Saturday, October 22, 2016

Thievery, Integrity and the End of an Era

I had something of a shock this afternoon. I came home from a trip to a local high end quilting store wanting to curse, cry and toss things around.

What happened? Someone I've done business with since leaving my job at the art studio took something I made and sold to her as a personal favor, changed it slightly and sold it for more than five times what I charged her.

During my years working part time at the art studio/quilt store for the notorious Nora I put up with a lot of very bad nasty unethical behavior and finally I could take no more. I quit.

Nora had a nasty habit of twisting my arm into teaching a class, a quilting class, or a crochet class, stained glass, oil painting, figure drawing, whatever, and would charge those attending twenty bucks an hour and supplies, telling those of us working there and roped into teaching that we'd get half the instructor's fee. I don't think any of us worker bees ever got more than the random tenner in our pay, while Nora either said she didn't make enough money to pay us instructors fees, or denied she'd ever promised anyone extra money. By the time I left she said anyone teaching was doing it for their hourly wage.

With any of the big national chains like Joann's or Michaels there are contracts and instruction fees are clearly spelled out. I've taught at both once in a while and never had an issue with pay.

The other snag with Nora is that if you would design a new quilt, or sweater, or whatever geegog you could come up with and write out a pattern for it, she would want to sell the pattern at the store. You might let her but when it came to either receiving a cut of the sales of that pattern or having a contract between you about your patterns she would ignore that too. She still has a number of patterns I wrote for sale at her store.

A few years ago she tried to sell first the quilt shop and then the art studio and approached me to buy, along with a number of other folks. Her asking price was insane, nowhere near what the actual business is worth and nowhere near inventory value. She was refusing to accept a lesser amount, this woman that basically killed two thriving stores with her business practices, screwed over employees and pissed off everyone in the various local art guilds, yet was expecting this imaginary high amount.

I got word last week from a local quilting guild member that Nora was liquidating and closing the art studio. Last year she closed the quilting store. She's still selling the patterns I designed without paying me any copyright on any of them, but once the store closes that will end.

This past spring I seriously toyed with the idea of opening a fabric and quilting store here locally against Nora. I had the money, I had the time but in the end I decided against it because of Jim's plans for us to move to Costa Rica in the new year. I decided I would bide my time until Nora closes her store next month and then republish all those quilt patterns I wrote, that I have the originals and original materials on going way back before Nora started selling the patterns. I decided to do quilting patterns online with the goal of starting this as a sideline while we're in Costa Rica. It's doable. I'd be getting paid for my original designs for a change.

It's tough sometimes to get paid for your original designs. Years ago, when I was still evangelical I would do worship flags, banners and other church related art work and had a lot of trouble with people trying to steal designs and make bad copies. I made some mistakes, but I'm not going to be doing that any longer. Copyright, copyright, copyright!

In the meantime I've been doing some shop samples and other things for a competitor of Nora's, someone I've known as long as I've known Nora, I'll call this woman Carrie. I've never had a problem with Carrie, she knows what Nora is like and she was also offered Nora's store to purchase.

Now I have learned I cannot trust Carrie either. Awhile back she approached me about some crazy crocheted coasters I'd made. They were little cat butts, pink buttholes, tails and feet, very simple, very quick to make. I made them as a gag gift, saw a photo of them online but was not able to find a pattern, so I made my own pattern, not with the intention of selling the pattern but just to make a set as a gift. Carrie said she had a friend that would LOVE a set of those coasters and asked me to make her a set. For her friend. I said sure, quoted her a price lower than I've made them for others for.

I don't really like making them as a item to sell, everyone that has begged me for a set has seen someone else's set I made. If someone asks I will make them, but it's not something I pitch as a sale item ever.They require a small crochet hook, are a smaller item to make that requires you play some attention to detail while making them, unlike, say a scarf or afghan. I like those projects you don't have to think about, full speed ahead crochet using the same stitch for long stretches.

So I made Carrie a set, brought them to her, collected the money and skipped off, not looking back. Today, I'm in Carrie's shop, picking up a few fabrics and talking to her about starting selling my patterns, maybe putting a few in her shop. I saw one of my crocheted coasters and it had been made into a coin purse, with a cheap zipper and a felted wool backing, had a price tag much, much, much higher than I would expect. A few minutes on a sewing machine with a zipper and felted wool. That one silly coaster of a cat butt had been turned into a coin purse, marked for sale for the same price I sold her the entire set and marked that it was Carrie's original design!

I asked Carrie about it and she acted very embarrassed about it, it slipped her mind, she said. Then she turned around and asked me to crochet her another set. I made some polite noise about being 'too busy' right now with the sorting and packing for the move.

I was so pissed off, but I somehow managed to smile, act pleasant and get the heck out of there! Now I'm thinking twice about placing any of my patterns with her. If she had just been straight forward with me as to why she wanted the coasters we could have done business, and if she'd not straight up marketed them as an original creation of hers with a pattern and all I wouldn't be upset right now. But she had to be sneaky and shitty about it, maybe not as awful as Nora turned out to be but definitely not ethical in any way.

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