How to Protect Your Designs from Being Stolen

protect your designs

How do I know they won’t steal my designs?

As a consultant who works with Chinese manufacturers, I am asked this question a lot!

My short answer is, “I don’t know they won’t steal your designs.” However, I can tell you that many times the factory owners and managers do not know what is trending in the US marketplace.  They do not have a clue. I have been told on countless occasions, “You have to tell us what is fashionable in the US. We don’t know.”

Admittedly, there has to be trust between the designer and the factory. It is almost like dating.

Medium and large factories (whether local or overseas) work with many different clients and they are often just focused on finishing the production order and getting it shipped out so they can get paid.

Their expertise is on producing goods and not trying to find a buyer to buy your overstock. Or trying to broker a deal to break into the European market with your designs.

I am not saying this has never happened before. But to my knowledge this has never happened to me or any of my clients.

Tips on how to protect your designs from being stolen by your factory:

  • Having strong communication with my factory via email and consistent Skype video conferences.
  • Visiting them in Asia as often as my budget and schedule would allow. The Chinese are very impressed when a client comes to visit and they tend to roll out the red carpet. This will build the trust factor.
  • The Chinese are very focused on building long-term relationships so your consistent business with them (even when starting out and with small quantities) is appreciated.
  • Keeping an eagle eye over my purchasing of raw goods and always questioning where my supplies are. If you periodically audit a factory and ask about the materials, they will be trained to know your expectations and know you are monitoring everything.

Lastly, you can always have a factory sign a NDA as a sign of good faith. However, if you’re manufacturing overseas, I do not have much confidence in enforcing a legal document in China – unless you have a Chinese lawyer draft the document.

Whether you are dealing with a manufacturer in Asia or one locally, the most important factor is trust.

Do not be afraid to interview several manufacturers and have several meetings (phone or in person) that will help facilitate getting to know them. A good manufacturing relationship is one that can last years and before you embark on that journey, it is best to find the right fit for you and your company.

Image via Chris JL

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Christine Syquia

Christine Syquia is the owner of Accessory Business 101, an online consultancy for established and emerging accessory designers. Based in Los Angeles in the Fashion District, Christine enjoys meeting new designers and sharing her extensive knowledge of the accessory world. In her spare time, Christine created Spotlight Accessories in 2012 as a side project to showcase emerging Los Angeles designers and is also co-founder of Fashion Camp Los Angeles. She is mother to two young boys, a passionate (albeit gluten-free) foodie and a hardcore Soul Cycle rider.

5 comments
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    Carla Fontana

    Is there anything that can be done with regards to patenting for a handbag to protect it?

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      Christine Syquia

      Hi Carla,

      Thanks for the kudos! In regards to patenting a design, let me preface by saying I am not a lawyer and if you have questions regarding patents and trademarks, you should check with your lawyer. From experience with my own company, we never did patent our designs. We did have our designs ‘lifted’ by some very well-known brands however, at the end of the day if you are producing unique product and churning out new and fresh designs you will always be able to offer your core customers designs that they expect from your brand. People are always copying one another in this business. We are not re-inventing the wheel. We were taking a satchel body and making it fresh with new leather, braiding, hardware etc. We did not feel that was unique enough to patent. And once the season ended, we were off to our next thing!

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    Christine Syquia

    Well not necessarily since the US manufacturers are here and not thousands of miles away. I would think that the US manufacturers have at least an idea of what is trending in the US market. But nevertheless, the key is strong communication with your factories – either through meetings and visits or constant phone communication. If you are close to your manufacturer, considering just ‘popping in’ to say hi and check on your samples or production. That keeps them on their toes. If you are not close by, then one has to rely on their communication with you. Do they respond to emails and phone calls in a timely manner, and do they keep their word with deadlines? Do they say what they will do? If a manufacturer truly wants your business and desires a long partnership, they will do all of those things and more to keep you happy and coming back, and more importantly, to be a partner in your business growth.

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    Jamie Hoffpauir

    Great article. I’m assuming that the same applies to US manufacturers?

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