Annabel Inganni, the Los Angeles designer behind the Wolfum line of home décor accessories, recently discovered that her bookends -- animal shapes printed with original patterns and sold for $62 -- appear to have been replicated by Threshold, a Target-owned brand, which is selling its bookends for $14.99 online.
“I am shocked and frustrated,” Inganni said by email. “Not only is the entire idea so exact -- a printed animal shape on a wood bookend -- but the prints are so similar.”
Lookalike designs are nothing new; in 2011 we reported on the the Venice store Obsolete's accusations against Restoration Hardware. Independent designers say their creativity is being pilfered for corporate profit. Mass-market stores, on the other hand, say they are merely making good design accessible to a broader audience that can't afford designer originals.
Inganni said she conceived her Wolfum bookends as Christmas gifts in 2009 and launched them in 2010. Each is made in Los Angeles. The 23 designs are heat-transfer-printed by hand on half-inch-thick plywood using a proprietary coating that she says retains the potency of her color schemes. The Wolfum animals are mounted on solid walnut bases made with Forest Stewardship Council-material, meaning the wood was sustainably harvested. The bookends have been prominently featured by House Beautiful, O, Sunset and design blogs, and Inganni said she has sold thousands of them via her website and retailers such as Lawson Fenning and Anthropologie.
By contrast, the $14.99 Threshold bookends sold through Target are part of what is called the Passport Home Décor collection, which takes design cues from Mumbai and Marrakesh. The line includes only two designs -- a giraffe and a lion -- painted in a textile design common to India, where they are produced. The animal forms are mounted on inexpensive wood that has been stained nearly black to hide imperfections. They are about two-thirds the size of the Wolfum bookends.
“The Target ones are so crude, so inelegant, they obviously lack a refinement of proportion and technique,” Inganni said. “I design and draw each of my prints and painstakingly test them several times to come up with the right balance of colors, graphics and proportion.”
Inganni's husband, furniture designer and maker Brendan Sowersby of 100Xbetter, cuts the intricate animal silhouettes on computer numerically controlled (CNC) machinery, and the couple said they worked for a year perfecting the heat transfer technique.
“I know that it is almost impossible to protect your designs, especially being a small company,” Inganni said. “But Target prides itself on designer collaborations, forward-thinking products and progressive marketing, and I just wish they had approached me directly.”
Target responded to requests for comment with a statement: "It always has been -- and continues to be -- a policy of Target to respect the intellectual property rights of others. We take these matters very seriously and we are happy to connect directly with the individual."
We welcome story suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. For easy way to follow the L.A. scene, bookmark L.A. at Home and join us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.