If you’re a black woman who is active on social media you’ve likely come across Rachel Stewart’s designs. The talented 42-year-old, North Carolina based designer churns out unique and incredibly cool black-centric pieces under her eponymous label Rachel Stewart Jewelry.
Countless women have purchased her jewelry, including actress Kim Coles, singer Nelly Furtado and Beyonce’s all female band, the Suga Mamas. But this is likely all coming to an end this year.
The designer put up a Facebook post (which has since been taken down) with an image of her design on a Chinese e‑commerce site and a caption explaining how the plagiarism was negatively impacting her bottom line and leading her to shut down. The post went viral and Rachel followed up with an interview with Yesha Callahan of the Root to give further detail;
The Root: Can you go into a few details about how you find your items on Alibaba and AlieExpress?
Rachel Stewart: I was alerted to it by someone else, I know that sites like these are a hotbed for knock offs of everything you can imagine. They not only copied the exact design, but stole the product shots I personally took of the pieces and even the models.
The Root: Have you contacted these companies?
Rachel Stewart: Yes, the first time I contact one particular seller she said that someone sent her a picture of my earrings and asked her to make them, of course they don’t care who it belongs too so she made it, sold it to the the American boutique and also kept it in her own shop overseas. She also apologized and pretended that she was so sorry for everything. She said if I didn’t take legal action she would remove them from her shop right away and make them for me exclusively. I thought that was funny. I produce my own product — just take down my work. She took them down and one week later changed the name of her shop and put them right back up. It’s not just these companies; independant boutiques also steal my pictures and work it’s rampant.
TR: What other actions do you think can be taken?
RS: There are many things you can do, but what I’m most concerned about is prevention. I can copyright, watermark, send cease and desist letters all day long, it doesn’t stop it. For every shop you successfully take down there are 5 more still operating. It’s an almost impossible task. Imagine Michael Jordan or Louis Vuitton trying to stop reproductions, they can’t, there’s a demand and millions to be made.
Rachel went on to explain that the stress of dealing with constant plagiarism is just too much, and she will likely walk away from her business;
The first 5 years were great, I made enough profit to remain a stay at home mom, but as my popularity increased so did the the copy cats. It went from once or twice a year to every week I’m getting emails about some Instagram boutique or event vendor selling my jewelry. I’m a seller but also a consumer so I understand the desire to get a deal on an item you see online, I do it too, so when someone sees my work for less than half than my price who do you think is gonna get paid? Whether the buyer knows it’s a knock-off or not the fact is I make no money.
TR: Do you think you’ll have to eventually close your online store?
RS: I think I will. At the end of the day I need to make money to support my family and if that’s not happening I won’t let my pride stop me from doing what I need to do. I’m still an an artist, still a creative, still a maker that won’t change.
This is a disappointment and a shame. Ladies, do you have any advice for how Rachel can keep her shop going?