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I’m Louise. Blogger. Wife. Designer of TruLu Couture Veils + Accessories.  If you’d like to know more, check out my bio.

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BHLDN Is A Rip Off. Literally.

OK. I thought I’d be fair. I thought I’d give them another chance. No more. I’ve seen too damn much. And it pains me because I LOVE Anthropologie. I kind of like Urban Outfitters because it’s a cheap version of Anthropologie and I have always adored the brand Free People. No more. I must boycott.

The parent company Urban Outfitters owns six retail brands: Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain, Leifsdottir and BHLDN. Everyone has been all up in arms lately because there appears to be some, um, how shall I put this….uh…..RIPPING OFF of indie designers and artists by Urban Outfitters. 

Now, as a past product development guru, I get it. There are only so many ideas out there. You have to find inspiration somewhere. It’s called knocking off, creating a cheaper version of something that’s just a smidge different. Most times, it’s a top down effect, where someone like Forever 21 knocks off the latest Dior and sells it for $19.99. In my past product development world, you had to bet your job on the fact that what you were designing was NOT going to infringe upon the copyright of another artist, designer, company. Legally, you had to make sure that 33% or more of an item was artistically different if you were to openly knock something off. That can include color, shape, size, material, icons, etc. Once, a few years ago me and the company I worked for got hit with a law suit for knocking someone off.  I went through the roof because I knew it wasn’t true. I knew it. And I could prove it wasn’t true. And I did. But man, I’ll tell you what, I was shaking in my boots over the whole ordeal. What ended up happening was that a factory I worked with created icons I instructed them to make using another designer’s original work and not mine.  I had never even seen the original stuff before. The factory passed off the icons to me as an interpretation of my artwork. It’s all hair splitting and crazy when you get overseas factories involved, but in order to avoid any conflict at all, we pulled the item from sale and stopped working with that factory (p.s. this conflict took months to resolve). So, I can understand how things can slip through the cracks. I understand how maybe once – or even twice – you cross ideas, artwork, products. It happens.

But man, this is just too much. Too often. Too similar. And the bottom-up approach is so not cool. Instead of knocking off Dior, these product managers are hitting the streets and Etsy for creativity. And I’m not understanding how the fuck they continue to get away with it. Oh wait, yes I do. It’s much easier to rip off a small artist who doesn’t have a legal team than a prominent brand. That’s how they’re doing it.

Let’s review, shall we?


image    image

On the left is an original design from jewelry designer Lillian Crowe. March 2009

On the right is the piece from Urban Outfitters. November 2009



The white version was created by Crownfarmer in 2003.

The red version was created by Urban Outfitters in 2006.



Original t-shirt on the left created by Johnny Cupcakes Summer 2004.

Urban Outfitters contacted Johnny Cupcakes for a sample of this shirt for possible placement in stores, which would be an amazing financial gain for a small company. The samples were never returned, yet the version on the right was released January 2006 by Urban Outfitters. No orders were placed with Johnny Cupcakes. *ahem*




Then there’s this item via Urban Outfitters. The direct link no longer shows the picture, only the verbiage.

Please compare that to this:


Via Etsy seller Tru.Che and her United/World of Love line, May 2011. Check her blog post about it here.

Need another?


Elizabeth Dye/The English Dept. on the left, 2010.

BHLDN on the right, 2011. 

And what’s crazy and weird is that I just wrote about this myself a few weeks ago. Check it out:

image  image

The chair on the left is my design from my last job, June 2010.

The chair on the right is in Anthropologie now, May 2011. 

In my original post, I wrote it off to a similar factory issue I outlined above, but now I’m thinking we got ripped off. Lame.

What really chaps my ass is that the people who work for these companies go through a rigorous interview process (I know, I’ve applied with them in the past only to be laughed out the door) and are required to have incredible portfolios and fine arts educations, etc. And they don’t even pay very well! So I’m asking myself why these “artists” can’t come up with their own stuff! Why aren’t they crediting and/or buying reproduction rights from the original artists? That would not only be the right thing to do, but it would also stimulate our economy, support the arts in general and turn themselves into a powerhouse company. Don’t you think that if Urban Outfitters had product “casting calls” on places like Etsy and Cargoh that they’d actually be offered these products versus having to steal them? The cost would be minimal and the return would be so worth it. Sometimes companies can be so dumb.

While I’m not a heavy-duty shopper of the Urban Outfitter brands in general, I certainly won’t be seeking them out any time soon. There are way too many amazing, local and domestic designers out there who can fulfill my needs. What about you? How do you feel about this?

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Reader Comments (24)

Wow. At first, I figured you were talking about similar items and thought "that's just fashion". But what you have posted is so damn blatant that I'm pissed off.

Can Etsy the web site sue on behalf of the designers whose work was stolen? Someone had better think of something. Otherwise Etsy and sites like it are going to lose wonderful talent.

Can the designers band together to do something?

May 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLori

I'm not sure Lori, but that's a good idea. And you're right, sometimes it is just fashion. However, the bottom up effect here is really what's going to hurt indie designers as well as chapping my ass.

May 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterLouise

Wow. I can't believe they thought they could actually get away with this. But I guess they haven't, have they? The good news to this is that Tru.Che's sales are booming now - she has 3-4 week waiting period on her orders.

May 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz Coopersmith

Liz, I saw that too! In fact, I was kind of wanting to get a collection of all my favorite states and wear them all together, charm-like.

May 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterLouise

Yeah, even though *some* of the designers on Etsy copy each other, I still can go there and end up with stuff I don't see coming and going at the mall. And my "Favorites Folder" at Etsy attests to how hard I have worked to "curate" a bunch of favorite designers. LOL And it's not just Etsy; I have found other independent designers online and gotten things that exist nowhere else.

So why would I want to see something I found at Etsy or a similar site at an Urban Outfitters chain? I don't want to see that.

May 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLori

I am glad to see that the hubbub has actually helped Tru.Che (and hopefully others), and I hope that Urban Outfitters and family face some consequence.

Gap (and apparently Old Navy) have also been in the news this year for more than bad logo concepts. See Chris Devers' photo ripped off onto a Gap t-shirt:

May 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpatrick

as always, you have done your research and i'm glad you shared it. i so hope they find this post and address it. so shady. and you havent even touched on their huge markups over their stolen indie prices. better off shopping etsy, etc.

great post!

Keep an eye out for a TruLu Couture rip-off. The arrogant sons of bitches might do it just for the hell of it.

Ooooh this makes me so mad. I have an Etsy store and my heart goes out to the indie sellers who have no chance in fighting for their rights against such big companies.

A few years ago a big Australian designer was outted for doing the same thing. http://femmeflaneur.com/2010/06/27/dear-alannah-i-see-what-you-did-there/

It is outrageous and it was great that so many people made it known - it made national media. Keep posting about it - the more people that speak about it, the better!

May 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnother Emma

@Vickie - I'm expecting it to some degree. I actually have to be careful that I don't do it myself. I saw super cute doily bunting on Etsy recently and I have ALL these vintage doilies that I could do the same thing with. I mean, it's a BRILLIANT reduce/reuse/recycle concept. However, I'm sitting on my hands to keep from making and selling them because it simply wasn't my idea. I'll have to come up with something equally clever! :)

@Another Emma - Thanks for the link! That was a great article!

May 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterLouise

I'm KIND OF with them on the necklace, but everything else is pretty damning for sure.

May 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlizzie

I didn't realize BHLDN was part of a large chain.
Its really hard to determine who ripped off who. There are a lot of bridal fashions I've seen on BHLDN that are so unique that in my numerous attempts to find similar dresses in my size (my beef with them is that they don't see in plus sizes) led me to this article. I cannot find anything even remotely similar to any of the dresses I've seen there, I cannot even locate a single nice cardy or bolero similar to the ones they have.

While I think that they should be more rigorous with enforcing design rip-offs I don't see it as company policy. If it was company policy to rip things off then I'd have found dresses similar to the ones they have on offer and maybe (if it was an Etsy seller) been able to pay that person to make me their original in my size. So far no dice. I think that they've gotten caught in a few isolated incidents and instead of this back and forth of finger pointing that a dialogue opens up between designers who feel wronged and the company.

That being said these companies are all suffering due to the economic downturn. Whether its small boutique operations or the larger companies. But, they still won't condescend to make larger sizes? My money is just as green as the size 4 chick you sizist a-holes.

September 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSisiL78

I am a fashion designer with over 20 years in the industry. The '33%' idea is way off although it's a popular fallacy in the industry. In actuality, a judge will review the original and the knock off and decide if it was influenced by the original - often the judge has no idea what he/she is looking at. When I first started my line, I had the most knocked off sweater in the industry - it is cheap and easy to sue companies for copyright infringement. I had five lawsuits in one year, and won every single one. I made more in my lawsuits than in my first year of business. It can be done, and you don't have to spend a penny doing it - lawyers will just take a piece of the action at the end. Of course you have to have a good case.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterelana

Chasing a lawsuit as a career doesn't sound very fashion-related.

June 23, 2013 | Registered CommenterLouise

Honestly, I find this post quite ridiculous. All of the URBN brands have THOUSANDS of unique items on their sites. Just because you found a *few* things with similarities doesn't make your opinions valid. The designers, artists, and product developers at those brands are extremely talented and have worked damn hard to be where they are. They don't just post things on a free site... they are the best of the best. As an industry professional myself, I find this to be disrespectful and quite frankly, pathetic.

July 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterElle

Not only that!
For those who want to buy a dress at BHLDN

Good luck buying in BHLDN - just dont expect to receive your dress!

This is the most irresponsible store I have ever bought in internet.
I order a dress over a month ago and not only they sent to the wrong address, but now they resent another one (it took them two weeks) and I have not received it yet. I had to call the store over 5 times and sent around 10 e-mails and still nobody seems to care about my problem over there.
They are very fast to charge (which they have charged both the dress they sent to the wrong address and the second one they sent plus shipping) but they do care at all about the problems they cause to their customers.

August 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCassandra

I sold earrings to UO a couple of years ago after submitting designs via email I was contacted, told to send samples and lo and behold, an order was placed. I worked my butt off filling that order but needless to say it was not worth the tremendous effort. In the midst of all this, I was asked to send a sample of anything I had, didn't matter, she wanted to see it. So like an star gazed idiot, I did. Weeks went by and then a return envelope came with all my pieces just thrown into a bag without any care or concern. Fast forward a few months, and I see on the UO website, MY earring designs! I went through the roof, wrote to the buyer to complain and heard absolutely NOTHING back. b**ch! I'm positive they stole the idea from me and sent it to China to produce it. NEVER again.

January 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterParis

Paris, try what the designer for Tru Che did (link above) and go to the media. I looked at her Etsy SOLD page when her story hit the media. I counted up all her orders for LESS than a week (they are dated!), and she made $40,000 in sales on her shop. Because she made a stink about it! Urban Outfitters stole her line right on up to the top! Stand up for yourself and your designs!

January 22, 2014 | Registered CommenterLouise

@Louise: What on earth does that snarky remark even mean? I'm trying to help and this is your response?? "Chasing a lawsuit as a career doesn't sound very fashion-related."

March 16, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterelana

Elana, I don't think your comment was helpful at all, and I should have simply said that, but I also felt my other comment was true, so opted for that instead. The 33% is a general rule of thumb and is absolutely NOT a fallacy. And I'm not talking about little designers like you or me. I've worked for major corporations and had to defend my own work against other HUGE designers. The work was mine and I could prove it and I'm here to tell you that corporate judges, who have no concept of art will compare a piece bit by bit and add up the parts.
And you know what, that shit took up a ton of my time and it kept me from doing the thing I did best - work on new product. So I know personally that chasing a lawsuit as a career doesn't sound very fashion-related.

March 25, 2014 | Registered CommenterLouise

So.. you know that it is nearly impossible to copyright in fashion and the fashion industry considers the act of copying and reworking to be a necessary part of the creative growth of the art.

April 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKate

i didnt realize BHLDN was a part of these big company's either, i am currently wedding dress shopping and i started with glancing at some short casual wedding dresses on etsy. i have my account set to only buy from the US, but some how the Chinese still work there way around this setting.anyway i found my dream dress on etsy only to find it again and again on 5 other etsy sites, they all used the same picture with the same model. so i took the picture the stores were using and Google picture searched it to find the original posting. this is how i acutely found BHLDN so it seems were every you go its good to do your research. but i to agree with another posting here, BHLDN seems pretty original to me although i see it all the time with the other shops you mentioned.

id love to see you write an artical on how etsy has changed, you write well. im really into supporting local artists so i buy through etsy a lot and it has seemed to slowly have turned into a giant melting pot were artists all seem to steel from each other, the jewlery and dresses are beautiful works of art that should be credited to the original artist but all art sponds from others ideas. even though etsy is supose to be small businesses they to are all trying to make money as well. its hard to draw a line between art and money

July 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBunny

Louise, I don't know why you feel the need to be so oppositional. I simply am telling you my experience. You're very rude, but I'm done so have the last word, hon.

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterElana

Elana, it's my blog, so yes, I'll kinda always get the last word.

September 28, 2014 | Registered CommenterLouise

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