Replica furniture: Fakes or Affordable design? The big debate.

Last week I wrote a post about replica furniture and didn’t expect the feedback to come back as much as it did, and I’m very appreciative of hearing the comments because it’s why I wrote a blog after-all. It felt like throwing a rock pebble in to a pond and the ripples are still going.

As a single post on the topic of Replica furniture, it was never going to be able to touch on all aspects of this subject so I had planned to pick this up again with a few more posts. The main point that was raised over this post is whether we (and by ‘we’ I am referring to the less wealthy design lover) should have the chance to buy designs at a far lower price.

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Images above courtesy Vitra

Why should an Eames DSW chair be out of my reach when I’m as appreciative of this as those with more cash. After all Charles & Ray always wanted their designs to be placed in the public realm and enjoyed by everyone.

This opens two strands of conversation for me:
1. Why does an Eames DSW cost £340?
2. Should copies be allowed to offer a lower cost version?

I’ve given my moral opinion on this subject, I am against copies. They take royalties away from designers. Simple as that. (NB. I’m going to deal with the subject of royalties for designers who are no longer alive another time as that keeps coming up.)

But what about my opinion on affordability, and the desire of a designer to make their products inexpensive. And what should that price be? I hear the amount £30 a lot for a chair. In my opinion, you can’t make a good chair to retail for £30. But I do own chairs that cost £10 which I love. But I wouldn’t compare them to the comfort of my Vitra Eames DSW. If a chair is £30 then I’m desperate to sit my bum in it and see how comfortable it is. If it is comfortable then I’m starting to look at the quality of manufacturing. Do those nuts and bolts come loose easily? Is the edge of the plastic finished by hand? If that looks good to me too, then I’m wondering where it is made, what the packaging is like, and how it will look after a few years of use. This is a difficult area, and one that I’m hoping to explore very soon. (On that note, I’ve reached out to some companies for help on this, but I would love a manufacturer to explain to me why their products cost more than the copies.(

So, let’s get back on track. Should copies be allowed to offer a lower cost version? I believe in creativity, and funding this, be that a designer or a manufacturer. And copies open up issues for me with this.

But why copy a design? Why not design a £30 chair? Or is this a key point that the designing/modelling of a product takes time and costs money whereas a copy can be done for relatively little money. Perhaps it is, perhaps not. Or is it to fuel demand? We see the Eames DSW on Pinterest and in magazines all of the time which fuels our desire to have one of these icons in our own homes. If a new chair design was launched would it sell as well as a copy? Probably not. And to market a new product is expensive…to create the demand that the Eames DSW has generated. Herein lies some of the extra cost seen by the official products, they support and create the awareness that makes it appealing to copycats.

But why not let the people who want the original buy that, and let people who can’t afford it buy a copy? Here we are with a moral dilemma again. If you designed something and were happily selling it making profit from your own idea, and someone copied it and sold it undercutting you and paid you nothing, would that make you angry or happy that your product was being enjoyed by more people? Don’t worry, dear reader, there is no need to answer that question. Most of us are capitalists when it comes to commerce.

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Images above courtesy Ikea

So why not design a new chair for £30? C’mon, how hard can it be? Form Us With Love were tasked with just that by mega-retailer Ikea who sell their Janinge chair for £40. It’s a plastic chair that infringes no copyright and even supports creativity by funding new affordable design and furniture. Or why not buy Hille’s reissue of the Polyprop chair endorsed by the Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation which is only £49 and is so very beautiful in all it’s utilitarian splendour. Buying that chair supports the foundation’s work with student development and funds future design exploration.

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Image courtesy Wikipedia via Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation

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Images above courtesy Amos Marchant / Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation

There are a variety of ways that you can buy an inexpensive chair without having to buy a copy. Great design, affordable, ethical, made to last and comfortable. Precisely what an affordable chair should be.

Product: Official Eames DSW Chair
Designer: Charles & Ray Eames
Manufacturer: Vitra or Herman Miller
Year: 1950
Price: £345 from Nest.co.uk

Product: Replica Eames DSW Chair
Designer: Charles & Ray Eames
Manufacturer: Voga
Year: 1950
Price: £67

Product: Polypropylene Side Chair
Designer: Robin Day
Manufacturer: Hille
Year: 1963
Price: £49

Product: Janinge Chair
Designer: Form Us With Love
Manufacturer: Ikea
Year: 2015
Price: £40

Daniel

Having worked in design for the past decade, Daniel started ateliertally.com as a discussion of timeless, modernist product design. Trained as a graphic designer, he also has an avid interest in typography. You can follow him on Twitter @ateliertally.

7 Comments

  • Ian Macready says:

    Some of the questions to be asked: how old is the design? how long should copyright last? Personally I am more concerned about a current design of the last 5 – 10 years being copied but just not exactly by high street retailers, so that they evade prosecution, rather than 60 year old designs where only the surviving relatives receive the royalties. At some point does copyright have to lapse? 25 or 30 or 50 years? I agree with the debate that copies are not a good thing, but find it difficult to get wound up by copies of Eames chairs. Nobody seems too fussed about the three legged stool from Ikea that is a cheap copy of the Artek model 60 stool designed some 80 years ago. And to be honest, nor should they be.

  • Gabrielle says:

    My opinion is that as long it is a limited edition of a special product will be an affordable design. It it goes into hundreds of replica products there is just a copy. See the cheap replica products around.

  • Margarita says:

    I agree with your views on cheap copies of great designs/designers. There is a reason, as you have well explained why these pieces costs the money. I am a designer myself, and one of my products have been copied a lot, all over the world. I cant reduce the price of my products,as I will be compromising on quality and ethos, so I am more inclined to say, that fi I cant afford a piece, I save for it, and rather than having 10 things I will reassure a very well made one! By the way, got the chairs you mentioned above, very practical and well made!

  • For me, it is really about the item I’m getting. Some things are just worth spending money on. And sometimes, spending less makes more sense – if it is for something smaller or you know you’re never going to touch.

  • Mike Gilbert says:

    I am against copy, but i guess related to chairs, copy it as good as the original. Why does an Eames DSW costs that much?

  • Shaun Donnelly says:

    Why does a Mulberry bag cost so much? Would you buy a fake bag? Why should a different rule apply to furniture?

  • Daniel says:

    Well, that question begins to stray into brand value – what someone is prepared to pay for a bag, rather than the value of the bag. Would someone buy the same bag without the brand. With furniture, there are some big name designers but not in comparison to fashion which are wider known.

    But, I wouldn’t buy a fake Mulberry bag, no. I would buy a bag which is made well, well-designed and that I love. Not because it is Mulberry.

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