This One Is For You

To everyone Else

Todays post was really hard for me to write and I want to be honest with you and admit that I really did agonise over whether or not to publish it. The decision was complicated further when I received an email from the party in question, threatening legal action (of which they have no grounds.) A rule follower through and through, I never want to do anything incorrectly and I'm not out to 'ruin' anyone's business or point fingers, that's just not how I roll... I am here to tell my side of a story, on my own website, on my own blog and I simply refuse to be silenced by threats. I will not be controlled by anyone trying to bully me into submission through fear that they'll be exposed.

I share quite a lot on the internet, but in general I hope that I find the line between what's appropriate and what's not. Some things are personal and they belong to me, my family and friends, other things may seem unprofessional and although every small business is a personal journey (there's no escaping that) there's always a line you try not to cross. I believe that this post is sitting close to that line as it is so personal but I hope you see why I've chosen to write it  - it's not about competition, it's about decency. 

Copyright and intellectual property are huge issues for many small businesses, maybe not in these exact circumstances but there are always similar stories out there. Some people don't realise the damage they do when they copy and I hope that this might help enlighten them (I mean that in the least patronising way possible although granted, it sounds really twatty). Last year I wrote a post called 'Why I won't help you copy my business' and today's post feels like the second part to that... but a lot more personal.

 

Disclaimers:

  1. I said from the beginning that I wouldn't 'name and shame' and I meant it. The names in this blog have been changed because I'd like to give this person one more chance to do the right thing. I know she reads my blogs because she uses them for 'inspiration' too. From now on she will be referred to as Janet. (A different Janet to last time, apparently I just like to call people Janet) 
  2. When I feel passionately about something - I swear....I felt VERY PASSIONATE about this post, particularly at the end. 

 

To you

This one's for every business who has been damaged due to copy cats. This one's for me because you wouldn't let me look you in the eye and tell you how much it hurt. But today, this one's for you, because you need to be held accountable. 

 

My letter to you

To Janet,

I don't normally do this Janet, I don't normally waste my own time writing and focusing on someone who has betrayed my trust and ripped me off. I have plenty of people copying my work on a regular basis and I reason with myself that they are not worth it. I get my head down and I work harder to be better. What makes this worse is that I'd done that with you. I'd filed you in the "Rude But Fuck Them" folder and was getting on with it under the confident assumption that you'd never darken my inbox again.  

But when you made the decision to come to an event I was speaking at, to sit there and look me in the eye when I spoke about copying, to listen to my talk but refuse to talk to me. To suggest in front of other people at an event where I was being paid to speak, that I was somehow in the wrong by not having "anything nice to say" to you. When you decided to do that after everything else, you dared me to step up and in that regard Janet, you've won. This time, I simply cannot ignore you, because you refuse to be ignored. This time I will not ignore you, because this time you've properly taken the piss.

Hiding from someone you've deceived and keeping your head down is one thing but sitting brazenly in front of them so they can give you even more advice is a whole other ball game and Janet, you should know that that is not OK. 

Too many small businesses are destroyed because of people with no morals. I may not 'name and shame' you as I don't believe bullying is ever the answer, although if the shoe was on the other foot I've no doubt you'd do it to me - a point that was emphasised when you got a family member to email me 2 hours before this post was originally due to be published, threatening to sue both my company and myself as a soletrader if I posted it. Trying to bully me out of sharing my side of this story - when I was never going to name names, your actions speak volumes. 

 

Let's journey back 

You may not remember but we corresponded 35 times in total. That was 35 opportunities for you to admit what you were doing. 35 opportunities that instead, you took to manipulate answers from me and start a business behind my back with everything you could learn from me under the guise of being a customer. (I've included details about every communication we had that I'm aware of, sorry if it's a little long winded, I just wanted to be thorough in my account)

 

21st November 2017

Subject: Home kits

You emailed to ask which (Giant Blanket) knit kit colours I had in stock - you finish your email with "PS: I've really enjoyed reading your blog and viewing your hard work. Congratulations on all your success."

I replied with lists of colours and the very next day you placed an order for a Blanket knit kit and my knitting book. 


24th November 2017 

Subject: Missing Items

You emailed because we'd forgotten to put the instructions in your kit. 

Gah our bad! I apologised and sent them out (They certainly WILL be important to you won't they?)


25th November 2017

Subject: Yarn Question

You emailed "Hi Lauren, Is the wool you sent ready to knit straight away or do you recommend unraveling to hand felt first? Cheers!"

I replied with my advice


1st December 2017

Subject: Step 6 Question

You emailed again asking for more information about step 6 of the instructions,

I replied with my advice.


4th December 2017

Subject: Step 7

You emailed yet again asking for more information about the step 7 on the instructions.

By this stage I'd never had anyone ask so many questions about their knit kit - All the information they need should be included so I began to feel as though I'd done it a disservice by not including enough information. In hindsight of course, I imagine that you needed more information because you weren't just thinking about how to make 1 blanket, you were working out your own production and step 6 and 7 are a little long winded so of course you want to figure out how to make them quicker. Less effort, more money and all that... but that's just what I imagine.


9th January 2018 

Subject: Turn around? 

Oh the fun we had this night, with 13 emails back and forth because you wanted to spend your Christmas money on a blanket made by me. You wanted to know turn around time and what colours I had in stock. I assume that by this point you'd decided you couldn't be bothered with steps 6 and 7, after all I've always said that the knitting is the quickest part, it's what comes after that that's time consuming (but vital)... so I guess you thought you'd order one of mine to compare and see if it actually makes any difference...SPOILER: It does. In the end you ordered an aubergine blanket from me which I later saw you post on your Instagram implying you'd made.


19th January 2018 

This is one of my favourite interactions now I look back Janet! You commented on one of my blog posts where I shared some pictures of my studio. You said: 

"Just love seeing your "behind the scenes." I see you also use super long needles, longer than the 1m ones that you sell. How do you use these needles? Have a fab weekend and thanks again for your fantastic service."

(I've since deleted this comment so that you don't 'sue me for libel') 

LOL not only were you trying to find out EVEN MORE information but a few months later you posted a picture of your workspace. In this picture you had the same desk as me, the same stepstool, similar shelving, the same cotton lights as me, the same wool from the same supplier as me, the needles I sold you in the knit kit and the cherry on the top was a cushion from my knitting book - another pattern which is protected by law, Janet. AND I'm not even joking and can't believe I'm writing this but in the same album you posted a picture of your desk space where you had my calendar, the instructions from the knit kit that I sold you and the information I later emailed telling you how to work out how many stitches to cast on...all pinned up above your desk. If you'd like to see screenshots I have them all here hun.


22nd January 2018 

Subject: Quick Question

"Hi ya Lauren, 
Absolutely love my blanket thank you so much. It looks lush in my bedroom. 
Quick question if you don’t mind me asking, as I’m still learning all about chunky knit;
I noticed the stitches seem large or loose, is this due to loose arm tension when kitting or as a result of the stretching done in post production?
Thank you!"

I explained that I just knit a little looser and asked if it was a problem or if you didn't like it?

"Oh no I love it as it is, I just want to try and emulate what you’ve done when I tackle my next project. Was this made using the same needle gauge I purchased from you with your DIY kit, or a bigger needle? "

OHHHHH you want to emulate it ....gottchya.


23rd January 2018

Same thread as above you now ask, and this is where I really am ashamed of myself for telling you, you totally pulled the wool over my eyes *pun intended* and I was a fool not to see it, I know...

"One last question, please don’t feel you must answer if it reveals too many LAD secrets ;-) but how do you determine how many stitches to cast on with?! If I wanted to make a 30x50 for example, how do I calculate the stitches for cast on? I’m wracking my brain and trying to find the equation online but am running up empty. Thank you as ever! Xx"

Well played Janet, telling me I don't have to give away my secrets makes you seem so very unassuming, I of course told you the basis of the equation which you now have pinned above your desk.


Still 23rd January

Subject: Thank you

"Thank you so much for your help this morning Lauren! 
I’ve just finished this for my son. 
I’ve got the knitting bug I reckon! 
Have a great day!"

You sent a picture of a scarlet blanket which I didn't sell you the wool for so I did wonder I must admit. It showed the needles I sold you with just a hint of the branding showing. You later posted this onto your business Instagram as one of your blankets to sell.


I went a while without hearing anything from you (busy behind the scenes I imagine!) And then one day mid February I had a kind message from a company I tag quite often on Instagram because I use their products a lot. They said a knitting business had been tagging them a lot in images and "we couldn't help but think 'copycat'...as one small business to another, we thought you should know". I had a gander and low and behold there you were. I hope you can image the shock and hurt that that caused. I'd been naive enough to give you far too much advice - because I'm British and when someone asks a question we like to answer it politely. You invaded my privacy and asked too much of me, but because you were a customer I felt I had a responsibility to respond helpfully. I believe you manipulated every situation with your false compliments and meaningless niceties and I stupidly bought it. I can't tell you how disappointed I am in myself. 

I did occasionally wonder if maybe you had no idea the damage you were doing. I really wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt, I wondered if maybe, you honestly just didn't realise it was wrong and your compliments were in earnest. But if that was the case then SURELY you would have realised when I next emailed you? I linked to my copying blog post and asked you to please read it so that you'd understand. What happened afterwards convinced me that you either knew but didn't care, or that you actually managed to convince yourself that what you'd done was different.

 

My Email to You

LaurenAstonDesignsTCN

 

you didn't reply

 

When you didn't reply I hoped you maybe understood and that instead of facing up to it you might just quietly stop. Instead you blocked me on Instagram so I couldn't see what you were doing. You did however continue to watch my Instagram stories and still do to this day...a bit odd and intrusive no? Was there not a point where you considered my feelings at all? Did you not think that after I'd found out what you'd done you should leave me alone and stop abusing my trust? 

So there I was thinking you'd quietly bow out. How very silly of me. How could I think that someone so brazen would do something so reasonable? 

After all that you still came to a show I did in March, hiding behind the anonymity that the internet provides. Did you have a good look? Did we speak? Did you ask more questions? I can't remember. 

 

At the event

Then finally last week and I'm still shocked that this happened - you turned up to another event I was involved with - this time one where I was speaking. I was there to try and help other small businesses build their brands on Instagram, I would question if you knew I'd be there....but my name was in the title.  

I imagine that you thought you'd just be one of the crowd again and that I wouldn't notice - you were nearly right. I didn't notice for a while. I sat there smiling at you while you positioned yourself at the front of the room, I smiled right up until that moment when you were asked to introduce yourself. Having taken your name tag off (to try and hide?), I imagine that came as a bit of a shock. You told everyone in the room your name and said that you were 'a knitter' and that's when the penny dropped for me Janet. Shocked is an understatement, perhaps astounded is a better fit - I honestly couldn't believe that you would have the audacity to sit in front of me and listen to me talk even more about how I run my business, after everything you'd done. It took me a little while to comprehend that anyone would be so ruthless as to do that. Behaviour like that shocks me, it's so rude and uncaring and selfish. So damaging, unkind and brazen. I still can't get my head around it.

The thing that got me the most is that you would put me in that position. Knowing I was there in a professional capacity and had to keep it together despite the shock. Yet again I overestimated you and assumed that you must, SURELY, be willing to finally explain yourself and apologise when you were seemingly there to take even more from me? 

You should have left Janet. You should have made your excuses at lunch and not taken advantage of the situation. I was being paid to speak, you knew I couldn't cause a fuss and that I had to get on with it, here was yet another opportunity for you to step up and do just one thing right in this situation, but yet again, you didn't.

 

Nothing Nice to say to you

I kept my shit together all day, I gave my talk knowing you were there and accepted that you could take even more from me. I looked you in the eye when I spoke about copying and I felt your discomfort. You must know exactly what you have done? Then at the end of the day I asked for "a moment of your time" to give you another opportunity to explain yourself, you chose not to take that opportunity and so now I'm taking it. 

Do you remember on Love Island when Adam undermined Rosie after he'd clearly screwed her over? He Gaslighted* her and tried to make her feel like she was the one in the wrong. When you held your hand up to me last week and said "Actually Lauren, unless you've got anything nice to say to me, I'm not going to speak to you" I recognised that. For a split second I felt the shame you intended, I felt the embarrassment because the people around would believe that I was the one in the wrong. But just for a split second. Because it turns out that you cannot do that to me. You have no right to do that to me and I will not let that be how this is finished. 

 

*Gaslight

"[Verb]

Manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity"

Source: Oxford English Dictionary Online

 

You stood there and you tried to insinuate that it was me who should feel ashamed and embarrassed. If it's me who's in the wrong Janet, why was it you who ran away? I tried to give you the opportunity to discuss it reasonably, I didn't cause a scene, I wasn't aggressive in any way, and you didn't even have the decency to do that, instead you manipulated the situation and played the victim, making me out to be the bully in front of my colleagues and fellow small businesses. It took everything I had to stay composed and polite and you threw it in my face before you quite literally ran away. 

Your manipulating words from last week were still ringing in my ears when I read what you'd written online about how dignified and graceful you thought you were "in the face of adversity". I wonder who you thought was undignified? You went on to discuss how we, as woman should support each other even if our businesses are 'similar'. It saddens me that you still don't understand my point Janet, you don't understand that this isn't about competition, it's about decency and humanity. You're right, other women in business are absolutely our biggest allies. I'm a woman who's built her business through manners, morals, hard work and relationships. What have you built yours on?

 

What I want you to know now

I'm quite sure you know what you've done, the threatening email yesterday certainly implied that you don't want people to know it was you, because you know how bad it is... but I hope you know just how outrageous it is. I hope that you feel worse than I do right now because I feel sick looking back at this and considering how you've acted, and it's not me who should feel uncomfortable or ashamed. I feel so frustrated that I've wasted any of my time dealing with someone who hasn't even got the decency to stand in front of me and admit what she's done but instead gets family members to make baseless threats and try to bully me into submission.  

Not only are your actions rude and brazen, the damage goes further than that. It's hurtful to me as a person - as another individual who you claim to 'admire', it hurts me that you would take everything I've learnt and developed and figured out and use it so shamelessly to your own advantage. The damage that is done to someone when their intellectual property is compromised is horrible and it's so important for that to be realised. You can't always see it - it's sleepless nights and tears, it's confusion, worry and doubt, it's pushing someone to the edge of their tolerance until they think that they should just give up. "If I give up then who will they have to copy?" Although maybe you've learnt all you need to now, after all you have my instructions taped to your desk. Maybe you'd just carry on, uncaring.

It takes something from me every time someone copies my work and sometimes it makes me want to give up. But then I think; 'FUCK YOU'. Fuck you for thinking you can take this from me. This is everything I've built. I moved to Devon and I didn't know anyone or anything. I was depressed and lonely and I built this business to pick myself up, give myself meaning and passion and to create something that I loved. This business whether right or wrong, defines me. It has brought me the greatest friends, the most incredible opportunities and so much pride. You can't have that from me, and you can't make a carbon copy for yourself because it will never be truly real. So fuck you for thinking you can. 

 

You can't have any more

You could have taken the opportunity to discuss this reasonably Janet, face to face, when you decided to put me in that position last week, and you chose not to. You decided to do all these things and you may hide behind your keyboard and remove your name tag and tell your friends that you're the victim but you're only a victim of your own decisions Janet. You can claim that I'm undignified and don't have any grace and tell yourself that I'm mad because I don't like the competition but you and I both know, this is not about competition. This is about exploitation.

You've had so many chances to make the right decision and it's been exhausting to witness you make the poor choice, time and again. But this time, just because you decide you don't want to talk to me doesn't mean that I won't talk. This does not need to go on any further, I've said what I needed to say and I will not waste any more of my time on you because you are not worth it.