I often hear complaints from my fellow artisans/ Etsians about copycats. I admit that at first blush it can be upsetting, when you spend your time and energy coming up with and executing new ideas only to have them hijacked. However, on further reflection I’ve realized that it means I’m doing something right, something that’s worth repeating. As Charles Caleb Colton said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” I suppose your reaction is dependent upon your perspective. I choose to be philosophical about it. I figure that I may have gotten the grain of my idea from something that I saw someone else do, so I can hardly claim to be completely original. After all, we are inundated with information daily, and things seep in subconsciously. I am a sponge for trivia and an extremely visual person, so I can’t honestly say that I’ve never been influenced by anyone else’s ideas. With that in mind, I can hardly point the finger at someone “stealing” my idea because I can’t say with certainty that my idea is a completely original one.
I’m often told that I have a very unique style, and that people like my work because they haven’t seen anything else like it. For my part, I’ve seen other artists who are doing similar work, but not in quite the same way. Some seem to be direct copies of my work, especially since they’ve favorited my shop and are obviously aware of my work. My response? I work harder to create a better quality product with my own personal stamp on it, priced reasonably so that people want to come back again and again – and they do. I’ve been told I could justifiably raise the prices on my work, especially since each piece is one of a kind. And while I could charge more, nothing makes me happier than seeing one of my pieces go home with someone who truly loves and appreciates it – and not everyone can afford the prices that Anthropologie charges for their mass-produced items. I like the idea of my work being in so many places at once, and while that way of operating won’t necessarily make me rich, it makes me happy, which is fine by me.
I noticed the other day that someone just started an Etsy shop with a name very similar to mine – so much so that they might be confused. That is, of course, until you actually start looking around in the shop. The quality and style is not on the same level as mine, and I can only cross my fingers and hope that folks recognize the difference. I’m not worried. I was annoyed by it at first, but then I kind of chuckled because it meant that I have more exposure out there than I thought I did.
When people ask me where I get my inspiration, or how I find the materials I use in my work, I tell them. I love teaching and helping, and as a result, I can always get help when I need it. I enjoy helping someone else achieve their success, especially younger artists. Nothing annoys me more than artists who act like they’re giving away a trade secret when you ask them where they source their materials and what inspires them. I see that as extreme insecurity, and unfortunately it seems to be rampant in the creative community. One thing I try to teach people is that you have to have a tough skin to survive the scrutiny of selling your work to the public, and you must have confidence in what you do. If you can’t handle the idea that people won’t buy your work or that someone might “steal” your ideas, life’s going to be difficult for you.
Create your own unique signature. I can always recognize my own work, as surely as I can recognize my own child, and my customers can recognize my work as well. I’m focused on building that recognition, and thus I don’t concentrate on the negative aspects of people copying what I do. If anything, I find I am invigorated by the challenge of staying fresh. I don’t want to get complacent. If I have to stay one step ahead of everyone else, it brings out my competitive nature, which in turn fires my imagination. So to you, my competitors (or copycats, if you prefer), I say thank you for keeping me on my toes. It helps me create a better product. Hopefully I’m returning the favor.