Michael Heck, a graphic designer for Fantagraphics and a Seattle Weekly contributor, was at work yesterday when he received the message. Tuesday Bassen, an L.A. based illustrator and designer, sent him a screenshot over Instagram of a pair of pink stonewashed shorts from Spanish clothing retailer Zara’s website.
“I was sitting next to my co-worker and just blurted out ‘Holy shit!’” Heck says.
The shorts—decorated in outer-space themed patches—bore an egregious carbon-copy of one of the most popular designs Heck had created for his own Seattle-based design imprint, Pity Party, his “Melt Saturn” enamel pin. Aside from the black and white treatment Zara gave it, the patch on the shorts was a one-for-one match. “I realized even the drips were in the exact same spots,” Heck, a regular presence at local craft and comix fairs, says. “I just got angry.” To rub salt in the wound, the shorts also bore an enormous patch on the back featuring the word “TAKE” in bold capitol letters. Before Bassen’s message, Heck had no knowledge of the design, and had not been contacted or informed by Zara about the shorts.
There’s good reason Bassen was keeping an eye out for Zara rip-offs—she herself had until yesterday been quietly fighting a legal battle with the company for the blatant theft of a number of her own designs. After sinking nearly $2000 in legal fees fighting the company, she received an official response from Zara’s legal team rejecting her claims. The message ended on a particularly sour note, stating that the company’s high worldwide web traffic—compared to hers—somehow negated her allegations. Zara is, as the New York Times put it, “the World’s Largest Fashion Retailer” and noted in its 2012 profile on the company that “Zara’s designers are completely anonymous; some would say this is because they are copiers rather than designers.”
I've been pretty quiet about this, until now. Over the past year, @zara has been copying my artwork (thanks to all that have tipped me off–it's been a lot of you). I had my lawyer contact Zara and they literally said I have no base because I'm an indie artist and they're a major corporation and that not enough people even know about me for it to matter. I plan to further press charges, but even to have a lawyer get this LETTER has cost me $2k so far. 〰 It sucks and it's super disheartening to have to spend basically all of my money, just to defend what is legally mine. ⚡️ EDIT: Some of you are asking how you can help. Repost and tag them, on Twitter, on Insta, on Facebook. I don't want to have to burden any of you with the financial strain that comes with lawsuits.
Heck is now the 13th independent artist the $100 billion company (which has a storefront in Seattle’s Westlake Center) has lifted designs from just this summer, deftly illustrated in a graph made by designer and fellow victim Adam J. Kurtz:
— Adam J. Kurtz (@adamjk) July 20, 2016
Heck, who has worked to build Pity Party’s brand and body of work since 2012, says he has been talking with Bassen about their next course of action and plans to reach out to the fellow eleven plagiarism victims to “see what their plan of attack is. They all make great work and obviously Zara noticed… and took it for themselves. I would like to talk to some lawyers, however, the feedback that Tuesday received is pretty disheartening. They basically told her since she is so ‘small’ and they are so big, it was worthless.”
Heck’s initial post about the design theft, has since been shared 83 times, and Zara’s Facebook wall is currently jammed with call out posts from around the world.
Zara has not yet returned requests for comment from Seattle Weekly, but did provide Refinery29 with this comment today:
“Inditex [Zara’s parent company] has the utmost respect for the individual creativity of all artists and designers and takes all claims concerning third-party intellectual property rights very seriously.”