This weekend a minor kerfuffle erupted on Twitter. Although completely common in the apparel industry, the David and Goliath story hit close to home for those with preppy tastes and sensibilities, who also tend to be the same people who lament the decline in domestic manufacturing and steep rise in offshore production.
Newport-based Kiel James Patrick (disclaimer: an Ivy-Style.com advertiser) recently had a belt design of his surface in the collection of Lands’ End, the Sears-owned corporation with thousands of products in its inventory. What stings even more for many is that Kiel James Patrick is a small start-up that manufactures here in the US, while Lands’ End’s belt, like most of its products, is made in China.
Twitter users soon began spreading the news of what they considered a flagrant theft, often speaking directly to Lands’ End’s Twitter handle (LandsEndPR) in publicly viewable tweets and with some claiming they would never buy from the brand again.
In the company’s defense, it should be noted that fashion designs cannot be copyrighted, and being knocked off by a corporation is one of the risks of working in the clothing and accessories business.
Patrick sent Ivy Style the following statement (Lands’ End was also contacted but has not yet responded; theirs will gladly be added should they choose to remark):
The simplicity of nautical cord knot used in the Sailor bracelets has been a New England Summer staple as long as anyone can remember. As an accessories designer who spent many summers as a boy in the Cape, I began wondering early on why this beloved rope configuration hadn’t been adapted to what is now the Turk’s head knot style belt.
After doing some investigation I found two things: first, a 12-Line braid must be knotted by hand and thereby could not be replicated by machine. Next, the braid will stretch quite a bit over time, offering little support as a belt. After several months of trial and error I finally came up with solutions to these two problems. I hired a handful of Rhode Islanders who knew how to braid with an eye for detail and offered them work. To fix the rope from stretching, I reinforced the braids with a strong plaid backing, interfused with non-stretchable cotton tape.
Next, I needed to find someone who knew how to work with leather and could craft quality goods following my design specifications. After many months of searching I found leather craftsman Frank Clegg, who afforded me countless information with regard to offering leather products that were matched by none. Having full-grain, solid brass hardware, veggie-tanned leather and scrupulous stitching, these belts were something to behold.
I searched high and low for the best of the best in cotton rope manufacturing in order to acquire cord that Eagle Scouts and aged sailors could only have dreamt of. I finally found U.S. Coastguard retirey/Master Knotter Marty, who had developed a high-end cotton cord over the course of 10 years with a US-based mill and he knew exactly how to make what I was looking for.
It broke my heart to have customers, friends and family send me link after link this past week to Lands’ End’s e-commerce site. There was my creation being sold at a fraction of the cost simply by sacrificing quality, originality and integrity of local production. I couldn’t have felt more discouraged on my mission to continue designing original products and sustaining my American production. I design for myself and am not hired by corporate companies so that they may ship my ideas off to China carelessly in order to make a quick buck, all the meanwhile destroying the diminishing American spirit of industry, originality and entrepreneurship. The belt I created helps employ over 20 Americans. Lands’ End’s knock-off arrives to America in a box labeled “Made in China.”
Sound off in the comments section and let us know whether this is an everyday example of the free-market economy at work, or a low blow. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
Image provided by Kiel James Patrick.