Did Urban Outfitters rip off an indie designer, yet again?


The similarity between the work of Chicago-based designer Stevie Koerner, aka imakeshinythings, and a recently-launched line of jewelry from Urban Outfitters, appears too close to be an accident. This is not the first time the fashion chain has been accused of ripping off indie designers.

Above: Urban Outfitters' line at left, Stevie Koerner's at right. More on Stevie's blog.

(via Submitterator, thanks Jack Crosby)


  1. I seem to recall seeing something almost identical to that when I was in grade school in the 70s. I’m having a hard time blaming UO for ‘stealing’ the idea of a heart stamped into a metal representation of a state from an indy artist who ‘stole’ it from whoever made them in my childhood.

    1. Watching some of you people so eager to jump to the defense of a soulless capitalist corporation with a history of doing this to independent artists is absolutely sickening. No wonder America is such a corporate dominated shithole.

      Think for yourselves and stop being retarded capitalist marks.

  2. I think that these necklaces are fairly common. I’ve seen one version or another of this same necklace for years. In fact, I got one with a star instead of the heart from that craptastic catalog, Signals, as a Xmas gift many years ago.

  3. I wonder if Urban Outfitters filters their reviews to be positive. I would have assumed that it would be filled with people crying foul by now.

    1. I’m guessing they moderate their comments, like a lot of other sites. Still, it can’t hurt to post your thoughts and see if they go through. Not every site moderates vigilantly.

      Also, I see that no one has ‘tagged’ these items yet. If you don’t want to write a review, you could always take the opportunity to add a few tags of your own while you’re there.

  4. They are the same size/color/have the same size heart punch in them. Fail on Urban Outfitters. I bet they made the Chinese make those for them.

    1. This is one of the things that bugs me the most about it (possibly moreso than even stealing the idea) … this designer is slaving away making these beautiful necklaces, yet the big retailer is just having a factory overseas knock theirs out.

  5. HAHAHAHAHAHA After clicking that link & going back to this article to see other posts, I see the banner ad at the top is for Urban Outfitters. Clearly the internet doesn’t understand if I like or hate something, just that I clicked on it.

  6. They certainly DO censor reviews, because I reviewed them negatively when I first saw this yesterday, and it’s still not up there.

    1. They sky mall one is kind of cool I guess. Since the star punch goes by your zip. It’d suck to live on a border city though. I’d say they were “inspired” absolutely but not directly copying.

      1. Punching the hole where your city actually is in relation to the state is BRILLIANT. I love stuff with meaning like that. Would also be awesome to be able to collect charms all on a single chain that could be like a record of your travels.

        On the issue of copyrighting designs, it’s like recipes… I could say I first invented bacon mac and cheese, but if Paula Deen is the first one to put it on TV or in a book, it’s “hers.”

        In light of glaring violations like these, it sort of brings out the absurdity of having copyrights and patents at ALL. Either it’s all free, or none of it is. :o(

        1. On the issue of copyrighting recipes, the US copyright office says:

          “Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. Nor does it protect other mere listings of ingredients such as those found in formulas, compounds, or prescriptions. Copyright protection may, however, extend to substantial literary expression—a description, explanation, or illustration, for example—that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook.”

          So, neither you, nor Paula Deen may own the copyright to bacon mac and cheese, although she can own the copyright on the specific expression of that recipe that is in one of her cookbooks.

  7. Not to defend UO, because I do believe they have a corporate, in-house design culture that blatantly and repeatedly replicates the work of independent designers…but they might not be aware of all the products they carry ripping off work, because the necklaces were probably purchased from a third-party vendor.

    Then there’s this even more stomach-churning: http://youthoughtwewouldntnotice.com/blog3/?p=9719

  8. A friend of mine is a designer at Urban Outfitters and according to her… they steal ideas from indie designers all the time. Unlike books or other art, most fashion can’t be copyrighted. I think stealing good ideas from struggling artists is a sleazy thing to do, but I would like to hear what a copyfighter like Cory Doctorow thinks about it.

    1. Being a business oriented blog, which might touch on legal things, I would have expected them to know the difference between “liable” and “libel”.

  9. There’s a reason why they’re called Urban Counterfeiters … still it depresses me each time I hear another instance of this.

    Here’s my experience with retail and brand product design from 10 years in that field… I can’t speak specifically to the UO policy (though I did know a buyer there in the past), is this crap generally comes from management. Most retailers and/or brands have a team of talented designers (and available freelancers) who can create plenty of original work, but the management are the folks who lack creativity and/or courage to try something new so they don’t let the designers try new stuff. I quit my last corporate product design job because this was the specific directive – to see what other brands had done (including independent designers) and do the same thing with little changes. After arguing about it for years with the creative director, I was ultimately told by the Senior Vice President that this was the correct and “safest” policy – to stick with what was already being successfully done by someone else. I found that I just didn’t want to do this anymore and because I loved the brand I worked for so much – did not want to see this exact thing happen. I actually used UO as an example of what I didn’t want to see our brand become on the internet … with a reputation like this. It’s not fair, but unfortunately this is how many of the big brands are run. The people making the decisions are not creative and/or trendsetting.

    Incidentally, I was on the other end of this with another large retailer … when my old design partner and I had a whole line we’d pitched knocked off. In that case, we’d actually tried to sell the designs to the company. They passed (rudely, I might add) but did our designs anyway, but different enough to get away with it. We found out the hard (and expensive) way that you can’t copyright an idea.

  10. This happens at the vendor level, too, BTW. We had a prototype made for a brand I worked for. The buyer ended up not being able to fit that particular version of the product into her assortment, but the vendor wanted the order so they sold our proprietary design to another brand. I didn’t find this out until a couple years later when I was watching HGTV and the interior designer was putting one of them in the new room she designed. It was no question it was mine … it even had my own illustration and handwriting on it!!

  11. Urban Outfitters is actually selling something that’s cheaper?! Usually they take items that are $10 elsewhere and sell them for $20-30.

  12. More to the point, everyone in mass-market fashion rips off everyone else, but they don’t think of it as a ripoff – it’s called style trending, that’s the shmata trade for you. It’s the nature of the business. It’s actually generally accepted that as long as you don’t actually counterfeit, if the design is available to the public, it’s fair game. That’s why everything looks like a watered down version of haute couture mixed with top-line streetwear from 3 years ago. It’s tough on crafters with their small production capacity, but if they want to play in the fashion world, they have to accept how mass-market fashion works. Here’s a great article on the topic: http://fashionsolutions.blogspot.com/2008/06/position-against-copyright-law-in.html – certainly rings true with my experience of the rag trade.

  13. I would prefer to buy the Urban Outfitters one, $19.

    The other guy wants $55!!! What are they solid gold!!!?

    1. No, they’re likely hand made, by the guy himself. UO’s are likely stamped out in a generic overseas industrial plant.

      The big companies’ only allegiance is to the bottom line, so they swipe the idea and bully the little guy out of the picture with economies of scale.

      This is why the US is in a recession.

  14. Oh, c’mon! FCS, i bought charms like that for my aunt when my family went through NM in 1965. One can easily find identical charm jewelry, minus those two fake states, in antique stores around the nation, and I’m pretty sure there was a similar bicentennial set from Tiffany or Bulgari.

  15. Its a bit too generic of a design to say they ripped it off – or did so from this specific person.

  16. So how about Daneel’s Skymall link where this idea was supposedly done before Koerner? All 3 of them could have come up with the idea independently of eachother, and a quick search reveals other Etsy members doing the same thing (not as tidily I might add, and probably not in sterling silver). As great as the idea is, is it really that original? Can he really expect to support himself for the rest of his life on it? What does Milton Glaser think about the endless ripoffs of his idea?

  17. Saying that it’s “too close to be an accident” seems a bit presumptuous. That’s not to say that this isn’t a ripoff, just that there’s not enough here to indicate it.
    Yes, they’re both state shapes with a punched-out heart, but (as others have said) I’m fairly certain I’ve seen this basic idea for quite a while, at least as long as the _I <heart> NY_ campaign has been around.

    In the blog entry, though, Stevie claims,

    They even stole the item name as well as some of my copy.

    Copied copy would be more indicative, in my mind, of identifying a ripped-off source….

  18. I love that the tendency towards cynicism/debunking in BB comments means in posts such as this one, quasi-intelligent responses usually line up in order to defend to veracity of a company such as UO. Bwahahahaha!
    For my tastes, these items look suprisingly overt yet banal, regardless of who ‘thought’ of them. :)

  19. * surprisingly — please excuse the poor grammar and misspellings that are found in my off-hand rants!

  20. Anyone who says “meh” doesn’t make their living from being a designer. I do.

    When companies do this, it is *terrible* not just in principle, but it has a direct, financial impact on us and our work. If you have to pursue it legally it is very costly and can destroy everything you have spent years building. Companies know and rely on the fact that an independent designer simply does not have the resources to fight them legally. You have to have a truly blatant and damaging case to get them to stop. Even so, if they decide to fight back, the side with the most money wins. Period. I have gone through this scenario five times with different manufacturers in ten years with my own work. Four times they said “all right, you got us”. They stopped, and they paid out as little as possible (it didn’t make any difference- damage was done and legal bills canceled it out). Once, the company in question fought back despite overwhelming proof and even smugly acknowledging privately to me what they were doing while publicly denying it, and just used the system to incur legal bills, waiting for me to run out of money and fold. That’s how it works. Unless you’ve gone through it yourself, you have no idea what is actually involved (online discussions that conjecture about copyright law and how stuff like this isn’t really a big deal always set my jaw on edge).

    The sad part is, what I bet will happen now is that UO will benefit by saying “Oh gosh! We’re so sorry. We didn’t even know! We’ll pull them right now.” They’ll eat their negligible cost, and drive as many miles as they can out of re-vamping their “conscientiousness” over this situation and go right back to doing the same and not acknowledge the other, numerous instances of this practice. The end.

    I really feel for her.

    1. Anyone who says “meh” doesn’t make their living from being a designer. I do.

      When companies do this, it is *terrible* not just in principle, but it has a direct, financial impact on us and our work.

      I don’t wanna be an ass about this. I really don’t. But if the designs created (this one and a previous one I saw highlighted on BB) are this derivative and generic, then I don’t feel all that bad about it. And don’t get me wrong on that either…I feel sympathy for the designer who is not making sales, in a general sort of way. Basically, however, unless a designer is making something really is unique to them and brilliant, then they should have no expectation of being considered unique and brilliant or being rewarded for either.

      Designers who run into this sort of issue need to step up their game and develop a style where any design “theft” is blatantly obvious…much like some of the other works on http://youthoughtwewouldntnotice.com/ but definitely not this hearts-and-states example.

  21. Thought fashion designs weren’t covered by copyright?

    I find it hard to feel bad for the “indie” artist, since they’re likely to get about a million times more sales than they would have otherwise on account of the BoingBoing link.

  22. I guess i was too subtle. This is folk art. It’s been around for generations.

    Claiming to have been victimized by evil UO kind of obscures the fact that these things have been made and sold for generations before Ms. Truche was born.

    Next up: someone stole my idea for macaroni hearts.

  23. Urban Outfitters seems to have pulled the item. The photo of the necklace is gone and if you try to purchase it they say it’s out of stock.

  24. Without getting into the UO bashing/defending that the anons are doing, did BB look into this further? One link to the indie designer. No evidence of who started selling their (let’s face it, rather generic) wares first and nothing from the other side. Topping it off is the Fox News weaselly headline.
    Poor form. As fun as bashing the big corporations is, I’d prefer to do it with proof on my side rather than a knee-jerk emotional response.

    (before I get anon bashed, I’m not an American & UO don’t operate in my country. Nyah.)

  25. I’m pretty sure that the homestate-with-the-heart-in-it got it’s start as a tattoo.

    I know someone that has had Oregon for 4 years, and someone that has had the California for 3 years.

  26. Xeni, I’ve got to say that I agree with BrettMyers and others in the comments — Boing Boing has a sort of “underdog prejudice” when it comes to IP concerns.

    While in this case, I’ll grant that Urban Outfitters more-or-less deserves any bad press they get (because they sell crappy junk, not because they rip off crappy junk), I’m more interested in the future extreme evolution of this phenomenon.

    For example, right now, it’s possible for me to create a “new york pendant with a heart taken out of it” on Shapeways, out of silver, for $47.00 US.


    This took me about 10 minutes using their image extrusion product. If I wanted, I could share this design with everyone on boingboing for free!! (but I’ll leave the lid on that can-o-worms)

    In any case, as 3d printing tech comes down in price, there will be no difference (other than brick-and-mortar storefronts and expensive brand spending) between indie designers and Urban Outfitters. So, I guess I wonder, once that happens, who is right? Who is the underdog?

    In my opinion, it’s a moot point. Designs will become open because you just won’t be able to close them anymore. We’ll have to get comfortable with “ripping off” and find other, more interesting ways of deciding preference.

    Because 10 minutes is way too little time to spend for somebody not to do it.

    Anyway, what do you think?

  27. Some commentors mentioned that the Skymall one was cool (now *there’s* something you don’t hear every day) because you could specify where the heart should be punched out within the state.

    I just wanted to point out that the indie designer in question here will do that too – you just have to contact her and specify where you want it.

    Personally I think these are pretty cool. As a guy I’m not a big jewelry wearer (my girlfriend got us matching rings and I wear that but nothing else) or “personal decorator” (e.g. tattoos and such) but if I saw a cute girl wearing one of these necklaces I would think she was pretty hip… whether she got it from UO or an indie designer (probably not if she got it from Skymall, if I’m honest).

    That’s just kind of a fundamental part of this type of fashion… you don’t have to buy from specific brands to still be cool. Does anyone really prefer the type of fashion where all that matters is the brand name, not how the thing actually looks?

    And I understand the hate for Urban Outfitters, but I still like going in there once in a while. They do sell some cool stuff if you’re willing to sift through the crap, and I don’t see how you can really fault the clothing (which is their main product, despite the attention their accessories and gifts and such get) other than being too expensive – but there’s always a huge clearance section to sift through.

  28. I have to agree with penguinchris on the matter of why people are even buying this stuff to begin with…

    “Does anyone really prefer the type of fashion where all that matters is the brand name, not how the thing actually looks?”

    Sure, on one hand you’re looking at a seemingly simply designed piece of semi-precious metal (in Stevie’s case) with a heart shape stamped out of it.

    To put it sentimentally, if it means something to you to be proud of where you come from and you want to advertise it on your neck, I personally think anything more complicated would be gaudy. It’s a simple statement, and it’s a simple design. That being said, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to create this kind of trinket and sell it to whoever feels the way I just put it above.

    In the matter of design vs. popularity, I struggle to explain this to clients of mine as a designer every day when choosing any product at all. They want cheap, they don’t want meaningful and they don’t care about design that makes sense. Affordability is what is driving corporations stock prices up and blowing smaller business driven indie designers with a marketable product that these greedy corporations take advantage of. I’ve seen it countless times “ripping off” similar designs from the 60s/70s, if you’re interested at all, take a look at http://www.whosampled.com as a perfect example of what is happening in the music industry. It’s not just fashion designers who are affected by these kinds of “copyright” loopholes and the cost of fighting these companies will bankrupt the independent designer. European ideals in North American wallets fail, every time.

    – Arturius Garbagio (Art Garbage) Synonymous

  29. Reading the comments by people who’ve offered up “competing” designs has been illuminating — not a single one (even the guy with the extruded mold) has matched the design on Etsy. Her states are stylized, the hearts are small. It’s nothing like the Texas charm or the Skymall “stars.” And it’s REALLY nothing like the “bling” state necklaces. The “sudlow” necklace on Etsy was the most similar but it was a one-off (only CA) — Stevie has every state.

    CONCEPT and DESIGN are two different things.

    The CONCEPT of a state-based charm or necklace is not new. The concept of “heart’ing” something isn’t new, either.

    However, the implementation Stevie has on Etsy appears to be unique. It’s done well enough that she says it helped her quit her job and work at art full-time. That suggests it hit a chord with a significant number of customers.

    And no, fashion designs are not copyrightable. That’s not the point, at least it’s not to me. It wasn’t to Stevie, either. She didn’t say she was going to sic lawyers on UO. She appeared resigned to losing business due to UO. Then her David-and-Goliath story caught the imagination (or indignation) of a lot of non-artists.

    The fact that Urban Outfitters pulled the necklaces from the online store but didn’t say word-one on Twitter about that action speaks volumes. The big question: did an employee of UO commission this design or did some other company pitch it to them? I doubt that we will ever know that answer.

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