tee and toast

Primark leave our tees alone!

brews and newsclaire mullan7 Comments

Tee and Toast is a friendly and independent t-shirt company with a quirky sense of humour based in sunny Belfast. With the help of many a cup of tea little wee me - Claire Mullan illustrates and designs unique tees and things that will make you smile.

We make funky t-shirts for grown ups, happy t-shirts for kids and super silly things for the home and they all started off as a wee doodle.

In the last 18 months we feel that Primark has been too closely inspired by our designs. Nothing as blatantly obvious as tracing and reproducing our artwork. But they have replicated 3 very Tee and Toasty designs that just look like rehashed versions of ours. Primark have long been criticised for their ethics but we now question their creative and moral ethics too!
 
primark copy cat 
 
So you can imagine our surprise when 18 months ago a customer walked up to our stall at St George's market in Belfast wearing, from what I thought at first glance was, our tee and toast t-shirt McMullet. Nope, it wasn't! It was something very similar looking that he'd bought recently in Primark. I was annoyed but I shrugged it off even though it was one of our 1st ever designs circa 2004. People can have the same ideas, great brains think alike and all that, right?... And since then hair styles on t-shirts had become a big trend, maybe we were inspired by the same idea, maybe like me they were thinking of the ozzie mullet Shane from neighbours?... maybe.. right? But internally my instincts kept twitching... why did it have a chin? The retro colour combination was striking too - our brown designs work best on yellow tees!
 
So despite the emails from lovely loyal fans spotting them in Primark around the country and despite getting my hump up on holiday in Turkey when seeing one walking up the beach, I was naive and shrugged it off. It's going to be a one off and what can I do anyway? 
 
A year later in July 2013 another message on Facebook pops up... "have you seen this?" & "does this look familiar?" This time at first glance my reaction is.. "No, what is that monster? Is that a unicorn??"
Yes, it was a very evil looking one and with it a speech bubble (just like ours) in the shape of a cloud. And in that cloud in a font that's close to my doodled hand writing the fab words "I'm Magic!" - plus a sprinkling of stars for good measure too! I was flabbergasted!! I was fuming! More so because I LOVE this design. It's cute, it's original, it was designed for my unicorn obsessed nieces who picked this design over a wonky looking mermaid. Why did they have to copy our I'm Magic Unicorn and even more why did they do it so badly!!! 
I know the illustration of the unicorn is completely different but the main features of this design have been reproduced i.e..:- (i) (ii) (iii) the unicorn; the cloud and phrase; the stars; and it is these in combination that make up my design. So it is irrelevant that the specific appearance of the unicorn is different.  What did I do? I read articles and blogs and huffed and puffed. I tried to find a contact at Primark, searched on Linked In, phoned Invest NI, tried to find help but I was all a bit clueless. I drafted an email and it sat in my inbox. It was summer, it was the best weather we had EVER had in Belfast - so for my own sanity I decided to let it go - not to let it hold me back. Otherwise it becomes too ALL CONSUMING and at the end of the day it's me v's big old legally smeggley Primark. My time I decided is more precious than that! A month later (OK - so realistically I hadn't let it go!) I found an article about a law firm that was dealing with lots of infringement cases with Primark. I sent them an email and I got an amazing reply. Did I want to spend a tonne of dosh and get the ball rolling, I decided on this occasion I did not but swore if it ever happened again I would and I'd be strong! (I broke my promise).  Then a few weeks ago November 2013 another email pop's into my mail box. A picture of Primark's moosetache t-shirt found in Scotland. Again it isn't a case of tracing every line of our Moosetache but I feel I have every right to be alarmed and again there is something uncanny about it. 
But realistically and seriously how can 3 times be a coincidence? And seriously 3 times is not a charm!!!
 
I was fuming and then even more fuming after googling I noticed there are quite a few other Moosetache t-shirts about now. But with most of those examples it looks like we all just had the same independently thought up idea and did it in our own way and our own style. (OK there are a few others out there that I am sceptical about - but like Primark I'll give them their first strike for free) but Primark don't get any more chances. Primark don't get to say that 3 times they coincidentally had the same idea as a small but successful t-shirt company with quirky ideas.
 
Anyway we think ours is the best and cutest and the most awesome Moosetache in the world and we have no doubts that it was doodled out of our head on a cold day at St George's Market 4 or 5 years ago. Along with other doodles of mouse-tache & moo-tache but I'm not a fan of cows or mice (well maybe Mickey & the ones by Beatrix Potter) so they didn't make it onto a t-shirt.
 
So this time what did I do? I asked you all to facebook and tweet out that Primark should get their own original ideas and to stop copying young designers and independent illustrators, to leave awesome businesses that you might find on Etsy & Folksy alone. (Our Moosetache & I'm Magic designs are both on our Etsy shop - so I wonder if that could be another source for sniping!) Other high street stores should take heed too. There is quite a few out there known for their copy cat-ness: Urban Outfitters, Claire's Accessories and David & Goliath are a few that I read about.
 
The tweets fell on deaf ears as I only noticed after that Primark haven't used their twitter account since April 2013, but at the same time it was great to have the backing & support of so many loyal fans! {hugs to you all}.
 
This time I phoned Primark's head office and tried to get a name of the best person to talk to. No luck - they have a no name policy and like to keep their identities secret. Not very transparent hay? So I was allowed to leave a voicemail. It was polite and to the point but...  it was never responded to!  So then I got out that drafted email and added some extra information and decided to take it to the top. I emailed the CEO and the HR executive for buying and merchandising of Primark. It comes up in conversation every time that maybe the heads of Primark don't now what the minions are up to and if they knew maybe they wouldn't be happy either.
 
But I didn't hear back from Paul Marchant the CEO - instead I got an email from the legal services manager who said:
 
"I confirm that I have examined documentation in relation to the origins of each of the Primark designs and am satisfied that each of these designs were independently developed and purchased directly from either a professional design studio or from a freelance designer.
 
During the course of the year Primark purchase a large number of independent designs and also work with a number of design studios to develop on trend products,  a great deal of research is done both by the Primark teams and the design studios to identify these trends.  In the course of my investigations to date I have not come across any reference to your company or any design associated with your company.
 
Under these circumstances I am sure that you will understand that I will not be in a position to take any further action."
 
Pah!!!!! Googled more like
So this got me thinking about the Infringement lawyers again. But it's all talk about damages and claiming undertakings which isn't something I'm that interested in. I just want people to do good. To make amends - simply to be sorry. That must be the hippy in me! In this case I just wanted Primark to remove from their stores what I don't think they have proper rights to sell. I asked them and they said no. Now even if I went through the courts it's already too late - Primark is fast throw away fashion - you are lucky if something is there few weeks or maybe a month!
 
So instead I am simply naming and shaming by sharing my little but big story. Maybe someone, somewhere in Primark will get a slap across their knuckles and that will stop any more "coincidences" happening! We just hope that our Radio 4 interview on You and Yours will get the message across to Primark and other high street monsters that it's not OK to pinch someone else's ideas. It's insulting to the designers hard work, costly to small businesses, it's potentially damaging to credibility; especially when it's cheaply mass produced at a poor quality, it's creative exploitation, it's lazy, it's drone-like and it's just flipping dipping wrong.
 
For those of you that have and continue to support Tee and Toast and love our tees, we thank you. We want to sell t-shirts to people who love our designs because they make you happy. They make you smile. They start conversations. They aren't designed for the high street and we don't want them on the high street. We want you to own a few and wear them forever. We want our t-shirts to be your favourite t-shirts not just a fad or passing trend.
 
Please remember it's important to support independent shops, artists and designers - we and they need you. Yes, most of the time they cost more but it costs a lot to run a business no matter what size and there is endless added value. So maybe then make more considered purchases from those who thrive to give you the best quality and the real deal.
 
Now I need to find somewhere new to buy my undies from!