*Edit* I was contacted by someone from Embroidery Library on the issue of this letter... I heard that the 2 parties are working on a solution. I hope they can reach a resolution...
You have been a long time friend and supporter of Sublime Stitching which is why I feel you would want to be aware of an upsetting and costly situation that we at Sublime Stitching, and by extension, others in the craft community are facing. I know you are busy, and this is a long email. I greatly appreciate your kind attention.
Not long ago I noticed the sudden appearance of a fully-formed and stocked website called “Urban Threads” ( www.urbanthreads.com ) with ads reading “Cool Embroidery Patterns for Hip Crafters” and "The Cure for Tame Embroidery". The site claims that Urban Threads is the creation of Niamh O’Connor whose “About Us” page shares photos of her and states:
"I noticed that the design industry lacked a certain type of art
fitting today's savvy indie crafters. I wanted designs that fit a
different kind of style. Since I couldn't find them, I decided I'd
just have to make them myself. So I set about creating, and Urban
Threads was born."
Hmm. Not happy that my model was being copied so boldly, my stated mission re-stated by someone else, or the suggestion that Sublime Stitching didn’t already exist, I nonetheless explored Niamh’s site to see how we might work together. Sublime Stitching supports, cross-promotes and works with many other independent contemporary needlework designers. We often seek collaboration rather than competition with other businesses, large and small.
As I kept up with Niamh’s work, I noticed increasingly blatant copying of Sublime Stitching designs, re-purposing of my instructional text, web content, blog topics, marketing advice for an indie business, creative ideas from my artwork (Niamh's French knots for a Braille message), even repeating quotes from interviews and well, adopting my personality! It was starting to get weirder and weirder and we didn't feel her actions were very DIY-friendly at all. Not to mention we were never linked or even acknowledged on her site. But, because the site claimed it was hers alone (with help from Karline!), I struggled with the right way to approach her about this.
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.
Niamh even wrote a blog entry on marketing and growing an indie business. I have offered advice to the DIY community on how to grow an independent business for years, with emails to those who ask, online forums, talks, workshops and my “Crafting a Business” column, based on my real, personal experience growing a non-funded, independent company. Niamh is active on Flickr, Twitter, and MySpace representing Urban Threads, directly targeting and building relationships with our customers, retailers and media contacts under the guise of an independent crafter and entrepreneur.
We feel these actions are willfully deceptive. Niamh O’Connor’s own website is here: www.artofembarr.com
As far as I can tell, she doesn’t have any history as a crafter, or needleworker. She has significant errors on technique for hand embroidery in her instructions on Urban Threads, and she appears to rely heavily on my text and instructions, which are unique explanations of embroidery technique based on years of research and personal experience as a passionate embroiderer.
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.
Thank you for reading this. If you have any questions for me about this matter, I will glady try to answer them.
*GIANT BELEAGUERED SIGH*
x - x - x - x
owner / founder
This Ain't Your Gramma's Embroidery!
Embroidery As Art
Crafting a Business
Sublime Stitching has a POSSE