When an Email “Hurts”

So…

as you might suspect, we get a LOT of mail from customers. Sometimes a letter can make me laugh… sometimes it can make me think…at times it can humble me, annoy me or MAKE MY DAY! But every once in a while (thank goodness its not too often) a customer send me an email that just… plain… HURTS!  🙁

Now you might be thinking, “what could a customer possibly say that would actually hurt your feelings?” Look for yourself below (in italics). Her name is not included to protect the guilty.  🙂

“I have debated for 2 weeks if I should send this as this raises ethical concerns for me. I saw this at a farmers market 2 weeks ago. I had believed that your designs were original, obviously that belief is not totally accurate. While there are some very minor differences in your “new” sling pattern, they are essentially the same.”

This was the entirety of her email. It’s ALL  she wrote. There was no hello… no goodbye… only this pronouncement of guilt… oh, and a link to this picture at right which you can find out more about by clicking here. (And the bag pattern she was referring to was of course our Sling Along pattern which was fairly new at the time.)

Now I gotta tell ya… if you’re in the creative business there’s not too many things that are worse than being accused of being a copycat! And that’s because accusing someone of stealing the work of a fellow creative is a SERIOUS thing to do, and it SHOULD be!

So how did I FEEL after reading this email? Well, first of all I was shocked as up until that moment, I had never before laid eyes on this bag, then I started to feel a bit ANGRY! But after I re-read it a couple of times I felt sad & very hurt! So this is what I did next… I went upstairs & ate my breakfast, then I went about my normal routine until after lunch, (to give myself time to get control of my feelings), then I sat down and typed out this response (in italics below).

Thanks for writing. 
I have deliberately waited a few hours b4 answering your email in deference to the fact that you have been a customer in the past. I felt hurt by your letter and I wanted to take some time to let that pass so I could measure my words accordingly. But here goes….
I have to say that I am very disappointed in your email. It sounds very close to an accusation. I hope that is not the case. At any rate, I would suggest to you that b4 you are tempted to write to another designer about this topic in the future, (copyrighted materials in specific), that you do a little research on the subject. Here are some things about the issue of copyright that it seems you did not keep in mind (or… never bothered to educate yourself about.)
    1- You cannot copyright a finished item. There has to be text involved (like pattern instructions for example) in order to have something to copyright. The pictured item you sent to me (for sale on on AMAZON) is not copyrightable. It may be patented, which it isn’t because there are MANY similar bags on the market such as this, but it most certainly is not copyrighted.
2- NOBODY owns the idea of a sling bag, just like nobody owns the idea of a lunch box, or a shoulder bag.  If you go out and google the words, “sling bag” or chest bag” you’ll see at least 20 different finished items come up, and this is OK. A sling bag is a term for any one shouldered bag that can be worn on your back. There’s a million different variations out there but only very few patterns, and this is what I am always very careful about. I don’t look at other peoples finished items on Amazon or anywhere else. But I always do a cursory overview of bag patterns before I get too far along in the process to make sure there’s nothing too similar out there already. In the case of the Sling Along pattern there is nothing remotely close to my pattern. And I’ve got news for you…. even if there were, in order for it to be a copyright violation, there would need to be textual similarities in the instructions to warrant a violation.
3- It’s perfectly legal to copy an item you see for sale and make a similar finished item unless it’s patented. That’s why you see a flood of copycat dresses on the market the day after the Academy Awards because…. It’s legal.

But that’s not what happened here!

And here are some reasons that I know and can PROVE that this is my own idea and my own original design:
1- I’ve never laid eyes on this particular bag until you sent me a picture. I have plenty of ideas of my own and I don’t need to copy anyone else’s ideas for a bag or a bag pattern. Folks have been asking for sometime now for a bag pattern that they could wear across their back OR chest. You don’t have to believe me on this and there’s nothing I can do about it you don’t but this is why I document every step of my work. From the original inspiration, including all the drawings, drafts and prototypes, everything is saved just in case I get accused of something similar to this. I also have been completely transparent about my process for over 10 years, documenting all of these steps and variations thru our popular “Purse Pattern Chronicles” series on my website. I don’t know of another pattern designer today that is more transparent about their process than I am.
2- and this is the most important reason. The whole way in which this particular bag is constructed and put together is totally unique to my designs. In fact, you evidently didn’t know this, but the Sling Along is actually a derivative of a former pattern of ours, the HipBag Hybrid (that’s a hotlink in case you want to check it). There are structural parts of the Sling Along pattern (most notably the Secret Niche area) that were derived and improved upon from the HipBag Hybrid pattern. Not only that…. the Sling Along pattern is ALSO a direct descendant of the Odyssey BackPack pattern that we published WAY back in 2007 (again, that’s a hotlink and I invite you to go take a  look). There are many similarities between the new Sling Along pattern and the older Odyssey pattern. There’s new features to be sure but I think of it as a modernized, streamlined, improved and quite honestly a better written version of this old pattern.  I guess by your definition, I might have reason to question whether the maker of the bag you referenced on Amazon was a copyright violation of MY pattern, right?  WRONG!   Because even though there are similarities between that bag and mine, its not a textual product. By definition, its just not a copyright issue.
So in summary, I feel very sad because today you questioned my integrity over our new product that actually is a derivative of an idea that was original with me, well over 10 years ago. I don’t say these things to be mean, but I do think that folks should always do their due diligence and get the facts before throwing around accusations that have the potential to hurt someone’s reputation or business, not to mention feelings. Words have power. I know our current state of politics in this country may make it seem like this is OK behavior but it is NOT!  Please remember that another time?
In closing…  I eventually did hear back from this customer. She seemed surprised that I was hurt by her words since she meant them “only in a constructive way”, but she added that after having gone back and re-read her original email, she could see that it “really didn’t represent what she intended to say to me”.  Hmmmmm… I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I didn’t wish to have any more discussion about it, so our interaction ended there.

Moral of the Story-

Email is a word-driven medium and words have the power to both heal and hurt. Always re-read your email before hitting that “send” button, and if in doubt… think about it overnight and re-read it again in the morning, or maybe even ask yourself… How would YOU like to be on the receiving end of your email?

And now…. it’s YOUR turn!

Has something like this ever happened to you? Have you ever received one of these “email bombs” and been hurt by the words of someone else? If so, I’d love to know how YOU handled it? And remember, we love reading your comments and answering your questions too, so please feel free to leave either or both in the space provided below.

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42 Comments So Far, You're Next!

  1. I haven’t had any experience like yours but just want to say your patterns are terrific and I love your process you share with us. You go girl!!!

  2. Those that carry the bags I make from you patterns carry them with pride and joy. You can’t buy that on Amazon or at Wal-Mart.
    We love you, Kat. Keep on kickin’ ass.
    I can’t say I’ve never made another designer’s bag but I can say I’ve never been as happy as when I finish one of you patterns.

    Thank you for what you do
    Don

  3. I received an email from my close friend which upset me greatly, as have MANY of her messages and words to me over many years. I have always let it go and not said anything because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I had always apologised to her for things I had apparently done and not done, and apologised to other people for her behaviour. Tried to look out for everyone.
    When I got the last one I was furious and decided I had had enough with her ****, and I told her so. I realised I would forever be apologising to her and for her and enough was enough. Sadly we aren’t speaking now and our friendship has terminated, but I know I didn’t do anything wrong.
    Unfortunately a lot of people speak or write without thinking, and words truly do hurt.
    Thank you for sharing your email info with us and your comments about copyrights.

  4. I love your patterns and just want to add this. Is it possible that someone copied YOUR work. It can happen in a heartbeat and perhaps that is what is on Amazon. I say this because many years ago a friend and I made caps for surgeons and nurses to wear I. Surgery. A equipment company asked for us to design one for them for their company and see if ” corporate” would approve it for us to produce hats for them to offer to their customers- so we did. In less than a month that company were giving out hats made of fabric that used the design we did for them as the motif on that fabric. In less than a month they took the logo we made, had it produced as fabric a d made hats like ours and we’re giving them away. That’s why I think maybe someone took your lovely idea and ran with it. I love all my Kat patterns and as Don says wear them with pride and love.

    • Thanks for commenting Donna, but please remember that our product is not a finished bag, but a pattern. And yes, if the bag pictured actually represented a pattern that was for sale, it is possible I might have a case of copyright infringement, but even then it would depend on the textual content of that pattern, NOT the way the final product looks. The copyright protection extended ONLY applies to the actual “copy” involved. It protects my words and drawings ONLY. If this person on Amazon is selling finshed items created with our patterns, they are completely within their rights. My copyright protection does NOT extend to finished items created from our patterns. In this particular case, this is a finished item and no, it really is not very similar to our product except for the silhouette which is pretty standard for ALL sling Bags.
      Thanks again.

  5. Very interesting post. I have been thinking about contacting you about another “sling along “ bag being advertised on a Facebook site lately. It looks just like yours except for a slanted zipper on the front.

    • Thanks for writing Cheryl, but again, is this a pattern being offered, or an actual finished bag? There’s a huge difference between the two in terms copyright.

  6. Christine Smith

    I’m so sorry you had to deal with someone so ignorant and unkind. I have been sewing for forty years. Your patterns are the most detailed I have ever seen. I honestly don’t think anyone can do what you do. Take it for what it is, a bad opinion. You should be extremely proud of your work. Most people couldn’t assemble one of your patterns if their life depended on it. It’s probably jealousy. Not everyone can design and sew at your level and that’s what your real customers love and appreciate about you. Thank you for making the best bag patterns available for the home sewer.

  7. People who know nothing of the designing world are just ignorant and this is the type of thing they write. They are not informed on copyright etc. I make all types of things to sell online and at small markets. Once such thing is teddy bears. I draw my own patterns for them as they are fairly straightforward, just change head design and perhaps part of the body/legs from my master pattern, stitch the nose/mouth differently every time and each bear has its own personality. I received an email for a bear I’d listed online from a published bear pattern designer accusing me of selling a bear made from her pattern and not giving her credit. I wrote back advising I draw all my patterns freehand. She didn’t believe me and proceeded to put my name and creation on a couple of teddy bear groups on Facebook telling all I was a thief! Of course I had to defend myself and that brought on a malstrom of unpleasantness! In the end I prevailed but my gosh, what a bunch of crap! hahaa.. I can laugh about it now but I was, like you, pretty dismayed at the time. Glad you wrote this person with full explanation of how things are! Hugs, KittyAnn in Wilmington

    • Its such a crummy way to have to spend your time isnt it? A true time-suck. Time that could be spent on things that are SO much more fun and productive. 🙁

  8. You handled your response in a very positive and dignified manner. Kudos! Too many people hide behind their computers and spew out hateful things, things that they probably would not say to someone face to face. Keep up the great work…love your designs!

  9. As I think of myself as a tiny part of your creation process, I can testify, without a shadow of a doubt, that every pattern is painstakingly original. I’m glad you responded and shared this, and I hope you can put it behind you.

    You know I love your bags. Some might say I’m a little obsessed with making them (until they want a new bag, then the tune changes). I’ve tried other patterns and nobody out there even comes close to the level of style, detail of instructions and originality that you provide.

    Finally, I’d like to add that I try to remember, with varying levels of success, that no one can make me feel badly about myself without my consent and that whatever judgement someone makes about me, is actually about them and how they see themselves in the world, not me.

    Love wins in the end, and the love for you and what you do is all over this page.

    Namaste

  10. Thanks for sharing….you wrote a nice thoughtful email back to the “customer.” Your patterns are the most detailed I’ve ever used and I love them. And I do NOT loan them to friends to copy, either….my pet peeve when I see people doing that!! And I love that you share your design process with us, too.

  11. Words indeed can hurt, and I can appreciate your “sit back and breathe” attitude before responding in a positive way. Are the bags similar? yes. Are there a lot of differences? yes. Did this person have the right to question your integrity? Absolutely not! Double absolutely not for the hurtful way it was offered. To then respond to you that it “didn’t represent what she intended to say” is a cop out. She was called on the carpet for her rude and uninformed behavior. Hopefully she’ll think twice before doing something similar in the future. I SO appreciate all the hard work that you invest to get a pattern “right”. They are the best patterns and bags I have ever made. Labor intensive, but the comments I receive are well worth the effort. Keep up the good work Kat!

  12. I mean, in other good news, now I want this pattern too….

  13. Kat, your email was enlightening (about the business side) and very much on point for the personal part too. I have not been in a similar situation, or it’s been so long ago and I am too old to remember. Love all of your bags, have quite a few of your patterns, but have only made the “sling” as it is fabulous and is such a travel warrior. Keep the creativity flowing, love all the time, energy, spirit that your designs encompass. Love the new little kitty as well as the older ones. Wish I was close enough to give him/her a little snuggle.

  14. I know this probably isn’t the place for this, but I would love to see a vendor booth seller apron/ purse pattern. If anyone could design one that would work well, I think it would be you. It would need to handle cash, coins, a card reader/phone, maybe a place to clip a POS printer, etc. It would need to be easy to access, yet secure. A stylish addition to my outfit wouldn’t hurt.
    You did well on your response. The copyright issue for patterns and their use is so confusing, but you did a good job explaining it. It’s a bump in the road-really.

    • Hmmm… thanks for the suggestion, but one of the things I have to evaluate b4 starting a new pattern is the target audience for a new design. As a business woman, I wouldnt be in business for very long if I chose projects with only a limited customer appeal. I always have to be cognisant of my bottom line and I’m afraid a vendor apron/purse would not have a broad enough appeal for us to cover our costs and make a profit. I would recommend googling aprons for gardening and the like. I’m pretty sure you could customize the pocket arrangements and sizes to suit your needs? 🙂 Good luck!

  15. I’m sorry you received an email such as that. I do know the feeling. It’s not fun. You handled it very well, and I’m glad you published your response because it is enlightening for those of us who have no personal experience with copyrights. You are not only a creative designer, but an astute business person. Not everyone who starts a business is that capable and knowledgeable, unfortunately for them. Keep up the wonderful work!

  16. I agree with you 100% and won’t stop purchasing your patterns for such an unreasonable “reason.” You do document your stuff all along, and look for additional ideas, criticisms, etc. on each of your patterns as you develop and test your ideas. You have the highest level of respect from me and many, many others. I’m sorry this happened to you. I know someone who does copy others’ ideas and feel it’s really sad that they do it. You’re not like that. You’re the best (and yes, this has happened to me, to be accused of something I did not do. The only thing I have known to do is to feel sad that others are often misinformed and probably envious, causing them to toss about ridiculous accusations. You are not deserving of that. Hold your head high – you are in the right, and we respect you for that. Be blessed!) Hugs, Barbara Liedtke – long time customer who admires you greatly!

  17. Dana Casebeer

    Your response is thoughtful and well written.Thank you for sharing a possibly painful experience. Keep putting your designs out to the world for those that appreciate them.

  18. Harriet H. Diamond

    BRAVO!

  19. Lesley Pearcey

    Like you say think before you push send! You’re reply was great.
    It’s always easy to misinterpret things but not when they are put as bluntly as that.
    I commented on a closed Facebook sew along group that I found my self shouting slow down at the lady doing the video. Well the nasty words I got really upset me. Surely I can’t be the only person who shouts at videos, radio, television in the comfort of my own home! I was joking!!
    Love your patterns and am looking forward to starting my first one very soon that I bought in Paducah.
    You keep doing what you’re doing x

  20. I don’t usually comment on things but I feel that the calm and dignified way in which you dealt with the situation is a lesson to us all. While I love the way the internet connects us to things we can’t find locally (being in England I wouldn’t have found your amazing patterns without it) so often the anonymity allows people to say things they wouldn’t say face to face. Well done and keep up the good work.

  21. Kathy
    Just forget about that person I don’t think that she is worth the worry.
    We all love your patterns and we all enjoy making them look beautiful and different

  22. Atta Girl,So Proud of You! First,
    You waited and thought it through,,,
    Then you gave a “double barrel” clear cut and thorough response that should have stopped her in her tracks, without a whiny retort.
    Just say “Think of all the songs with one or two words or phrasing changed or a quilting with a mistake done on purpose”. Have a cup or glass of tea and praise God for your talent and resilience.

  23. I think this woman’s email demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how pattern development and copyright works.
    You are smart to document your process.
    There always seems to be those out there who think they should be policing the rest of us.
    I just handled my mother’s estate, and got some really nasty comments from neighbors of my mom’s that have known me for 50 years. It’s frustrating because their comments are untrue.
    You know you’ve done nothing wrong. Carry on.

  24. vicki gasorski

    I learned this technique from a boss I had. I would draft memos for him and he’d tell me to look at it again in a few hours to take all the emotion out of it. I learned a lot from that.

    And, sorry people don’t do their research before lashing out. I would have been hurt too.

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