Finding the truth behind American-made product knock offs

This article was written by Shannon Lester, designer for Steel Life, and originally posted to her blog Blooming Desert’s Daily Dirt. We’re reposting with her permission.

With my recent discovery of product designers in the outdoor living industry being knocked off from Asia, big box stores or elsewhere, I have decided to speak out about this along with several other American-made Advocates.

We all know the old adage, “Imitation is the best form of flattery’. No matter how many times I hear this, it still doesn’t make me feel any better.

Imitating good design isn’t something new, I know that. What is new is that the American-made movement is back and many consumers have decided to embrace purchasing products made in the U.S.A. What better way than to support your country by purchasing from like-minded, family-owned or operated, small businesses?

Most recently, my friend, Brandon Williams of Modfire, discovered that Target had knocked off his original fire feature design. This saddened me because not more than a year ago, I had contacted him about an issue I had with someone knocking off one of our planters. I never spoke out about it, because I felt like there was nothing I could do at the time.

Chris Mobley of Just Modern and Brandon Williams of Modfire
Dwell on Design 2012

Image borrowed from

I’m not going to be a hypocrite here. I shop at Target. One of the reasons being is that Target keeps up with the trends at affordable prices. Now, I am sure there are many items I have purchased from Target in the past that have been knocked off by designers. I didn’t realize it at the time and still may not know it today. My point here is that consumers may not recognize knock offs because the companies that are being knocked off are small and newer to the market than Target.

Yep, I had to see it for myself at Target.

What I would like to see is big box stores, like Target, approach original designers if they are interested in bringing a ‘like’ product to their consumers.  Give the original designer an opportunity to build on their American dream instead of using it to better themselves and their bottom line.

American big box stores will send their product development team overseas to Asian Gift Shows, like this one, to find ‘unique’ items at affordable prices.  Only, the problem is that the vendors of these shows are not highly curated or have had backgrounds done on them to see if they are businesses that live off of knocking off originals.


I’m imagining that is what happened to our friends at Potted Store in Los Angeles with their original Circle Pot. Potted discovered a knockoff of their hanging planter through Instagram. All their blood, sweat, love and tears just simply replicated by a large Asian manufacturing company.

Original Potted ‘Circle Pots’
Made in the U.S.A

Made in China ‘Moon Pots’

So, here are Steel Life’s Original Matchstick planters.They are some of the most popular planters in Steel Life’s Desert Collection.


Imagine how I felt when a friend in the design industry sent me the Lifestyle Vietnam 2013 Catalog featuring these. Heart sinking.


Luckily, I had another friend that happened to be in Vietnam at the time and connected with the board for this show. I communicated with the board via email to let them know that they have a vendor that is replicating our original work. They said they will take care of it, but who knows. I’m just waiting to see them in Target on my next shopping trip.

Lifestyle Vietnam still has this video promotion up on Facebook and YouTube with Steel Life’s Matchstick planters being featured.

Steel Life’s Matchstick planter knock offs are shown 40 seconds into the video.

My recommendation for product designers is to continuously check with these International Gift Shows to see what they are promoting. If we can band together as American makers through such sites as, I think we can make a difference.

Images like these worry me for future makers…


Lifestyle Vietnam posted this on their facebook page with the quote, “Make your home more beautiful with these indoor planters. All of them have been designed by different the designers from Homedit, Flowerplanter, Design Milk…”

Um, what??? Homedit, Flowerplanter and Design Milk are curators of originally designed products, not designers themselves. What exactly are they implying here?Well, at least we know where impostors are finding our products.

I remember Brandon Williams saying to me a year ago that all we can do a designers is keep ahead of the trends. I accept the challenge. Let’s bind together and help consumers discover what we are capable of right here in the U.S. Who’s with me?

Myself shown with amazing original designers Caravan Pacific,
Atomic Skyway, Revolution Design House, Eastvold Furniture,
Squared Furniture, Airplantman, Design Collaborations,
Atomic Living Design, BKB Ceramics, Cerno, and Just Modern.

To read more about Modfire’s #ShameonTarget Story Read Here:ModesticsMiss Rumphius’ RulesExciting Update!!! Click here

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