Jesus be sufficient brand exposure to protect me when these corporations catch wind of what I’m doing….
Many black woman creators have cried plagiarism and intellectual theft recently, and been taken seriously to varying degrees. Back in June designer Destiny Bleu alleged that, shortly after Khloe Kardashian ordered custom designs from her, which she presumed were for Kardashian’s personal wardrobe, Kardashian jacked them for use in her Good American clothing line. When Bleu called her out Kardashian responded by sending her a cease and desist order! You can read more about that here.
Over the years I’ve blogged about black woman creators who have dealt with theft of ideas, but sometimes the pieces are met with a collective ‘meh’ or ‘well no idea is ever really new.’
Well the other day I got solid proof that this type of theft is common and real.
I recently applied to get my storefront on Yelp and was assigned a Yelp representative to verify my business and get me set up. On a call she asked for insight into what I did and I shared. She was impressed and showed up to my store a few days later to try my products.
“This stuff is wonderful,” she said as she smelled the scented butters at our testing table. We started to chat and she told me that she used to work in product development for a major bath and body company (and look, I’m not trying to get in trouble here so I’m not going to name it, but it’s one that EVERYBODY knows. Like EVERYBODY.)
Product development, she explained to me, basically entailed figuring out what was trending or ‘bubbling under’, finding a small/indie business dominating and innovating in that trend, purchasing their products, bringing them into their lab, testing them, then trying to figure out how closely they could mimic the products’ smell, touch and feel.
If it sounds shady, that’s because it fucking IS! But this is standard practice for many large beauty companies.
She told me that she decided she needed to quit the job when she became too uncomfortable with what was thinly veiled intellectual theft.
“I got queasy when they started to try to mimic Nubian Heritage’s products. I remember when they got started in Harlem. It didn’t feel right.”
Just as I was absorbing what she had told me, she shot me a warning.
“If someone comes in here and orders one of every thing you have, be very afraid.”
I chewed on her words for the next week. I thought about the many incredible black-woman owned brands I’ve blogged about in the past that didn’t make it for various reasons. Whether lack of capital or lack of time — but never for lack of creativity. I thought about my own brand — just in its baby stages — that really is a labor of love to keep going. Yes I dream of being the next Jamyla Bennu or Richileu Dennis (except with 100% ownership of my company), yes I am testing out new products to release next year, but if some company decides that whipping mass quantities of shea butter is the wave, then I’m shit out of luck.
Elle wrote a piece recently about not generalizing bad experiences with black-owned brands. I would add a YES and AMEN! to that. Shoot, sometimes we fail as black business owners and we should always take responsibility for that. But please keep in mind that we’re fighting against a lot. We don’t have the same access to capital or marketing infrastructures. What we have is our creativity, our drive and our people. Help us win, because the “Columbusing” out here is so very real.