April 29, 2009

You have got to be kidding. Indiewashing alert!

This makes me so ANGRY. Like, “Hulk smash!” angry. Urban Threads is ripping off Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching, someone who we all know has spent years building up a successful, independent business supplying amazing embroidery designs to crafters everywhere.

Jenny is smart, kind and truly generous — I have had the distinct pleasure of working with her in a number of contexts, from putting her embroidered art in a fiber art show I curated a few years ago, to working with her on yarn embroidery for my Knitgrrl books and embroidery embroidery in The Pillow Book, to seeing each other all over the country at shows such as TNNA, Renegade Craft Fair, to… you name it. I’m proud to count her among my friends.

I’ve watched as she’s helped educate other crafters in the ways of building a profitable life from their work, too — I can remember when a certain Evil Company In NYC Who Wanted To Pick A Fight With Knitters flatly deleted a very calm and reasoned response she’d made on their comments section about the brewing controversy, I can remember when she showed up to a semi-private meeting at TNNA about designers’ rights (and hearing “what was that embroidery person doing here?” — a quick DO YOU KNOW WHO THAT WAS? THAT’S JENNY HART! shut them right up).

In short: Jenny has so much street cred, she’s got asphalt coming out her ears.

Have you heard the term ‘greenwashing’? It’s when a company tries to paint its products as more ecologically friendly than they actually are. Well, here we have ‘indiewashing.’ Big company tries to pretend they are a small company, to seem cooler, and even appropriates a former (current?) employee‘s identity to have a figurehead masking their deception.

(Niamh, I sure hope they’re paying you lots of money for the use of your image and such).

From the very first link, from a letter by Jenny:

I am an independent entrepreneur only recently helped by four employees that work out of a converted garage (a nice one!). I founded and built Sublime Stitching in 2001 on a loan of $1,000 from my late father and made it what it is today. Sublime Stitching has never been backed or funded by another company. It has taken me eight years to produce Sublime Stitching’s current catalog of patterns. Urban Threads appeared virtually out of nowhere, fully stocked with themes identical to ours. I have a true passion for what I do. We still struggle to grow and meet the enormous demand for our unique designs. I am incredibly proud of my team, my work. I am so deeply proud to be a part of the DIY movement and enjoy its support, and nothing pleases me more than watching new, real, indie businesses thrive on the success of their own, unique offerings.

I have no problem with big companies (hey, I hope to be one someday), but I do have a problem with bigger companies pretending to be smaller than they are in order to deceive those who choose to purchase from real indie businesses. What I don’t understand, is why this company never asked to work with Sublime Stitching.

Credibility and authenticity are the cornerstones of DIY craft movement, both for independent business owners and the customers who support them. I feel strongly that the DIY community should be made aware of Embroidery Library Inc.’s deceptive actions.

I do believe Urban Threads’ disingenuous positioning as a small “indie” operation will be discovered, and you are free to share this information. Facts are facts, and there is no penalty for sharing them if you choose to. Everyone has a right to voice their own opinion about this.

What are we doing about it? Sublime Stitching has some specific, brazen copyright and unfair competition issues that we feel obligated to pursue in order to protect my company. We are taking aggressive legal action, but we know that our greatest strength comes from the support we have earned over the last eight years in this active, vibrant and aware community.

Do click through and read the rest… but in case it ends up getting taken down for some reason, some other pertinent information from Jenny’s letter:

It turns out, however, that Urban Threads is an “indie” front for a bigger, machine/digitized embroidery stock art company, Embroidery Library Inc. ( www.emblibrary.com/ ), that operates under numerous assumed names (Starbird Stock Designs Inc., Embroidery Island, and possibly others). “Urban Threads” appears to be their attempt to enter the “indie” market with hand embroidery, complete with a supposed “indie crafter” for a figurehead. The offices for each of these businesses are at a shared address, including “Niamh’s studio”, located in an industrial park outside Minneapolis (we Googlemapped it). We believe there are multiple artists contributing to the creation of the Urban Threads design catalog, apart from their “Artist Patterns”, one of which is the work of a stock illustrator who designs for WalMart and Target.

Niamh claims on the Urban Threads website simply that “I used to intern for an embroidery design company” and that she later “started Urban Threads” while she is in fact currently employed by Embroidery Library Inc (since 2007) as an illustrator. We feel it’s clear the Urban Threads website is intended to look like a smaller, ‘homier’ operation to deceptively cater to those who specifically want to support independent businesses. But Embroidery Library Inc. owns the business name Urban Threads, has applied for a trademark for “Urban Threads” and owns the domain name urbanthreads.com (address and phone number are registered to their business), and they are apparently financing the marketing and operations from behind the scenes. As a true indie design company, we simply cannot compete with a larger, well-funded company that is targeting our business in an unfair way, while using resources that we, and others like us, do not have.

I wish Jenny and her staff the best of luck in fighting this egregious, and frankly, disgusting ripoff of their work. Ever wonder how a real artist develops her patterns? Take a look at this.

Oh, and for the record, I have personally dealt with two people “at” Urban Threads, and neither of them are Niamh. I was helping out at the magazine I edit’s sister sewing magazine, there was a reference to Urban Threads in one of the articles, and we asked for some images of their embroidery we could put in the magazine. Standard stuff. Here’s a reply from November 2008 — bold mine.

Our advertising budget is less than $0 right now, as we’re just getting started and not even making ends meet. Maybe next year?

Funny, you’re big enough to have an IT manager and a marketing manager but you can’t afford a hundred bucks for an ad?


Updated to add links to discussions elsewhere:

Tagged with: ,


  • Krissy

    Wow. I don’t even know what to think about this. It seems like the big bad company trying to run the little guys out of town. Just on the larger scale using the internet now.

    Reply to Krissy
  • Rachel

    Wow…I had no idea. I just came across this on Early Bird Special and I’ve been following the links to this story all afternoon.

    Reply to Rachel
  • KT

    OK, this is so eerie. I saw an ad for Urban Threads on Facebook IMMEDIATELY before I read this post. So their ad budget isn’t less than $0 anymore!

  • Post authorShannon

    Funny, too, advertising on Facebook — way to target the young, hip crowd (you can’t see this but my eyes are rolling right now).

    Reply to Shannon
  • Amy

    Hey Shannon!

    Thanks for the comment on my blog. I was pretty grossed out when I read the comment from Anonymous. My first thought was that was a plant from UT as well. But after researching my sitemeter, I’m pretty sure I’ve figured it out.

    Thank you for posting such a well spoken discussion about this topic. It’s unfortunate that I came across your blog this way, but I certainly am glad I found it.

    Amy Bindel

  • MLE

    hey Shannon, great story, email me the address in Mpls and I’ll go take a pic!

  • Sonya

    Indiewashing is a perfect term for what is happening and what is happening is absolutely preposterous. Great post – I am so glad that this is getting the attention it deserves.

    Reply to Sonya
  • Tonya

    That’s disgusting. Many people don’t have tons of money right now, and I think carefully about where I spend my $ – I want to support indie businesses as much as possible! To rip off Jenny (and customers) is a shame.

    I think I’m going to head over and buy the Chinese Acrobat & Naughty Secretary patterns I’ve been eying.

    Reply to Tonya
  • UT

    I wanted to share our response to all issues raised by this letter. You can find our response here. Feel free to contact us with any questions you have about it.

  • Urban Threads

    Hi folks. Please take a look at our post on Urban Threads about this recent hubbub.


    The images you’ve seen on the blogs linked above have been added to, subtracted from, rearranged, and flipped to make them look identical. We’re genuine people, making original art. We’re part of a small, employee-owned company made up of artists and other creative types. I’d love for you to take a look at the post linked above and at UT as a whole before assuming we’re a big, evil corporation out to squash the little guy. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

    Reply to Urban Threads

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