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Here’s How Knockoff Furniture Is Hurting the Design Industry

The Internet has given us many great things. For better or for worse, it’s also given us some not-so-great ones. One prime example is the appallingly pervasive practice of stealing designs. In the promo-code frenetic, comparatively-priced world of e-commerce, counterfeiting is the biggest dirty little secret. It’s evident everywhere from the independent Etsy crafters who frequently spot suspiciously similar versions of their work at fast fashion retailers—without the compensation—to the hundreds of home decor sites selling knockoff Eames, Kartell, and Le Corbusier models at IKEA prices. With the near-infinite array of options—not to mention the anonymous nature of online shopping—it can be tempting to go for a price-slashed version that’s barely distinguishable from the real deal. But this constant poaching of designs has real consequences. Just ask Jerry Helling. As the CEO of Bernhardt Design, Helling knows the dark side of the counterfeit furniture market all too well–his company’s designs are frequent victims of cheap knockoffs. In 2012, Helling, along with several other industry executives, founded Be Original Americas, a not-for-profit aimed at educating the design community on the pitfalls of counterfeiting; Helling served as its first president. AD spoke to Helling about the problems with knockoffs, why they’re often more troubling than we realize, and what—if anything—the design community can do to stop them.

AD: How did you first get involved with this cause? Why do you find it important?

Jerry Helling: This counterfeiting topic is out of control. When all these companies came together to try to do something about it, I immediately said I was on board. As individual companies, we don’t really have the resources to go through all the lawsuits, so we thought the only way to do anything was to come together collectively and spread the message. Herman Miller and Emeco, some of these companies have gone the lawsuit route, but most of us…

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