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Voga's MD wades into the debate on replica furniture design is it illegal to buy replica watches online

Dezeen Magazine Next story Follow: Movies Comments Opinion Subscribe Architecture Interiors Design Technology Magazine Jobs Watch Store Hot List "To tar all replica furniture companies with the same brush is neither fair nor accurate" Share: Chris Diemer | 29 January 2015 52 comments

Opinion: & is-it-illegal-to-buy-replica-watches-online-rid-0.html. breitling bentley motors a25362nbsp;earlier this month Vitra's Tony Ash argued that copyists are "eating away at the very creativity of our industry". In response, Chris Diemer of replica furniture company Voga argues that firms like his are making good design affordable for the masses.

I walked into our offices in west London recently to be greeted by an unusual amount of activity for 8:42am on a Friday – several of our staff huddled around a computer screen, deep in debate. And even though our staff are a bright, hard-working bunch, I did feel the need to investigate why they were so transfixed by something that wasn't making coffee or ordering breakfast.

"There's an article on Dezeen about replica furniture," explained our e-commerce manager, visibly annoyed at what she'd just read. Initially, I wasn't too worried by this. People are entitled to their opinions and all that.

But when I read Vitra MD Tony Ash's comments regarding the replica furniture industry, I was more than a little disappointed, particularly in the implications he made about the ethics, motives and methods of its members. So, rather than simply let it lie, we decided that we'd like to speak up for ourselves.

Related story "Copyists are eating away at the creativity of our industry"

Before I go any further, I should say that Mr Ash did make some valid points in his piece.

There have been notable examples in the last few years of disreputable replica furniture manufacturers producing sub-standard furniture, failing to deliver products and leaving customers out of pocket. Several companies have even gone out of business as a result.

I disagree with the idea that cheaper can only mean worse

But making crass generalisations about an industry of thousands of people is bold at the best of times, and to tar all replica furniture companies with the same brush is neither fair nor accurate.

I can only speak for Voga, but I can say that, unequivocally, we take great pride in what we do. We do not take advantage of our customers, we do not skimp on quality and we don't do what we do just to make a quick buck. We love design, we love our products and we want to make them accessible to everyone.

But we also know that's exactly what you'd expect us to say.

That's why, over the last 12 months, we have taken initiatives to show how serious we are. In 2014, Voga established the Replica Furniture Association, a collective of responsible companies who adhere to a strict code of ethics. We refuse to be associated with any business that doesn't demonstrate a tangible commitment to customers' rights, financial security or quality assurance.

Mr Ash's assertion that our manufacturing process is led by a "let's try and make this worse than the designer intended" attitude is both ignorant and downright insulting. At Voga, we quality control-check every single item that leaves our factory, regardless of size, price or designer, to ensure the highest possible standards are maintained.

Our number one aim is to make great design accessible again, as it was always supposed to be

I disagree with the idea that cheaper can only mean worse, and, as several Dezeen readers pointed out, any claim that designs by the likes of Charles Eames and Børge Mogensen are "too cheap" is kind of missing the point.

For example, a Harry Bertoia Wire Chair would have cost you $90 in 1968. Now if you adjust that price based on inflation in the intervening years, it equates to around $300 in 2015 money – less than half what an original manufacturer will typically charge, and actually a little less than we charge.

Can you still call Mogensen's J39 'The People's Chair', an item first sold in Danish supermarkets, when it costs over £400? Is it fair that Arne Jacobsen's Series 7 sells for hundreds of pounds, even though it was designed to cost around a fiver? I'm not convinced.

Our number one aim is to make great design accessible again, as it was always supposed to be.

Aside from all of these points, it was the assertion "copyists are eating away at the very creativity of our industry" that struck me as odd.

By their very nature the designs we produce are vintage classics, all more than 25 years old. As a result, a claim that we are in some way eating away at creativity by producing pieces that have been in existence for over a quarter of a century seems strange to me. We just produce replica furniture; we aren't preventing any designer anywhere in the world from creating anything new.

Quite the opposite, in fact; we're fans just like anyone else. We get just as excited about fresh new designers bringing out mind-blowing products as any design geek would.

We aren't preventing any designer anywhere in the world from creating anything new

And it isn't as if the powers that be agree with Mr Ash's point of view. The British government show scepticism in their impact assessment of Section 52 of the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act. They questioned whether a lack of unlicensed copies in the UK market would mean substantial gains to rights holders or designers and admitted that licensed and unlicensed copies of furniture are unlikely to be substitutes for one another in price terms or in the eyes of the consumer.

Section 52 also states that consumers are unlikely to switch to buying licensed copies due to an inability or unwillingness to pay for the higher-priced version, even if they are interested in the specific design. In other words: the removal of non-licensed copies from the marketplace would not increase sales for the original producers, it will simply prevent consumers from being able to afford good design.

A change of law will have a significant impact on consumer opportunities and welfare, according to the UK government – something that we vehemently oppose.

But I guess the main issue we have is the suggestion that replica furniture companies like ours don't care about their customers.

Whether we could actually be classed as a competitor to companies like Vitra is debatable – the government certainly doesn't think we are – but we don't really see why we would take any less pride in our work than they do, or not work as hard for our users.

In truth, we work tirelessly to produce the same quality designer classics as the original manufacturers for a fraction of the price, all 100 per cent legally and all because we want these designs to be accessible to all. And we're going to keep doing it.

Chris Diemer is the managing director of Voga, a replica furniture company based in London.

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feral

I'm all for good quality copies, it makes design accessible to those on a more modest salary. Why should the rich be the only people to enjoy style and design in their home?

NYC

Voga, like the other predatory thieves making counterfeit trash, devalue original design. Unauthorized reproduction of any designer's work is the ultimate disrespect. Enjoy the counterfeit "heaven" sign above the gates of hell as you pass under it...

Ming

I guess all the different tissue manufacturers are devaluing Kleenex... Look, the fact that these designs are so widely replicated is because they're loved by people, and as long as the replicated products don't tarnish the original design with poor quality I think this is actually increasing the value of the design by introducing these furniture to the majority of the population who couldn't otherwise afford them.

Now look at this another way. If those beloved Eames chairs are priced beyond the reach of most people, they would become detached from our lives, which defeats their purpose of holding our asses up.

I'm kind of glad that the well-designed pieces are so widely embraced so that they won't fade away into history along with the expensive worn-once gowns and other extravagant irrelevances in the design world.

NYC

I'm sure you can look around and find something to hold your ass up without benefiting counterfeiters. Although if you choose to own a cheap knockoff of a respected design I guess that's a lifestyle choice - but one that makes you complicit in thievery. Hmm... what does that say about your lifestyle?

WMC

NYC you are as arrogant as the moniker you use. Since when is any chair (eg Eames) worth the thousands of dollars various elitist furniture stores price it at? It is not an original in their store either. It is a copy because the original designer did not produce it!

Branov

WMC this can also be ssen in a different way. http://www.vitra.com/en-gb/magazine/details/the-original

Ming

Who "owns" the Eames designs? Herman Miller? Why? Because they have a piece of paper that says they do? How contemptible.

Eames wanted their designs to be affordable and to reach the masses, does it matter morally who makes this possible? I will continue to buy Eames designs that I can afford.

Last thing I need is you – who is a no better evolved mammalian than myself – judging my lifestyle based on opinion. And stop calling it counterfeits, there's nothing that makes the "original" chairs authentic, call them replicas so you may sound less naive, childish and foolish.

Branov

Naive, childish and foolish could also be called the one who supports the production of cheap counterfeits under illegal conditions in Far East by buying them.

Herman Miller and Vitra do not only have pieces of paper saying they're the only authorised manufacturers and distributors of the Eames designs (one could call this "legal contract" instead of piece of paper).

They also worked together with Charles & Ray, they know the details of the products and the personal intentions of the designers - at least better than you or any counterfeiters. Cheers.

Hobin Rood

This is absurd. So basically, this company is a kind of Robin Hood, struggling against the mighty big furniture and the government to bring affordable price to the masses? Please...

First, I'm quite amazed how flexible copyright laws are in UK. Can you really sell a counterfeit of a less than 15-year-old piece of furniture? With the name of the designer and its original product name on it? (I'm referring to most of the Philippe Starck pieces sold by Voga).

But Mr Diemer is right, he is not competing against Vitra or Cassina. Sure, some of their prices may be too high (when not completely absurd, like the Le Corbusier "stool", basically a wooden box with 8 holes on it for 800€ ), but with all the new and tiny companies that share the price range. So yes, nowadays Voga IS eating away at the very creativity of our industry. And not just the furniture company, but all the furniture designers that work for them. If Mr Diemer knew any furniture designer, he would know how hard it is to make a living from it.

I would love to agree with the idea of promoting vintage design, but when I see that Voga catalog is proposing the same replica that you can find in any other replica shop, I can't. What's the point, aren't they enough DSW already? Does "vintage design" need to be impoverished to a few dozens pieces and names? I could even agree with the replica thing if it was widened to other less-known ones, but obviously Voga only sell sell what is available on the Asian shelves.

Fun fact: Voga care so much about their customers that on their French website (I'm automatically redirected on it) they forget to mention that in France everything they sell is considered as counterfeit, and is illegal. So, if for example you order a chair from "Charles (!) Le Corbusier", your order can be seized by customs, and destroyed.

VCH

The comment on inflation and the rising price of designer goods is interesting. A quick Google search shows a median income in America in 1968 of $6,054. Therefore, the Bertoia chair at $90 represented around 1.4% of an annual income. In 2014 the annual income was $53,891, and the Knoll price of $748 is 1.38% of an annual income. Obviously other changes to household expenditure could be taken into account (rent, cost of living etc) but on the surface we seem to have an assumption that things should be cheaper and easier to acquire, removing some of the aura of these designs.

Bill chapman

Isn't that like arguing a kit car replica of a Ferrari is in direct competition with a small performance car manufacturer cos they are similar prices? They are not, because they will attract different audiences.

Peterbookworm

If clients cannot afford the design originals then we steer them towards different contemporary designers. Replica furniture not only robs the original designers/license payers, but also the designers of our time who lose out to another shoddy replica. It's a complete loss of imagination sometimes..

pwlcapricorn1

When Charles Eames created furniture he wanted it accessible to everyone. They were prices to meet the everyone's budget.

'Early in their careers together, Charles and Ray identified the need for affordable, yet high-quality furniture for the average consumer - furniture that could serve a variety of uses'.

Now you have companies like Herman Miller and Vitra tarnishing that ideal and spitting in the face of the original intent of the designer. Herman Miller and Vitra don't care about anything but money and they only cater to those that have it.

Shame on you! Charles Eames is rolling in his grave, and I'm shopping at Rove Concepts.

Branov

Rubbish! The Lounge Chair does not cost more than when he was created in 1956 when you compare spending power - but there were no Vogas and IKEAS at that time. People asked for credits at their bank to buy furniture.

So it's absurd to always come up with Charles' quote when Vitra, Herman Miller, Cassina or another furniture company that cares for its products manufactured in Europe ask prices that are higher than those of the copyists. And Charles is not rolling in his grave, as Herman Miller and Vitra people who really knew him can tell you.

Karolos Koutsogiannopoulos

All I know is I purchased a Vitra Grand Repos for 3800 euros and five months after the delivery the chair is malfunctioning and I am standing by with no clear answer as to the service or repair. If that is what you call high-end manufacturing and service I'll stick with the replica next time. I can buy three or four for the same price.

Minkyu Lee

I don't usually comment on these Original vs Knock-off threads but this comment is seriously misinformed and 8 other ignorant people are "upping" this and I could not just idly sit by.

The Eames THEMSELVES battled with knock-offs during their lifetime!

"Tarnishing that ideal and spitting in the face of the original intent of the designer." "Charles Eames is rolling in his grave." "I'm shopping at Rove Concepts"????

Are you kidding me? One quick google of the word Eames Replica will show you that Rove Concepts spells "Eames" as "EAME." "THE EAME LOUNGE CHAIR." They can't even get the name right. THAT'S how much they could care less about the original designer.

YOU are exactly the type of person who would get Charles Eames rolling in his grave. You, who try to rationalise theft with skewing the words of the original designer. You, who are in support of the very type of people Charles Eames battled during his lifetime.

The real thieves are companies who have no moral conscience and have no problem simply taking someone else's idea and mass producing it for themselves to make money. They are like giant mosquitos.

Ask ONE SINGLE DESIGNER living now, if they would support other companies who knock off their designs and sell it as if it were their own. In haphazard measurements That's the REAL tarnishing of IDEALS.

It is said that a person's interior is the reflection of that person's soul. If your house is full of fakes, second-hand knock-offs, stolen-ideas by cheap dirty street merchants with zero integrity or deeper thought to what it actually means, what more can be said about your soul?

You know what. Go buy your precious Rove Concepts stolen property version. If I were a designer, I wouldn't WANT people like you sitting on my chair. If I were Charles, I would hands-down recommend you buy the Rove Concepts version because you don't deserve my real deal.

Also, stop staying ignorant. Try and google a bit: http://modestics.com/blog/beoriginal-herman-miller/

Branov

Thanks for the link! Good arguments: "But wait, Eames designed for the best for the most for the least." Wouldn’t that imply Charles and Ray somehow would be comfortable with or even pleased to have seen their designs so widely knocked off?

Not so, says Mark Schurman from Herman Miller: “They did design with that philosophy, but it’s widely misunderstood. One common argument is that these things are grossly overpriced from what the Eames would have intended. But if you go back and look at the published catalogs from that time, take the price of a particular piece and plug it in to the US Govt. inflation calculator, fast forward to 2014 you’ll find out most of the time its the same price, if not cheaper than the original pricing structure. They never said ‘the best for the most for CHEAP. It was always premium in terms of its performance, design and quality. People have misinterpreted that quote. Eames never said cheap. And I think thats one of those examples that people rationalise to cloud the issue.”

The Eames battled knockoffs the best way they could even back in 60s!

Modestics

Not true at all! Charles and Ray Eames have been battling knockoffs since they began designing. http://modestics.com/blog/beoriginal-herman-miller/

tom lever

What I don't understand is how this can happen in the UK, but Vitsoe, now actually a UK company, have the exclusive licence for Dieter Rams' furniture?

dieter

Shh, don't give them any ideas.

Dickie

Perhaps for the sake of perspective, Mr Diemer could explain where his replicas are produced. The price would seem to suggest China.

Country of origin is of course not the only indicator of quality, and I have personally seen some decent quality replicas from China and eastern Europe that would satisfy many people.

But it is without contest that these are of lower quality than those produced by Vitra and Herman Miller.

Chris, care of comment?

Bart

Where do you think Vitra produces some of their furniture? Exactly, China. Check its website, they have one site in Zhuhai. Any comments on that?

http://www.vitra.com/en-us/corporation/about-vitra

Branov

Yes, Vitra produces some office furniture products according to the Chinese market there! All Vitra products you can buy in UK are manufactured in Europe. Word!

Branov

What I don't understand: why do people who never in their lives would buy a fake watch or a Chinese car, buy furniture copies?

Joggl

You cannot compare something as low tech as a chair (whatever the quality standards are) to a car or a watch.

A quality copy of a chair is much easier to achieve than a high-tech product. That's why.

dan

Interesting that your respect for the creativity of others extends to your complete copy and paste of the made.com site – and even logo!

I would genuinely be very interested to hear your take on that. Also, your version of The Chair, by Wegner, claims that your original price before discount is considerably more than a licensed original...

Sor Perdida

I would call predatory thieves companies like Vitra, who dare putting a price tag of $10,000 on a sofa (say a Polder sofa by Hella Jongerius).

John

So they're thieves just because you can't afford their product or choose not to spend that on it? How exactly does that work?

Live Berg

I am a designer, I design a chair, and Vitra produces it. I get 2-5% royalties of the wholesale price for each sold item. Voga see the chair and make a replica and sells it for half the price. The market value of the chair gets ruined, Vitra's sales drop, and I don't get paid. Tell me how this will not effect my income as a designer? None of their arguments will make justice of what they do in my mind... You don't expect accountants, plumbers or hairdressers to do their work for free, so why should the person who designs your furniture?

Branov

Exactly! And you even forgot to mention that Vitra is developing the chair with you, investing a lot of resources – their engineers and time and money – and then buys tools to produce the chair in the highest possible quality they can achieve. This can take one to four years depending on the complexity of the project and on the results of dozens of tests being made to meet high European standards. And then Voga-like companies pass by and begin to produce something similar with the help of their Chinese friends. How would you react in Vitra's place?

Bart

The discussion is about design classics from the 1950s and 1960s that are well outside the copyright time period and whose designers are all gone. The original designers don't suffer at all. This is not about contemporary designs. They are still under copyright law and are not produced by Voga or any other furniture company. Therefore you don't suffer from what they sell.

Paolo Zardo

I honestly don't like at all in general the current design market. With the due exceptions – but very few – all we see around is a re-make of the classic design icons with no further ideas, revolution of style, new directions. And don't EVER forget the initial proposal of LeCorbu, Saarinen, Eames, ect.: making affordable furniture for the people! This is what Vitra&C. are NOT keeping in mind when selling the expensive "originals". So long live live to the copies – if well done!

Dan

Exactly!!!! As long as the likes of Vitra etc can still profit from the same 50-year-old ideas, why would they bother developing anything new. By the time a design is worth copying, chances are all concerned have made enough money already.

Branov

Paolo, please, you haven't read the discussion, have you?

Sanfordia113

The laws written by a handful of politicians, bought by the copyright industry. Copyright law was not intended to last decades beyond a creator's death. It was conceived of in a time before mass production was even possible.

It can be argued that copyright protection should be reduced to 10 years, regardless of whether the creator is alive or dead. Today, the creator is able to earn millions-fold more revenue from a single design, whereas 200 years ago, the market value of even a brilliant design was very limited.

TN

Why don't low-cost furniture manufacturers invest more in design and designers. It's been great in the past: http://www.hille.co.uk/polyside-chair

Professor T

This reminds me of the time my dad accidentally bought a "Sounds Like Whitney Houston" CD. (He didn't realize it was another singer covering her hits.) Great songs - but they just weren't the same as the originals.

Loaf

Ha ha, yes "Top of the Pops!"

Branov

Okay Paolo, then just try to find out how many new products Vitra is developing each year. And it's not about being stylish and funky at all but to try to solve new problems, to explore new techniques and so on. On the other side there are the classics that are available for the same or even lower prices than 60 years before if you consider inflation rates. That's for sure what you're NOT talking about.

Paolo Zardo

Branov, are you happy about what you wrote? Good, I think you are completely out of any reason to be right. What I see in Vitra shops is always the same, dot and this is my point if view: Vitra&C. are like old dinosaurs moving slow and not on "what's next". I always have in mind what Jobs said "design something DIFFERENT", HE was beyond everyone!

"When Charles Eames created furniture he wanted it accessible to everyone. They were prices to meet the everyone's budget.

"'Early in their careers together, Charles and Ray identified the need for affordable, yet high-quality furniture for the average consumer – furniture that could serve a variety of uses.'

"Now you have companies like Herman Miller and Vitra tarnishing that ideal and spitting in the face of the original intent of the designer. Herman Miller and Vitra don't care about anything but money and they only cater to those that have it."

So dear Branov, we can discuss years about that, but FACTS are what matter and facts are what is written above.

Branov

Paolo, Paolo. Charles and Ray themselves fought against knock-offs. Go ahead believing your "facts" that are just your opinion, that's completely okay. If ever you are around Basel I invite you to visit the Vitra Campus with me and we can have a talk. Cheers.

Branov

Dear Design Investor, all Vitra products are produced in Europe from the best materials in the best quality possible. This for sure has not become less cost intensive over the decades!

Design Investor

Branov,

The cost of making is much less significant it the total price of an object than you think.

There are initial investment costs in developing and launching a new design which are not there in the same degree per unit on your 250,000th version as they are in the first 10,000.

A classic with an existing audience is also much more likely to sell than a new model.

The furniture manufacturers are therefore making much, much higher margins on 30-40 year old models than they are on making new designs, so they are very keen to retain exclusivity for as long as possible.

What is the incentive for them to become more efficient with their use of resources?

What is the incentive for them to develop new designs by young breakthrough designers?

I agree with design protection but a better balance needs to be struck.

Why not limit copyright to living designers with further renegotiation possible by the family on the free market for say twenty years after their death?

Vitra would be a lot more credible if they put as much effort into developing new designs by young designers as they do in throwing mud to protect their monopoly on the estates of dead designers.

There are lots of furniture fairs but where have all the furniture competitions gone?

Branov

Design Investor, I clearly see your point but what you're not mentioning is that the careful among the companies who build original furniture ARE developing the originals.

They invest in new tooling, in better leather or fabrics, they create new versions and so on.
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