Anthropologie Apologizes For Selling Goods That Copy Artist Who Had Turned Down Offer To Work With The Company

The Anthropologie logo is displayed on the wall at the opening celebration of Anthropologie Chelsea Market in New York City on April 15, 2010.
Jason Kempin / Getty Images

The popular U.S. store Anthropologie — which specializes in fashion and housewares and is owned by Urban Outfitters — has apologized after selling goods that imitated an artist’s designs without permission, the BBC reported.

In a viral post to her Instagram account on Monday, Australian ceramics artist Tara Burke called the company “scum” after it was brought to her attention that they were selling vases remarkably similar in shape to her own original work.

In a statement issued by the retailer, Anthropologie stated that they take intellectual property of all artists and designers “very seriously,” and that the welfare of their artist community is “a priority.” The company noted they have implemented systems that are meant to protect creators’ rights.

“We deeply regret that in this instance, our safeguards did not hold up to our standards,” the statement continued. “We have tremendous respect for the artist community and are exploring how we can further strengthen our protocols. The product in question is no longer available and we are reaching out directly to Tara Burke.”

The products sold by Anthropologie were purchased from an independent market vendor and was not a design created by the company. In an email sent to Inquisitr, a spokesperson for the company said the purchase of these products that closely mimic Burke’s was due to a lack of communication within the company. Anthropologie’s artist partnership team was not able to alert the buying team of the similarities, the email claims.

Burke told the BBC she was first contacted by the retailer in 2016, when she was offered the opportunity to collaborate with the store by designing vases they would reproduce and sell after paying her a fee.

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Bit of a long post ahead so in sum: @anthropologie is scum In February 2016, @anthropologie visited my studio in Sydney to discuss 'how we could collaborate together’. During the visit, they photographed my ceramics and we chatted about how I work. They proposed the idea of me designing and prototyping some vases for @anthropologie, which they would then produce on a larger scale to sell. I declined (it just wasn’t the direction I wanted to take my business) and we went our separate ways. In 2018, @anthropologie sold the vases pictured. The photos with a blue background are @anthropologie vases and all other photos are from my own Instagram account (from 2015 and 2016). After debating whether or not to post publicly about this for the better part of the year (I know this is not the first nor will it be the last time something like this happens), I decided staying quiet felt too much like letting them get away with it and I didn’t feel like doing @anthropologie any favours. With gift-giving season approaching, please consider carefully who you’ll be supporting with your precious money. Buy local! Support small businesses! Thanks for reading x #ceramics #australianceramics #anthropologie

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Burke declined the offer, and didn’t think much of the matter until she was alerted by a friend two years later. Her friend pointed out to her that the Anthropologie website had vases for sale that her friend believed “looked almost identical to her pieces.”

Burke told the BBC she sent a letter of inquiry and an email to the company’s legal team in August — but never received a response. She has since been contacted by the retailer after her post to Instagram — which garnered hundreds of comments from her followers, many tagging the company so as to directly express their anger over the situation.

Burke said that the company offered a phone call to discuss her concerns, but as of yet has made “no mention of compensation.”

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We hear you, and we know that we fell short on living up to your expectations for our brand. We want to take this opportunity to emphasize that the well-being of our artist community is a priority for Anthropologie. We take creators’ rights very seriously, both in protecting the work of our own artists and in respecting the designs of others. We do have systems in place for their protection – unfortunately, in this instance, our safeguards did not hold up to our standards. In June of this year, our artist partnership team noticed the similarity of a product on our site to the work of Tara Burke, a ceramicist we had invited to collaborate with us. We immediately looked into the matter and promptly discontinued all sales of the item in question. Our buying team, which works independently of our artist partnership team, had purchased this product from a third-party vendor who underwent our vetting process and had represented to Anthropologie that he owned the rights to these products. Unfortunately, the artist partnership team did not have the opportunity to identify the issue with the market item before it was on sale at anthropologie.com. We have tremendous respect for the artist and small-business community, and we deeply regret that we have disappointed you. Please know that we are actively reviewing our systems and protocols so that we can strengthen our process and become a better partner to the artists whose work we so admire. Thanks for reading – and for your support for the artists in your community. -Anthropologie

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This is not the first time that the retailer has found itself in a copy-cat situation. American jewelry designer Lauren Hill collaborated with the company in 2014, when they bought a range of her earrings, but declined their offer to reorder after deciding that the price was too low.

According to the BBC, Hill claims that she noticed Anthropologie advertising earrings similar to her earlier pieces, but the new versions were made overseas. Hill contacted the company several times, but said that she was ignored until addressing the issue on Instagram.

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Ok last Gate Hoop post for a while, hopefully 〰️ I wanted to say thanks again, I'm so grateful for the great press (THANK YOU @refinery29 & @chan_inthecity ????) and all your eyeballs, likes, and comments, because Anthro backed down and removed ALL the hoops from their websites, not just in the US ???? Please continue to support independent artists, and that doesn't necessarily mean buying our work if you can't afford it (I mean we know our shit ain't cheap, but there's a legit reason for that and we can't compete with Walmart prices). You can help by trying not to support companies that exploit people (which I know is SO HARD in this world), sharing posts, even "liking" and commenting is so helpful, it shows them that we're paying attention. Obviously this goes for every shitty injustice, and this was a particularly tiny one in the grand scheme of things. If you do have the funds and would like to support a small business, tap the photo for shops that stock the Gate Hoops, they also carry amazing work by artists at all price points, from stocking stuffers to heirlooms and everything in between ???????????? THANK YOU ???????? #nottodaysatan

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Urban Outfitters, the parent company of Anthropologie, was recently involved in a similar situation in May — when they withdrew a range of vases that imitated a line created by Bristol-based ceramicist Sarah Wilton, “out of deference to the artist.”

Wilton noted that independent designers are often made to “feel powerless” against big companies, the BBC reported.

“It’s important to know your rights and let them know you know, so that you can begin to negotiate,” she said. “Worst-case scenario is they’ll ignore you. If that’s the case, try and get some people power behind you.”