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Asake Agoro: 5 Things I Learnt When Someone I Trusted Stole My Idea

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dreamstime_m_30853043Theft of ideas happen all the time especially in the creative industry which I’m in.

As a fashion designer I pride myself on being a trendsetter and not a fashion follower. While I want my designs to be on trend and stylish, I always try as much as I can to use designers I look up to as inspiration and nothing more. You can be inspired by a design and give it your own twist – in line with the ethos of your brand.  I have created designs and seen them copied by other designers; but the reality is, in fashion, the lines are blurred. No one can lay claim to the cold shoulder trend, for instance; but re-creating an embroidered, bat-wing sleeve, cut out back  sheer lace jacket from another designer’s lookbook and claiming it as your creation is something else entirely.
There are no copyright laws protecting designers in the fashion industry, especially here in Nigeria. Short of calling them out online, not much else can be done. Hence the reason why designs from New York Fashion Week to Milan fashion week can be reproduced in China, sold in high street stores within six weeks for a fraction of the price.

Copying in fashion is not news. In fact, it is an extremely common occurrence. There have been many high profile fashion copyright cases, i.e Christian Louboutin and YSL’s battle over red sole. Two notorious fast fashion copiers, HM vs Forever 21, Zara stealing graphic designs from an artist’s Instagram page. The list is endless!  The business of fast fashion brands, such as Forever 21, H&M, Zara, and Nasty Gal, depend entirely on copying on runway designs.

Coming from this understanding of copyright in the fashion industry, I know how hard it can be to prove someone has copied your idea. Short of having signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) prior to a conversation there is no way to sue such person or claim attribution. Ideas are a thousand a nickel and sometimes you see no danger in bouncing some of your best ideas with a trusted friend, a colleague or even a family member.

Sometime late last year I was with a friend who complained about a problem she had and I said , ‘You could make money out of this’. ‘No one would buy it’ she replied, and gave me some reasons why it would never work. I replied with a few reasons why it would work, and how we could make more money by involving some certain people. I told her we could partner together to execute the plan. She seemed excited about it and said, ‘Asake, you will have to do the leg work, I won’t go around meeting these people’ To which I replied in the affirmative.

Fast forward a few months later, I saw this ‘friend’ had decided to go on with the idea without involving me. I wasn’t too shocked, because two other mutual friends had complained to me about how they had shared ideas with her and she ran on with something similar. What surprised me was this person proclaiming to the world that the ideas was all theirs.

I don’t think people should be afraid of sharing their ideas with close friends, families or even strangers. This is a quick way you could discover what different people in different demographics and social level think about your idea. I believe there are a few important notes to keep at the back of your mind when you come up with a great idea.  Here are five things I have learnt from this experience and how to react in a similar situation.

Patent that Idea
If it’s a big one that you’re sure will make a lot of money, get a patent on your idea. If the person stealing the idea is a client who didn’t pay or a large company taking advantage of your small status, you may have legal recourse if you filed for copyright or trademark protection of your work. However, patents are usually a great drain on time, money and energy. Be sure you have the resources to do this without putting yourself under unnecessary strain. Also make sure you have resources to protect it, if another person or company is violated. This means a lot of money, lawyers etc

Keep Your Mouth Shut
Even if you’re just “talking shop” with another designer, you never know when they’re going to decide that they can steal your idea and get credit for it behind your back (or even right in front of you).  If you don’t want anyone to steal your ideas keep the blueprint to yourself. People can steal ideas but they can never steal execution or passion. Present your thoughts with vague open ended questions.For instance, ‘Do you think people need…?’ ‘Would you buy…?’ Watch their reaction. Also, the more you talk about an idea, the less likely you are to actually finish it, because your brain sees your bragging about it and takes it as a sign that it’s already done.

Not only does keeping quiet about your ideas until they’re done prevent anyone from stealing them during a crucial moment, it also helps ensure that you’ll actually get them done.

Execute Your Idea
The best way to protect an idea is to execute your idea. Ideas not coupled with action never become bigger than the brain cells they occupied. Million dollar ideas are a dime a dozen; the determination to see it through is what is priceless. Write out your idea and date in a notebook. Write out a line of action and under each line of action state how you plan to implement that action. Set deadlines for each action.

Stay Calm
When someone steals your idea, it’s natural to get upset. How could your colleague do that? It’s frustrating to watch someone get credit for something you came up with. Worse, you can miss out on the sorts of leadership roles that help push your career forward if others get to take the lead on the ideas you generate. You might feel compelled to blurt out, “I just said that a few minutes ago! Doesn’t anybody listen to me? Bite your tongue. You might be right, but it doesn’t help to get confrontational. You want to influence your team members, not alienate them. Plus, the person who stole your idea might have done so unconsciously—give them the benefit of the doubt. The main thing is to establish self-control and get your bearings back.

Remain Focused
If you feel it is something you simply cannot let go of ask for attribution. Contact the culprit and ask them to give you credit for your words, image, work or take it down. This sometimes stop the copying act. Use non-aggressive language and keep the emotion out of your request.

However, regardless of the response you get do not let this distract you from your goals and visions. Remind yourself that the alleged copier must feel pretty creatively bereft to have to snag someone else’s work and pass it off as their own…then get your revenge by doing better than they could ever imagine.

Lastly, if you simply must share your idea with someone, find someone with significant and valuable experience or expertise, and who also has a solid reputation for ethical conduct. Tell that person about your idea, and ask for advice. If it is possible ask for an NDA, but be careful about how you go about this request as you may alienate the person you are seeking advice from.

Have you ever had your idea or work stolen? What did you do?

Photo Credit: Photographerlondon |

I wear many hats !! Creative Director @AsakeOge, Tutor, Storyteller, Stylist, Content Writer TV/Online/Print & Entrepreneur. Food, Vodka & Red Wine lover, Travel ethusiast, Eternal optimist, Die hard romantic waiting for my horseman in shinning Agbada ! Instagram: @asake @asakeoge