Cut the Shit: the Trouble with Replica Furniture

eames chair replica

Our society has become far too accustomed to and accepting of the replica furniture industry. At what cost? We reveal why more consumers should tap into local resources for quality, sustainably made furniture. Next time you toss up between buying real or replicated, we hope you’ll take these factors into account.

Born out of a passion for quality and authenticity, Handkrafted aims to build a world where collaborating with a local maker to create unique goods tailored to your needs is a simple, sustainable, and viable alternative to consuming mass-produced items.

We pride ourselves on one core value: authenticity. Authenticity in our honest approach, authenticity in the genuine connections we foster, and above all else, authenticity in the original bespoke products our makers put their hearts into.

Australia has an amazingly rich and vibrant community of talented craftspeople who produce original, world-class goods. Yet, not enough consumers tap into these resources for quality, sustainably made furniture.

Instead, our society has become far too accustomed to and accepting of the replica furniture industry. It’s probably unsurprising given its prevalence. We see replica furniture everywhere – oohed and aahed at on lifestyle and renovation TV series and unabashedly gracing the pages of interior design magazines. IBIS World reported that replica furniture is a “rising trend” in the $360 million online furniture sector.

People berate distributors of copies in other industries (fashion, film, written content, etc.). So, why do we continue to endorse replica furniture? Sadly, few people take the time to consider why it’s so damaging and whether there are better alternatives.

Next time you toss up between buying real or replicated, here are some factors to take into account:

1. Quality

As Tony Ash wrote in Dezeen, “A copyist, by their very nature, exists to make products as cheaply as possible. In essence they are saying ‘let’s try and make this worse than the designer intended.’” We couldn’t agree more.

Most replicas are made with little respect for the craftsmanship and material quality envisaged by the original designer. When a replica of an original design is made, it is usually far from representative of the designer’s diligence and talent.

Only by raising public awareness and educating consumers of how replica pieces can be sold at substantially lower prices will customers have sufficient information at their disposal to properly assess their options and make fully informed choices.

It’s crucial to remember that while a duplicate may look like the original, it typically does not meet the same quality standard as the original. For one, a shoddy replica and original design definitely do not share a similar lifespan.

We acknowledge that the seemingly low price tag of many replicas may at first seem appealing. Yet in this age of disposability, surely we can individually and collectively benefit from a shift to quality over quantity. To do so, we need to reframe our perceptions of value.

The true value of getting something custom made exceeds the price you pay. (Just ask these people…) With Handkrafted, you get a high-quality, sustainably made product tailored to your specifications direct from an expert local craftsperson. The type of piece that will last a lifetime; the type of piece your kids will cherish as adults.

You can buy a cheaply made mass-produced replica that lasts for a few years. Or you can invest in something that matters.

2. Environment & Work Conditions

What is the real price paid when purchasing cheap replicas?

It should come as no surprise that many mass-produced replicas are manufactured in factories overseas with unbearable work conditions, unreasonably low wages, and poor environmental practices. The Swiss designer pair behind Anaïde Gregory Studio spent five months visiting factories around China in a project that became the Made in China Diary. For one part of the series, Anaïde and Gregory visited a factory that exports several containers of furniture each month.

“Work is done by employees who work six days a week amidst epoxy fumes and fiberglass dust without any protection,” they wrote. “The owner of this factory, driven by economic priorities, shows no care for his employees or the environment while disregarding copyrights and the conceptual basis from which the products he manufactures stem.”

ReplicasImage Credit: Anaïde Gregory Studio (Made in China Diary)

3. Supporting Local Designers

In supporting the replica furniture industry, people are directly harming and impacting local designers and makers.

Australia’s legal protection lags far behind many other countries. Under the Designs Act, designs must be registered before they are manufactured for market. Once sold, designers lose their ability to register them under the Act, and they can therefore be legally copied. For smaller makers, it can take years to perfect one design, and even longer to recoup the investment of registering. Thus, it seems impossible for small designers to ever register all of their designs.

This issue has prompted organisations like the Authentic Design Alliance to take action. Three years ago the group petitioned for significant changes to copyright law in Australia.

“The legal acceptance of cheap replica furniture shuts the door to Australian designers offering affordable, original design. It also allows replica sellers – trading off the skill and hard work of original designers – to benefit from a lack of public understanding and awareness and to get away with something you cannot do in any other industry that recognises and values the contribution of original creative effort,” the petition reads.

Not to mention, Australia only recognises a registered design for a maximum of 10 years (five years at the outset and five more upon renewal). In other western countries, protection lasts for more like 50-75 years, so designers can enjoy benefits from their own work during their lifetime, according to this BRW article.

“This is an industry-wide problem that impacts far more on smaller designers who do not have the resources to take expensive legal proceedings against often quite well-funded copyists,” Ash wrote in Dezeen. “It also does not take a genius to guess what might happen to the royalties for designers working for smaller furniture companies whose margins are being eroded.”

The issue extends well beyond replicas of iconic and mid-century designs. We need to instead draw our attention to the growing problem of replicating modern day, home-grown designs. Powerful replica furniture retailers have begun eyeing up the works of local makers – people dedicating their lives to creating original pieces imbued with sentiment.

“The copyists are eating away at the very creativity of our industry,” Ash wrote, “not just selling shoddy knock-offs of existing designs.”

custom made drawersDrawers by FOSAX

4. Originality

Handkrafted provides an opportunity to embark on an unforgettable journey with a local craftsperson, and creating one-of-a-kind pieces to last a lifetime.

The beauty of buying bespoke through Handkrafted creates the opportunity to be entirely unique. We foster a genuine opportunity for originality by giving clients a voice in shaping their own designs. Using Handkrafted, customers can transform their wildest ideas into a spectacular creation.

Stephen Lacey sums it up nicely in his humorous commentary on the replica furniture trend in an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald.  He writes: “Apart from the dubious ethics involved in stealing some impoverished Danish designer’s hard work, and supporting a Chinese sweatshop industry where toddlers are whipped until they make enough chair legs, isn’t there something terribly desperate about wanting a house full of cheap rip-offs?”

Of course we recognise that not everyone can afford a genuine Eames Lounge Chair. Nor can many of us afford a home filled with only high-quality custom handmade furniture.

Instead, we encourage everyone to do their best to consume more thoughtfully – with consideration to how the products we buy are made, who made them, under what working conditions, and where and how the raw materials are sourced. Many of us can play a part in occasionally investing in quality pieces with meaning.

Our choices can improve our lives, our communities, and our world. We can choose quality over quantity. We can support local designers and makers producing authentic and sustainably made products. We know that the benefits of buying local are plentiful, from economic to environmental gains.

With the expanding presence of platforms like Handkrafted that support home-grown makers, finding beautifully crafted and original furniture designs (like these) has become easier than ever:

christopher blank custom made deskMr Atkins Desk by Christopher Blank

The Rocker_Ben PercyThe Rocker by Ben Percy

custom made desk125 Desk by Curious Tales

custom made bohemian chairBluey’s Chair by Elise Cameron-Smith

custom lightingKAV Light Series by Dezion Studio

custom made timber chairLayla Chair by Maeker Studio

Rod Back Settee by Bernard Chandley

custom made glass coffee tableCoffee Table by Nathan Day Design

custom made buffetBellbrae Buffet by Bombora Custom Furniture

[Featured image credit: Anaïde Gregory Studio]

Words by Fred Kimel & Steph Schaffer

About Handkrafted:

Handkrafted is a community marketplace connecting people with passionate makers to commission custom goods. We have brought together hundreds of Australian independent, bespoke craftspeople and artisans who specialise in producing high quality, sustainably made pieces.

Our makers can help you realise your own idea or collaborate with you on a new design. Many also feature a range of original designs that can be made to order or customised to suit your specific needs. Whichever option you choose, we’re here to help make it happen. Support local makers and kick-start your own project today.  

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