What happens when one of the brands under the umbrella of America’s largest corporation rips off an indie design brand? Well, not much, according to Deva Pardue. And Ms. Pardue, the founder of For All Womankind, a New York-based “Fempowerment” design initiative, would know. The “Femme Fist” print she created on the heels of last year’s presidential election and subsequently printed on t-shirts, tote bags, posters, and pins, was copied by Walmart-owned Modcloth. When she called out the company – by way of formal letters and social media – the response was simple: Silence.
Pardue, who spends her time between For All Womankind, and The Wing, the ultra-buzzy all-women’s co-workspace, where she serves as the full-time design director, created an image of three fists, in various skin tones, complete with red nail polish, and posted in on Instagram last year. The pins, alone, sold so fast that she was forced to create a waiting list. The t-shirts showed up in Instagram posts from New York to Washington, D.C., to Japan, with women uniting around not just this brand but its commitment “to actively and transparently raising money for organizations working to advance women's rights.”
So far, with the proceeds from her sales, Pardue, who first started For All Womankind “as a small fundraising side project in December of 2016,” donated $12,000 to The Center for Reproductive Rights and Emily’s List, the latter of which is an American political action committee that aims to help elect pro-choice Democratic female candidates to office.
Then Modcloth stepped in. The San Francisco-based online retailer, which boasts a selection of indie and vintage-inspired women’s clothing, began selling an interesting t-shirt: A white shirt with Pardue’s three fists – same skin tones, nail polish, and all – and the words, “Fight Like a Girl.” ModCloth labeled it the “Opporunity for Unity” tee, priced it at $29.99, and in the product description noted: “ModCloth has always known that ladies rock, and that’s why we are proud to carry this exclusive graphic tee … an empowering quip meant to unite all women, this white top is here to inspire.”
As Pardue told Fast Co., she started receiving messages on Instagram with screenshots of a t-shirt with that same image on it that was being sold by ModCloth. Pardue says her lawyer has sent ModCloth two letters, but the brand has not responded.
While ModCloth has removed the t-shirt from its site, it has not taken any further steps to rectify the situation, which very likely amounts to copyright infringement. Yes, Pardue very likely holds copyright protection in the nail polish-bearing fists design that she created, which ModCloth is thereby infringing by recreating for its own tees.
According to Pardue, ModCloth has failed to “respond to requests to disclose the revenue they made [from the t-shirt], destroyed existing inventory or paid a retroactive licensing fee.”
“For All Womankind is a side hustle on top of my full time job,” Pardue told Fast Co. “I pack and ship orders night and weekends and I take no profit. That said, I find it extremely frustrating when something pure and grassroots is co-opted and monetized by huge corporations.”
Undoubtedly (and rightfully) frustrated, Pardue has since taken her fight social, posting on the For All Womankind’s Instagram page: “ModCloth owned by none other than Walmart, stole and monetized our copyrighted Femme Fists image which was designed purely to raise money for women’s orgs. They’ve since ignored 2 letters from my lawyers. A shameful example of huge corporations profiting from grass roots movements. Let’s tell them how we feel!”