While people say "imitation is the best compliment", as a designer, crafts person, and business person, finding copies of your work out in the world and undercutting your prices is rather distressing. One can argue that the capitalism ideals provides competition there by lowering costs and passing on the savings to the customer but there is so much more than meets the eye.
Yesterday, as I explored the Chelsea area of New York, I found a store displaying many mid-century classic chairs. I just cannot resist sitting in them. This store had "The Chair" aka "The Round One" by Hans J. Wegner. (PP501/503) I sat in it, made myself comfortable, admired the way the transition between the back rest to the arm rest. It's just such a great chair. Then I leaned over and saw the tag. The cost was much lower than what I thought it was, and then I saw the check box that indicated it was a replica. That discovery made me wince. Well, at least the store was honest about it.
Like so many iconic chairs by famous designers, there are imitations out there that to be quite honest, some times I cannot even tell the difference. However, what my summer in Denmark taught me is that there's a story behind all these chairs. A story that goes beyond just how the form came to be. After the design of the form is finished, there are people involved in crafting these chairs from the very beginning, perfecting the process of manufacturing that also adds to the embodiment of the spirit that goes with that chair. Even if the same people evolved the process of making these chairs by automation, innovating with modern technologies, that spirit carries on by way of passing that knowledge from one craftsperson to another.
However, with imitation, that spirit is not easily transferable. It's only with keen observation can one produce a perfect imitation. There's no chain of physical contact from one craftsperson to another and therefore a break in the chain of knowledge, that know-how, that original intent cannot be passed on and therefore an imitation is rather soul-less.
This is why I think it is so important for people buy original things. It's so easy to just look at the economical bottom-line but to truly treasure an object, an artifact, a craft, we need that spirit. It may be the key to a more meaningful life that might actually be more sustainable too.
Please think about this when you find a great deal on a piece of furniture. Do a little bit more research into the story behind the product rather than simply where you can get it for the lowest price; because when you know why or how that piece of work came to be, you'll like it more, you'll want to keep it forever, and you'll want to pass it on to people you love.
Honestly, this is why I am a furniture designer.
** oh yea, let's not forget, proceeds from imitation sales do not compensate the original designer who put in the hard work to bring a product to market in the first place. This is especially damaging for fledgling small companies.