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Popular Afrocentric Jewelry Label Rachel Stewart Shutting Down Due to Chinese Plagiarism

Avatar • Jul 31, 2015
Photo via Coastal.com

Photo via Coastal.com

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.

RachelStewartJewelry.com

RachelStewartJewelry.com

RachelStewartJewelry.com

RachelStewartJewelry.com

RachelStewartJewelry.com

RachelStewartJewelry.com

RachelStewartJewelry.com

RachelStewartJewelry.com

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?

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Mahogany
Mahogany
5 years ago

This is really sad. They say imitation is the best form of flattery but this is straight up stealing. I really hope she can get around this problem.

R LongPig
R LongPig
5 years ago

Another case of stealing the creativity, energy and sheer life force of black women. So.much.damn.hate.

Ashleigh
Ashleigh
5 years ago

I seriously blame whomever sent a pic of Rachel’s work to the knockoff company. Why not email the sister if you wanted a design? $25 is NOT astronomical. By the time you’ve added overseas shipping to a $4 knockoff pair, you’ve already paid $25. SMH…

TheNicheNut
TheNicheNut
5 years ago
Reply to  Ashleigh

Unfortunately, no one needed to send anything to the knock-off company. Knock-off-lady could have scraped it right off her website…even if she watermarked her pictures, sometimes people will buy something that just *looks* like the real thing.

Claudette UK
Claudette UK
5 years ago

We need to vote with our feet and our money and put the plagarists out of business.

Jamilah Jackson
Jamilah Jackson
5 years ago

You need a copyrighted certificate of authenticity to accompany every piece of jewelry and post a picture of this certificate on your site and in email confirmations of orders. The unlawful reproduction of your certificate should be punishible by law in China and America. Talk to a lawyer on making it illegal to import such an item. I believe you need to get your money and not accept someone stealing from you. Let us know how we can help in this fight. I’m spreading the word.

canuckgirl416
canuckgirl416
5 years ago

This just pisses me off. Rachel’s work is already reasonable…who is buying it at half the price?! I bought the mini afro pick earrings years ago and they are my favourite. I hope Rachel finds a way to keep selling her work because it would be a shame to shut it down completely. Whatever she decides, I will continue to support her.

Antonia
Antonia
5 years ago
Reply to  canuckgirl416

The prices are fucking fantastic like wtf I know that Alibaba and Aliexpress have knockoffs of MAC in case anyone is wondering

sanjidude
sanjidude
5 years ago

Looks like the terrorists won. What a shame.

TheNicheNut
TheNicheNut
5 years ago

I wish I wish I WISH I knew how to help her, her designs are gorgeous! The onus would be for US as her CUSTOMERS to only shop via her designated venues. But, we have not gotten to the point of frequenting our own businesses on a regular basis…What are Louis Vitton and other popular manufacturers doing to stay in business? Or are they still in business? (I don’t shop name brands like that, so I have no idea…)

Lv
Lv
5 years ago

Only buy from her shop. I went straight to the LV store to purchase my bag. I did not go to any site claiming to sell “authentic“goood

TheNicheNut
TheNicheNut
5 years ago

Perhaps she can set-up her website to allow customers, followers, and internet marketers to become affiliates, and earn commissions from anyone that visits her site (via the affiliate’s link) and makes a purchase. The affiliates are basically independent salespeople who would passively generate traffic to her site, providing her with prospects and customers she would not otherwise have. While she would not get the full price she charges, due to paying out the commission, she would still have made a sale, gained a potential repeat customer, and a much broader market reach than she would have had before. And this… Read more »

Raw Thoughts
5 years ago

black people like to buy cheap anyways.….!!! it doesn’t matter where it cme from…!!! it’s a damn shame though…!!

bjs314
bjs314
5 years ago
Reply to  Raw Thoughts

That’s the kind of attitude that’s hurting us. (1) everyone wants to save money. Black people are huge consumers in America and Europe, spending billions on a vast array of products. (2) To blame Black consumers for what’s really an issue of copyright infringement, illustrates a strong hint of self-hatred and a lack of business acumen. You’re wrongfully assuming that everyone that buys knock-off’s knows that is what they are doing. And it’s safe to assume they don’t. They buy what’s in front of them. No ethnicity does this more or less than another. (3) Rachel’s real problem is brand… Read more »

TheNicheNut
TheNicheNut
5 years ago
Reply to  bjs314

Completely agree with points 1–4. I didn’t even see Ms. Stewart’s products until I saw this article…or at least I didn’t know whose designs I was looking at if I saw them. Brand is extremely important; as is market reach and saturation. I too disagree with Raw Thoughts generalization about Black Folks being cheap: I generally seek out products and services from Black businesses before I go anywhere else, and I pay the asking price if I don’t find it outrageous. However, there will always be those who, due to budget issues, consumer unawareness or consumer indifference, will purchase what… Read more »

smarty
smarty
5 years ago
Reply to  bjs314

Omg you hit the nail right on the head

beacuz
beacuz
5 years ago
Reply to  Raw Thoughts

True statement — I see us carrying all kinds of “knockoffs” all day long- Chanel Louis Vuitton Michael Kors. You name it. It can all be bought from Asian hair store or flea market

Elle
Elle
5 years ago

Buy ONLY from the manufacturer! COUNTERFEITERS can NOT be stopped!

Like Rachel said, you can take any legal action you want, watermark, copyright — whatever! This is a crisis that even multi-billion dollar corporations can not cure. Don’t trust authorized sellers on Amazon/eBay/AliBaba, those certificates can be forged. Even official web sites can be duplicated and come up first in a Google search! Many of these counterfeits are made from dangerous, toxic, flimsy materials. Apple, Kate Spade, LVMH, everyone is having the same nightmare erode their bottom line and reputation.

Theodora
Theodora
5 years ago

She should contact Aliexpress and Alibaba with the names of the company, they would shut down the shops.

Aisha
Aisha
5 years ago

I think she can add something special to her pieces, like a signature or a mark that can be iconic and associated with her stuff so that people know the difference between real and fake.

Citizen1985
Citizen1985
5 years ago
Reply to  Aisha

Can you imagine any mark that couldn’t also be replicated? Not to mention, the responsibility is on the consumer. If they don’t care enough to pay Rachel Stewart for what she’s produced, the conversation/contemplation is kind of useless. Everybody loves value, few value how it was produced/got to them. Heck, otherwise we wouldn’t eat meat/polultry from factory farms, wear shoes and clothing produced in developing countries’ sweatshops, sometimes by children, turn the electricity on without voting politicians into office that regulate the source of that energy.… the list is endless. Dollar is almighty, everything else is secondary.

Andrea H
Andrea H
5 years ago
Reply to  Aisha

I definitely agree. It would just take quite a bit of creativity and thought. From what I’ve read about luxury accessory labels, they often distinguish themselves by things like stitching, texture, and placement of logos in obscure places. If she’s willing to push for a little bit more, I would say try distinguishing the products, find some people to sue while doing it, and if things still turn sour THEN walk away. (But also continue to raise awareness to consumers about things like this, so they can ask vendors questions and stop giving them business if they suspect something.) Things… Read more »

Zaidi
Zaidi
5 years ago

Plagiarism, in China, is a cultural acceptance, and is not meant to offend; but as a compliment of your product, worthy of being copied. This is why it is important to have some knowledge of the culture in which you set up your business.

blackgirllonghair
blackgirllonghair
5 years ago
Reply to  Zaidi

Her business is not in China, it’s in the US. And I honestly don’t care if plagiarism is ‘cultural acceptance’ and ‘not meant to offend’. It’s not an ethical practice and it put this woman out of business. Just because it’s ‘cultural’ doesn’t mean that it’s right. Misogyny and racism are also deeply ‘cultural’ beliefs all around the world. Doesn’t make them right.

moony
moony
5 years ago

*lays down sword at your feet* Tell them.

Edges_N_Paris
5 years ago
Reply to  Zaidi

Although it will effect your bottom line, it’s not meant to offend. Absurdity.

Cynthia Winston-ford
Cynthia Winston-ford
5 years ago
Reply to  Zaidi

if it were truly a compliment of the product, you would give credit (and money) where credit is due. taking someone else’s idea and calling it and packaging it as your own is theft and you know that.

maralondon
maralondon
5 years ago

I came across Rachel when first researching natural African textured hair about 12 yrs ago. I really liked what she was doing. The Chinese are well known for this behaviour. I remember a TV programme I watched about the textile industry in Ghana. Unfortunately from what was stated there is only 1 textile company operating producing authentic African printed fabric where as before there were many. Since the country is receiving constant shipments of clothing from the West in the guise of charity this has meant a decline in traditional clothing. The owner of the factory had discovered that the… Read more »

Mister Fantastic
Mister Fantastic
5 years ago

Are they using HER NAME/ BRAND to sell these products? If so she needs to sue a large company selling her branded items and be set! Her “designs” though can be found in ANY afrocentric shop worldwide. Nothing of copyright, at least not by her. Step her marketing up, decrease cost, increase production, and get into larger retail outlets. There is still time! All the best.

Anjanette Potter
Anjanette Potter
5 years ago

Girl continue to sell your pieces on Amazon as a side gig until business. Your jewelry is too beautiful to stop selling it now. And lawyer up, I’m you have rights that are being violated.

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman
5 years ago

Don’t let anybody shut you down! Revamp

trackback

[…] the form of street harassment (as superbly detailed by Pia Glenn), abuse in the workplace, or the plagiarism of one’s work. Instead of acting as a rampart, plenty of black men function as a rapier, […]

Cynthia Winston-ford
Cynthia Winston-ford
5 years ago

As a jewelry designer myself, I take this personally. I’ve had the same experience. It is frustrating and disheartening to see designs that were whispered into YOUR spirit bastardized like this. Part of the problem lies with us as Black consumers. We see products like LV, Chanel, etc as ‘designer’, but products like Rachel Stewart’s and mine are called ‘handmade’. To me, the product that has creativity and passion poured into it is the TRUE designer piece, NOT the ‘same ‘ol, same ‘ol, let’s make the same thing, but take the zipper from this side and put it on that… Read more »

HisMercy
HisMercy
5 years ago

Yes!!!! What’s the name of your shop? I’d like to take a look 🙂

Kaye
Kaye
5 years ago

The Chinese advantage is simple. Global reach. My first time seeing or hearing of Rachel Stewart Jeweley was in this article. But I shop Alibaba/Aliexpress(will reconsider now)In lieu of the designer closing shop, I have to play devil’s advocate and suggest “if you can’t beat em’ join em’.” Consider having the Chinese manufacturer make them if she can produce them at a lower cost than you can w/o compromising quality.Then, most importantly, shop your designs around to big box stores. Target, Macy’s, etc. Negotiate adding your items as online only if you don’t have enough production to stock store shelves… Read more »

boazwife
boazwife
5 years ago

The terminology is counterfeit not plagiarism. I think that the only thing Rachel can do is to hire a publicist to get the story out, so that it’s well known her product is being counterfeited and then, direct market her items to consumers who want high quality goods versus competing for the mass market. Determine to get the product into high end establishments, artsy boutiques, etc; you can’t stop the Chinese market from producing knockoffs of products, but one thing for sure, you can produce better quality.

$8319184
$8319184
5 years ago

What a shame. What can she do about it though?

JJ802
JJ802
5 years ago

Plagiarism? An American is really complaining? AHAHAHA wow this was a great laugh for me and my family. There’s nothing unique or black-centric surrounding imitated hand craft jewelry that sells very cheap at a craft market in the Caribbean (and I’m more than sure, you can catch these in any African country) . This woman is tripping over losing to her own game. She’s plagiarizing African culture in order to brand natural hair in America…and that an accepted thing to do in America. Lol oh well

knkytht
5 years ago
Reply to  JJ802

uhhh. what? lmao What are you even talking about? Her jewelry is actually laser-cut with different materials — wood, plastics — not sure how that’s “plagiarizing African culture.” I’ve shopped in various countries in Africa, and through the Caribbean, at front-street stores and market stalls, and I can’t say I’ve seen pieces like hers. So… huh?

K.Massey
K.Massey
5 years ago

Rachel, Do not shut down! Find a larger company that is willing to buy your product line. That way you will have the cash for your family to put away for a long time. Get them to hire you and have you stay on as creative director of this particular line. Larger companies have the legal department and the resources to go after the counterfeiters. you may also want to try to get your product line and some of the bigger stores, like Kmar, Target, Macy’s etc. This way you will have more profit and not worry about the smaller… Read more »

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago

I have seen some of these designs sold at festivals. Makes me wonder.

Juliette
Juliette
5 years ago

This is a crying shame. I’ve been through something similar, except that I didn’t make it to this level of success with such distinctive pieces. But I, too, I tried to sell high quality, one-of-a-kind handmade designs on Etsy. I couldn’t compete with the super cheap stuff from China, that clearly was NOT handmade (which is a requirement on Etsy, but the cheap manufactured stuff from China is there, anyway). Yet, when I go out wearing my designs, people rave about them. I understand the solution, and I’m doing something about it, before going back into the Lion’s Den with… Read more »

HisMercy
HisMercy
5 years ago
Reply to  Juliette

All the best to you! Never give up!! Are you up and running again? What’s the name of your shop? 🙂

Kelli Sparrow Mickens
Kelli Sparrow Mickens
5 years ago

She and other Black brands need a version of the Proud Lady symbol like AHBAI has for hair products… http://www.trademarkia.com/ahbai-member-the-proud-lady-73733600.html

Revue1
Revue1
5 years ago

She needs to get a patent lawyer, and send a cease and desist letter to every company or person who is stealing her designs. If they don’t stop stealing her designs, she needs to start a lawsuit, suing all companies for each and every dime they stole from her.

trackback

[…] way it grows. Black female entrepreneurs, the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs, are having their work stolen left and right. We are punished for making noise about such injustices. There is a […]

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