Armed with a pom-pom microphone, textile artist Alexandria Masse has taken to YouTube to blast Shein, AliExpress and Etsy after her designs were allegedly stolen.
In a video posted on May 19, Masse called out the alleged knock-offs and gave each one a rating in a comedic tone.
The artist highlighted key elements of her designs that she said confirmed her designs were being infringed on. Some of those details, unique to Masse's pieces, include the way she designs the dragon eyes, horns and scales — which in some cases were nearly exactly replicated in the fast fashion designs.
Masse said she was upset to learn her designs were allegedly being ripped off. But, she said she wanted to use the moment to call out companies like Shein, who according to Masse, do this regularly to artists.
Masse told Yahoo Canada it’s better to have a conversation about it, than be upset alone.
"It’s sad that this is becoming the norm. I think the only way to really prevent that is to continue talking about how it's not OK for them to do this,” Masse said.
After a request for comment from Yahoo Canada, a spokesperson for Shein said the company takes "all claims of infringement seriously."
"It is not our intent to infringe anyone's valid intellectual property and it is not our business model to do so. Shein suppliers are required to comply with company policy and certify their products do not infringe third-party IP. We continue to invest in and improve our product review process," an email read.
AliExpress has not responded to a request for comment.
Masse first went viral in 2022 for her crochet designs.
Crocheting became popular during the pandemic, and that's when Masse began experimenting with the craft. When she started posting her creations to social media, her follower count began increasing.
"I thought the things I make might be a little too bizarre, but people were interested, and I thought 'wow, this is amazing.'"
Masse first learned her designs were being mass-produced and sold on sites after receiving messages on Instagram asking if she was selling her pieces on Etsy.
The 22-year-old was surprised, as she only sells directly from her website or commissions through a personal email.
"I did a reverse image search of my photo, and hundreds and hundreds of listings came up," she said.
To make matters worse, Etsy and other sites were using photos from her website to sell their products, Masse alleged.
"The creepy part is they weren't just ripping off my design; they were using my photo with my face and my watermark," she explained.
As she clicked on more listings, she said she went "down a rabbit hole." The crochetier was horrified to discover the alleged knock-offs were being sold for around $20.
"That’s the saddest and most frustrating part about this; my design is being used to help exploit people for profit."
The creepy part is they weren't just ripping off my design; they were using my photo with my face and my watermark.Alexandria Masse
Crocheting is a painstakingly detailed process, Masse said. Because of the nature of the craft, it has to be done by hand — stitch by stitch.
It can take Masse up to a week to produce one of her custom designs from scratch.
Each custom dragon hat has about 20 pieces of crochet that are then stitched together. Some designs have even more pieces, depending on the intricacy of the design.
"It’s so sad and scary because obviously, the person working on this is spending hours of their time crocheting each piece stitch by stitch and then sewing it together," Masse said, referencing working conditions at some fast-fashion brands.
"There's no way these companies are able to buy the materials and give them a decent wage to do that."
A 'rite of passage' for artist
Masse added she is not the only textile artist working with crochet to have her work targeted in this way.
"It’s because crocheted handmade clothes became trendy [during] the pandemic," she speculated.
She explained the trend is great for artists who work with this medium, but alleged Shein and other companies see this trend as an opportunity to make money.
"Shein likes to rip off crochet designs, which is especially sad because crochet can't be manufactured on a machine," she claimed.
It's almost like a rite of passage at this point for artisans, especially crochet artists.Alexandria Masse
Masse believes having someone do all the work for you is a big part of why crochet artists are being ripped off.
"[From] figuring out the garment shape and what colours to use, all these choices that someone spends a lot of time thinking about, all that design work is already done. All the companies have to do is put it into production," she said.
Masse has reached out to Etsy about her situation, and said they responded by explaining that since they are a venue, they can’t offer legal advice on Masse’s rights and whether or not someone is infringing on her designs.
Every time I contact @Etsy about their sellers using my photos to scam people, they tell me it doesn’t violate anything. Good to know they protect scammers and don’t actually care about artists! pic.twitter.com/u3pZf7fgRR
— alexandria masse (@MasseAlexandria) May 18, 2023
Masse alleged Etsy suggested she reaches out to a lawyer. But, "as an individual artist, I don’t have the money to go through all that," she said.
While it’s nice to go viral, Masse believes this is an unwanted side effect artists sometimes have to face.
"You have a lot of people appreciating your work and I love people who like the strange things I like, but unfortunately sometimes photos will end up on websites uncredited," she added.
"Honestly, I'm lucky to say this hasn't affected me too much emotionally or physically or anything like that. I'm just kind of like, 'OK, that sucks time to move on.'"
Masse went on to say other artists who find themselves in the same position should know whatever they feel is valid.
"I’ve had people tell me that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but you know, it’s robbery," she said.
However, Masse doesn’t want other artists to be discouraged by her experience or to stop sharing their work.
"It shouldn’t stop anyone's ability to keep creating and keep sharing. Because it’s not going to stop me… I just think it's important to speak about it."