It is often said that imitation is the highest form of flattery but for popular Black jewelry designer Rachel Stewart imitation may put her beloved handmade jewelry company out of business.
We spoke with Stewart not too long ago as she gushed about pride in her business and the leap she took becoming an entrepreneur, wanting to create and control her own future. She told us in March: “Many women are afraid to get noticed, even deciding to wear natural hair can be a challenge because it will get you attention, good and bad, a woman who wears my jewelry has decided she wants to be noticed and she doesn’t care what you think about her style, she knows you see it and that’s why she rocks it!”
Now it seems with fame comes fraud. Stewart’s designs have been worn by the likes of Nelly Furtado, Kim Coles and Beyonce’s all-girl band, the Suga Mamas. Bursting with personality and originality, Stewart’s jewelry is coveted by women wanting to make a statement. Unfortunately, now sites such as AliExpres and Alibaba have been imitating Stewart’s coveted designs and profiting off of her unique looks.
Stewart recently spoke with The Root about the business fiasco, saying she was made aware of the copycat designs by someone who saw what looked exactly like her jewelry on the Asian e-commerce sites. Unfortunately, the sites did not stop at just copying Stewart’s designs, they also stole the photos she shot of the jewelry and models.
The talented designer recalled the first time she took action against the knockoff sellers, “I contacted 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 to, so she made it, sold it to 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. It’s not just these companies: Independent boutiques also steal my pictures and work; it’s rampant.”
Lawyers have offered to work with Stewart for free, but the artist is facing struggling to balance her creative nature with dealing with the legal issue.
“For every shop you successfully take down, there are five 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,” Stewart told The Root.
While Stewart has certainly faced knockoffs before, the first five years of doing business flourished with less issues, yet with a growing popularity the copycats grew in number as well.
Unfortunately, at this point the talented designer is no longer sure she will be able to continue working as a full-time jewelry designer as the e-commerce sites swindle her profits.
“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 artist, still a creative, still a maker. That won’t change,” said Stewart.
Want to help Stewart and others like her? The entrepreneur advises consumers to be more cognizant of where they make their purchases and who’s selling what.
“It may not be the only problem, but it plays a part in the demise of black-owned businesses. China gets richer and richer off us; if it isn’t our hair care, it’s our accessories… Before we complain about the high prices of our local black business, remember that nobody complains about the high prices of these French labels. There are no black designers who are a household name; something is wrong with that.”
Stewart is currently planning out the next move for her company, but has left some responsibility in laps of consumers and shop owners alike.