Buying some goods at what seemed a fair price from this family or that artist in the beginning was really just a bandaid for those artists. I was living on borrowed money and personal savings myself.  It wasn’t until I specialized in only offering jewelry did my business grow.  That’s when I was able to provide consistent work for a group of artisans, mostly women. Beaded jewelry is not indigenous to Guatemala. Back in the early 90’s, I collaborated with (separately) two  women who had moved to Guatemala from elsewhere and taught Mayan woman to bead.  (Sadly one of those women passed away last week.) Together we collaborated on jewelry designs which I successfully wholesaled in the USA. I was one of a very few companies offering seed bead jewelry and the business took off.  Since many of the artisans were used to creating wonderful embroidery and woven textiles, beading jewelry was a natural thing to do.

FTW: What's the workplace like and what is a typical daily schedule? Do artisans work from home or collaborate together in a workshop?

NANCY: You have to understand I’ve been at this for a very long time. In the very beginning a small group of artisans used to work at a table at the homes of the women that first taught them how to make beadwork. Then there were workshops with several tables. The women would bring their lunches and snacks and giggle all day with one another while they worked. Whenever I was working with them, we’d collaborate and experiment making all sorts of designs. Thankfully many of our designs were successful. Trust me, I offered a lot of new designs I loved that totally flopped at the trade shows. Sometimes they flopped because they cost too much to make. Sometimes they just weren’t loved as much as I loved them.

You asked if artisans work from home? There always were women who worked at home if they had children or had to care for elderly parents.  They’d come to the workshop every few days to collect beads and string, and return the following week to deliver the work they’d made.  For our beaded jewelry, all of the artisans currently work from home. Other than having a hub, there is no longer a bead workshop.

Over the years our world changed. Guatemala became more politically stable and people felt more comfortable traveling there and starting businesses. We had office managers that stole materials and left and set up their own workshops. When one of the women I worked with (who taught women how to bead) had a small retail shop in Guatemala, the manager of that shop who had been taught to bead by us, would send customers to her son, who was managing a workshop they had started on the Q.T.  The women that had been taught by us, were now teaching others how to bead.  With increased demand for beadwork, our designs were  popping up in street stalls everywhere. Sadly, most of what you find on the street is sold very inexpensively. Over the years, this growing competition made it impossible for me to survive solely on our bead business. One thing I can say is since we always focus on creating new designs, we’re almost always a step ahead. For wholesale, many stores (definitely not all stores) are willing to pay more for original work, work where they also know the artisans earn living wages.

Nancy & Rosa


In 2011, I forged a new relationship with a Guatemalan woman I met who was beautifully making glass jewelry. Originally it was a bit garish for my taste, and the colors sometimes a bit quirky. Together we simplified designs, removed cheap Chinese findings that could be bought in Guatemala and followed fashion trends to create color combinations that would appeal to those wearing it here in the US. We’ve also recently launched a ceramic jewelry collection. And with her  husband, we’ve developed our laser cut jewelry which includes our famous painting earrings. A small group of artists come to work every day and work together to make these designs. 

 

FTW: The theme this year for International Women's Day is 'inspire inclusion.' How are women artisans supported and made to feel empowered and part of the team? What positive changes have you seen in the communities where the artisans work and live?

NANCY: There is no question in my mind that working within our communities, workers have been able to consistently learn new techniques while being able to pay school fees for their children and live proud lives. What is better? Doing janitorial work, which is what some of our artists used to do? Or learning to make jewelry and then train new artisans to make it too?

I might also like to add, that when you meet the artisans that make Dunitz & Company jewelry, you can feel good that they are treated with the respect and paid the fees they deserve. We don’t run an “under the table” business as many workshops do.  I remember some years ago, another Fair Trade Federation member asked if she could visit our bead workshop. I made the arrangements. She spent a lot of time there taking photos and observing the women working.  What did she find? She found a happy place where women were wearing their beautiful traditional clothing. What did she share on social media when she returned to the States? Photos from other workshops she visited where the women seemed a bit more sad and their clothing a bit worn out. I can only guess she thought tearing at customer heart strings might bring in more business. To me that isn’t want fair trade is about.

FTW: What advice would you give girls who are interested in getting involved in causes they are passionate about?

NANCY: I know you’ve heard this before. I say follow your heart. And if you never try, you’ll never know.  I didn’t have a clue what I was doing when I first started Dunitz & Company. Be a bit stubborn and be determined. And be flexible. Nothing is as how you first guessed it. You have to be willing to make changes along the journey.  What is most rewarding to me is leading by example. I know I’ve been instrumental in changing so many lives in Guatemala. But, I know I’ve changed lives here at home too. At least two women I knew from my corporate days, who watched me quit a fast-track corporate job to start my own business told me years later that I was their inspiration to start their own businesses.  I had an employee for a few years, a single mother who told me it was my perseverance that convinced her she could go back to school and finish a nursing degree. And she did. What could make you feel better than that?

--end of interview--

Again, I'm so appreciative Fair Trade Winds asked to interview me. I rarely "talk" about my fair trade business. I'm most often on auto-pilot packing orders, getting orders made, collaborating with artisans, answering emails, taking product photos, updating our websites and walking dogs :). Did I mention that Fair Trade Winds sells our designs in their Boulder, Seattle and Bar Harbor stores? They also sell many of our designs on their website.

Thank you for reading and supporting Dunitz & Company. You definitely make a difference. -ND