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Jennifer Marks

Suspicious Minds

The level of paranoia about intellectual property theft is running fairly high. And with retailers expected to increase direct sourcing, it's likely to run even higher.

The result is a growing distrust of one's customers and an even deeper suspicion of strangers. Rightfully so.

The stories have become so commonplace they've lost the power to shock. The key account asks for several versions of XYZ ensemble, then announces it has decided not to pick up that number. Eight months later, a near-replica appears in the store under private label. The brand supplier has a hot-ticket pattern out at retail. Within months (if not weeks) the scrappy, rock-bottom-prices sourcing company is showing an item almost exactly like it, but stripped of a few bells and whistles to cut the cost.

Small wonder, then, that many suppliers are drawing the curtain on their best products. One leading company now prohibits some of its more notorious accounts from photographing anything in its showroom — especially goods designed for those specific accounts. Another posted a warning sign at its entryway after discovering uninvited offshore representatives wandering the floor. Yet another has dropped product shots from its advertisements so that they don't get knocked off before the company has a chance to show them to a buyer or two.

But there's a dirty little secret here: Many finished-goods suppliers are rip-off artists, too. They also walk the shows and take the office appointments and order samples — knowing in many instances that they will ship those samples off to a factory in China and ask for cheaper version of the same pattern.

There is unlikely to be any active attempt by authorities to seek out and interrupt such practices in the home textiles world. Bogus Kate Spade bags and Calloway clubs are easier to spot than an illegal clone of pattern 10386H.

So the delicate dance will continue, in which customer X pretends that it's actually not going to pirate pattern 10386H, and the seller of pattern 10386H hopes that this time, it really won't.

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