She was an old friend. I treated her the way I treat old friends at my store, with fondness and the familiarity reserved for people you grew up with. I also obliged her request for a discount, an alteration and free delivery, why not? It’s only money and she was loyal or so I thought. I think I experienced my first feeling of betrayal the day I went into her store ( popped in to say hello) and saw a copy(a very poor copy) of my design on her mannequin. Her eager sales girl, anxious to make a customer of me explained that I could order the dress in any color and it would be made for me in Senegal where they were sourced. I called my friend immediately. I asked why she did it , she apologized and said she honestly didn’t think I would mind. She had sent her dress ( the one she bought from me at a discount) to Senegal and they delivered a decent sample and even offered to make the dress in other colors. It was an offer she couldn’t resist. I felt hurt, betrayed and uncharacteristically angry….I might even have raised my voice ( albeit politely 😂) . That season was the lowest point in my business life. What she did exposed my business to copycats and not just any copy cat but the aggressive kind, copycats with even more capacity than me. Copycats that delivered poor copies of my work and cheapened my designs. Customers were dropping like flies, sales were at an all time low and I honestly thought I wouldn’t survive. She didn’t know it but that single act of sending my design to Senegal almost ruined me. But it didn’t…….
Many businesses have been ruined by copycats and I was almost one of them. To be honest I think those who buy these poor cheap copies are just as much victims as I was. In my desperation to save my business and increase my dismal sales numbers I started making cold calls to old customers who had suddenly,abruptly stopped buying from me. One of these customers admitted that she stopped buying because she noticed that my designs, especially some of the pieces she considered expensive and “special “ were being worn by people on the street, very casually. She said she spoke to a few of her friends and they had noticed it too. Her conclusion was “ doesn’t Tomi know who her customers are? Why would she cheapen them like this?” Her words stung. I explained what had happened and her response changed my life, she said “well I have decided to buy from another brand, it seems her designs are not easy to copy” ( I knew the other designer she was a victim too, but that was not the point 😂).
To survive this season I needed to deliver something that couldn’t be copied. That is exactly what I did . My next collection after that experience changed everything for me and 8 years later my brand is stronger and still delivering “something that can’t be copied”. In my online course I dedicated an entire lesson to how to deal with copycats based on how I survived that season . Copycating is a bigger threat now than it was 8 years ago. Creatives in all industries are vulnerable. The threat no longer has to come to your store or pretend to be a friend, your body of work is just a click away and the copycats are even more sophisticated. Why then am I so unbothered by them. Its because of what i know now. In a way I am thankful for what happened then. It forced my business to a new level and forced a shift in my thinking.
Take the online course “How to start a ready to wear label in Nigeria” click the link ‘Enroll button’ on the site to start. Don’t wait to go through what I did, learn from my experience. And to the copycats I say “bring it on” 😎.