In fact, more than 20 designers around the world are alleging that the mega-retailer knocked off their graphics for enamel pins and patches. The most viral case is L.A.’s Tuesday Bassen, who sparked the conversation last week when she tweeted side-by-side photos of her designs and damningly similar ones from Zara. Later that week, the artist posted on Instagram what appears to be an excerpt of a letter she received from Zara’s lawyers, which dismissed her claims by stating that her designs aren’t distinct enough to draw a connection between her work and the pins Zara was selling.
“Last Thursday morning, we had just heard about the Tuesday Bassen scenario and were talking about it,” says Stephanie Drabik, who co-owns Crywolf with her high school friend Rose Chang. “Later that afternoon, Rose received a mention on Twitter and called me saying, ‘Oh my God, Zara stole our design.’ We were in total shock.’”
The tweet was from New York artist Adam Kurtz, whose work also appears to have been copied. He rounded up several lookalike pins and began alerting the designers affected. He’s since launched a website called Shop Art Theft, which displays the allegedly knocked-off products with links to the original creators’ e-commerce sites. Meanwhile, Zara appears to have removed its pin packs from its online store.
So how does a massive Spain-based brand get a hold of local Canadian artists’ work? “Most likely social media,” says Drabik, nodding to the pros and cons of digital sharing. “There’s always that potential that someone can steal your work. But we’ve had so much support through it as well, and we’ve been able to connect with some of the other artists.”
This isn’t the first time the Crywolf duo has been in this situation. “A few years ago, we had an owl design and Forever 21 made it into a decal,” Drabik explains. “I went into one of their stores and bought their copy, but we were very small at the time.”
Crywolf never attempted to sue Forever 21 for the offense. “We didn’t know how to proceed. We didn’t even think we could.” But this time is different: “We’ve been talking with a couple lawyers to get initial advice. We’re still in early stages but do want to proceed with legal action.”
While Crywolf would like to be compensated for their work, the designers hope for other outcomes as well. “It’s not totally about the money; it’s also the principle,” says Drabik. “If it deters big companies from doing this to other artists in the future, that’s a win as well. It’s too easy right now for companies to get away with it, and that’s why it keeps happening.”
With more than 20 artists affected and a trending #boycottZara hashtag, Drabik prays that the collective voice will be enough to make a difference—both in court and in consumerism. “I hope it affects people’s shopping approach, so that they stop for a minute and think about where they’re putting their money.”