You don’t have to be around the home furnishings industry long to realize that integrity is, well, not a must-have when it comes to design. Or management. Or marketing.
You will see copies of furniture designs everywhere. It’s how it’s been for years and designers are constantly fighting back. And in some cases, they know the fight is long and hard so they just don’t fight at all. I've fought back when companies in the US and Canada starting producing exact copies of my copywritten designs. It's pretty mindblowing that it happens as much as it does.
Now, I’m not saying I’m the poster child for integrity. At times in my life, I sure haven’t been. With that said, I've always been wired to feel guilty if I don’t put the grocery cart back in the corral, let alone flat out steal designs. When I first started out, I did build two designs that were too similar to others but I immediately took them off-line when I realized that even a box with four dividers is copywritten by someone. Since that quick design lesson in 2007, I have been uber conscious to create completely original designs. It’s one thing to be influenced by someone else’s design, but it’s another to steal one and continue to market it as your own.
Someone I know has clearly not learned his after 20+ years as an international furniture designer.
A friend recently sent me a picture of an Instagram post where my ex-partner is claiming he designed a sofa that I now know is NOT his original idea. When I was marketing the design through Mod Life—and apparently unknowingly putting my integrity and reputation on the line in doing so—it never occurred to me it wasn’t his design. I trusted him. I never looked around. And I certainly didn’t think to look overseas.
Here’s the deal:
This sofa (named Mantilla) was apparently designed by well-known Italian designer, Emilio Nanni, for Saba Italia in 2013. You can see documentation below featuring the sofa in Italian magazines, websites, and links in 2013 and 2014. My ex-partner saw it at High Point Market in 2013. He was told by a friend that showed it to him, “do not copy it.”
He had rendering artist and designer, Ari Signes, draw up his version that is so similar other designers and consumers have said it looks like the same sofa. This all came to light few months ago but it was just days ago that my ex-partner’s version appeared on Instagram with the note, “Designed by (ex-partner). All rights reserved. Rendering by A. S. Designs.” Side note: Ari rendered the entire Mod Life line for Robert on spec (upfront without payment), and never got paid. She wrote about it here. But apparently, it’s ok in his mind to use her renderings to promote his work? Unbelievable.
You decide for yourself. Is this the same sofa that Emilio Nanni designed two years before Robert launched it under “Mod Life” in 2015?
To add insult to injury, I heard a few months back he was claiming a major furniture company had copied/stolen one of his designs. Pot meet kettle.
Why do I even care anymore? Because it still affects me, it affects people I care about, and as an industry, it affects all of us. I’m just plain done. I am tired of “designers” getting away with this kind of thing. I’m tired of the lies and deceit. I’m tired of the lack of integrity.
When he and I joined forces, an industry friend of his introduced me to a US manufacturer about producing Mod Mom after the Stanley Furniture licensing and spokesperson deal died when they shut down US production. When it turned out the new manufacturer wouldn't be able to help with the Mod Mom line, talks turned to his upholstery designs and I followed along naively believing we could build up sales of his line (which we called Mod Life, to capitalize on the Mod Mom brand and reairing of Shark Tank) in order to then build up Mod Mom. I didn't see it then, but I was the perfect vehicle, work horse, pr person, website designer, financial backing, and connection he needed to launch his line with a new manufacturer. I take full responsibility for not trusting my own intuition even though it was screaming at me that I needed to stick to steering Mod Mom on my own. I've learned a lot of lessons along the way but when it comes down to it, I simply believed with all of his experience, he knew best. My parents and many others believed, too.
Not only does he owe my parents $8,000, I’m in communication with multiple ex-clients (direct consumer, Eddie Mercado, and Randolph James of Magnolia Emporium, to name two) who are wondering when or if they will ever get paid back so when this type of thing is put on social media, they question what is happening. “He’s selling a design through an American manufacturer and promoting it, why am I not getting paid?” “Kiersten, it looks like he’s in Amsterdam? Why am I not getting paid if he can afford to fly all over the world?” My personal feeling is that he's not flying all over the world but he's making it look that way. Photos can easily be traced online to reveal if they are his or not. At this point, I wouldn’t put anything past him. Being told “I’m working on getting your money back to you but I won’t be replying to any more of your emails” when Eddie asked about the thousands of dollars he was owed two years ago shows real integrity, doesn’t it? He’s one heckuva genuine guy who doesn't reach out to past clients to make a plan. He waits for them to contact him and then he shames them for asking about the payback plan.
The truth is, everyone understands when someone is stuggling financially. I've been there. I've had to make payment plans with people and do everything I can to settle up. That required pride-swallowing, vulnerable conversations and extra jobs—not ducking, not running, and certainly, not shaming those I owed or stealing others designs to make a profit.
Why do people turn their heads to this type of behavior in the furniture industry? Why do mutual friends play both sides? Why don’t folks speak up when they know this is going on? Why do others still back him, even in the face of this type of evidence? Why do companies contract with people they know do this? I wish I had the answers.
I do know one thing, though. I won’t be quiet. Good people are being swindled, lied to, ignored, and stolen from. People who believed in him. Believed in Mod Life. Gave from their hearts, never believing it could all just be one big, fat façade.
It’s just not ok. Period. And it certainly does not show integrity.