II have wanted to write about this specific topic for years and I have deliberately waited and thought about it, mused it and thought about it again. I have observed other tack designers and their struggles and thoughts and blogs about the subject and I figured when the time was right I would write, and it is, so here we go.
At one time or another every artist or designer lands in the world of the copycat nightmare. Unfortunately is is inevitable, that of course doesn't mean it's right, it just means it's inevitable. So, needless to say in my sixteen years of designing custom tack I have had a few tagalongs that have plagued me. I'm not alone, I have personally conversed with three other tack designers all three being in the painted tack field which is really competitive, no thank you. One gal I talked to was extremely plagued and what was once a really good customer of her's is now a competitor tack maker in, you guess it, painted tack. She blatantly copies the latest new design and flaunts it as her own, but here's the kicker folks, she alters the design just enough and that makes it legal. There is nothing to be done about it. Another gal who does painted tack and has a really unique style has actually taken a photograph of her design and pasted it alongside her copycat's version with a warning to the public that this was a swipe of her design. I don't believe she mentioned a name of the offending copycat though, I'd have to go back and look.
When I started making tack sixteen years ago there was one other girl doing turquoise and gemstone tack and I didn't even know about her until I started to sell online. I made the first few pieces for myself and my husband and our four horses at the time. The other tack maker wasn't happy about me and I didn't copy her, I think she was just angry to have someone else come along. She hollered at me in an email but I pointed out that she needed to calm down and that she did not in fact invent tack, horses or gemstones and that making tack was not a crime (I was sassy I admit that now) and that inevitably someone other than her would figure out how to put those three elements together. She passed away a few years later unfortunately and that left me alone but not for long. A few sprang up here and there and one girl in particular couldn't even bother to use her own words in her product descriptions or the front page of her website, she copied my wordage line for line. One phone call later and she had opted to remove her copied text and a few weeks later she dropped off the market altogether, I guess thinking for herself wasn't a strong suit. I have also had a plethora of emails and one direct phone call asking if I could reveal what type of wire I use, where I got the wire and where I purchased my stones. Of course, the one asking for the information just wanted the wire and gems 'for their own tack' and would 'never think of selling' on their own. Um, sure. I just rolled off the punkin' truck yesterday, right?
Mostly, the turquoise and gemstone tack competition is without problems and is mostly trouble free and everyone pretty much seems to stay in their own corner. There is enough room and customer base out there that can support more than one or even ten (I doubt there are that many) different companies that do gemstone tack. I'm not talking about painted tack or conchos and crystals or tooled tack I am talking strictly turquoise and gemstone embellished tack. Anyone who delves into this niche has their own style and flair. I think the market can support many different ones if they all keep to themselves and leave each other alone. Just as each person/customer has their own likes and dislikes, colors, horse, etc. vary so each tack maker has a separate audience who prefers their style. And of course, the customer always likes to see their ideas worked into the design so there is another variable.
I am not talking about trends either, trends are what makes the world go 'round. Just like the latest fad in blue jeans, jewelry, cars, clothes etc. it's what the design and fashion world is all about. There are classifications of tack too, so being in one or all of them doesn't constitute copying either. If there are 250 crystal concho tack makers, or 100 painted tack designers or 50 turquoise and gemstone tack makers out there I am not implying that all in the category are copying. I think you know what I mean about this. I am talking specific factors within the niche and often times outright copying. We all learn from each other and we feed off each other. We all need to compete because it keeps it fresh and alive. I'd rather have competition because that means I stay on my game, invent new ideas and try new things. If you want to stagnate just become complacent, you won't have fun or last long.
And then there is the copycat that not only copies but bashes, this is another level up as well. Not only does this person copy they then declare the 'other tack maker' does a terrible job, no one is happy with the tack, it's poorly put together, doesn't last, on and on and on. And it doesn't mean it's true, it just means that the copycat feels not only the need to copy but the need to undermine, it's a double whammy kinda thing. It's not classy or professional and I think most people can see right through this one and it does catch to the copycat at some point.
I remember reading a blog post not that long ago written by a famous name tack maker who started out small time but now has her tack showcased on a few of the top named riders at the NFR each year. This tack maker does not do paint or gems but the most gorgeous tooling and rivet work with inlay that I have ever seen. She wrote in her blog about the frustration of seeing one of her most gorgeous brand new-never-before-seen-on-earth-or-heaven breast collar design. Not long after it debuted someone copied it. She was hurt and mad and restless. There was nothing to be done because this copycat altered the design just enough that there was nothing to be done about it. She tried God bless her. She wasn't flattered either as some people think this means you are successful if someone copies you. No, it's not cute and it's not flattering. You spend your time, your heart and soul and part of yourself when you design. Along comes Catty the Copycat and swipes it from you. Needless to say, she came to terms with it but I can't help think that it maybe altered the course of her thinking and design idea. It does for me, sorta, in a way, but not really.
Okay, so what about me? Well, yes, I am sorry to say I have a new monkey on my back, actually it's a copycat on my back. Like the above mentioned painted tack designer my copycat was once a really good customer, she purchased quite a bit of tack from me over the course of a few years and we had a great rapport. I even made up a design with pearls on a browband for her as a gift for a parade event to say thank you for all her business and referrals. Somewhere along the line she decided that tack making was the way to go. She told me she didn't want to hurt my feelings but that she was just going to do a few pieces for her friends and some clean up and restoration of some customers that came her way. I have the email to confirm this. I have to give her credit for emailing me at all. However, she went full monty on me and now has a web site, a Facebook page and a following. And you know what? That's fine, just as I broke on the scene of the woman who got blindsided by me years earlier my copycat has a right to make her own tack, and I told her this, many times. Good for you, have fun make your own tack with your own ideas just don't copy or bash me. Not hard to get, right?
I was so proud of the fact that I was the first tack designer to use pendants on headstalls, I mean absolutely the first, like fifteen years ago. And I'm not including the Native American craftsmen who put Naja pendant symbols on their bridles, even I wouldn't compete with that. Anyway, I get that if a certain look or trend catches on that means that others will want to be a a part of it, like fringe and crystals, it's all over the place. But she is virtually the only other tack maker that uses pendants now as well. I started a line of pendant headstalls featuring pendants from Tibet and a few days later she added them to her line. I came out with phone pouches and soon she had some on her line. I started using jewelry sets on headstalls and you a few days later she had them as well. Horse hair tassels, saddle bags (she even posted the same bags from the manufacturer as I did), fringe, geometric designs on halters, she had them all within days of my postings. If I post something new or an idea or a thought within hours, yep, you guess it..she's all over it. A halter that I made for her years and years ago she took it apart, turned a few stones around and added a couple more stones and claimed it was her idea, her design. She still wanted to use the halter but couldn't use my design on her equine and advertise her tack. I had to message her about that one. Just recently she acquired a headstall that I made up for a customer and has been in my design lineup for about seven years. It was donated to a friend of hers and then this friend gave it to the tack designer for a makeover. She moved a few stones around and polished the leather. She then posted a picture of my headstall as a 'before' and her's as an 'after' stating it was a headstall made by another designer that was so poorly maintained and had issues that in order for her to donate it to charity she needed to redo it and presto bango all new, her design, aren't we all happiness and light? I hear angels singing. Okay, not really that would be really creepy and I'm being catty now. So, a few emails later she pulled the flier but it was already out there. She claims someone requested she redo the headstall to donate. I don't get it but we'll go with it shall we?
And, I must say I don't spend my time trolling her web site or facebook page, I have better things to do quite frankly but If I am warned by a customer (which happens a lot) that she is featuring something like mine then yes, I am going to snoop it out.
Am I bitter? Not at all, I know I have integrity and can think for myself when it comes to designing tack. On the other hand I feel the frustration that all tack designers have, with a copycat there is nothing sacred, there is nothing untouchable and when in business you will have friendly competition and fierce competition. If your design or idea is altered just a little bit there is nothing anyone can do about it. I know because I have tried. Intellectual property and copyright laws are specific and at the same time vague. You can almost never win an intellectual property lawsuit. It all comes down to the specific design and if it is copied verbatim or altered. Alter it and you can own it. All we can hope to do as designers is keep an eye out for the blatant ones and call them on the carpet for it. We may never win the lawsuit or get them to stop but we can make them aware of what is offensive and that we are paying attention. You may say 'just ignore it, you know you are better' blah blah blah..I say that is not a valid reasoning. I put my heart and soul into my designs, I think about them I play with the stones, I see the colors in nature, flowers, the sky, the earth and the color spectrum. I rearrange and work the design and make it into something that speaks to you in a way that other tack may not. It brings you to a place the feels good and is serene or reminds you of something pleasant that you love or that you have experienced. It appeals to your senses because that is what art and nature is supposed to do for us. We are supposed to be moved by color, smell, feelings and thoughts. It's what makes us human. When someone steals away our thoughts when they are put into a tangible item it's stealing from the soul that created it. It's destroying the thing that most originally belonged to someone else. Maybe I take my job too seriously. But, then again I don't think I do, and I don't want to take it lightly. Isn't that what sets me apart from someone else? Isn't that what makes longevity? Isn't that what makes art and the artist?
I've been doing this long enough that I do take it personally. I have watched tack makers come and go. To stick it out in this business you really have to love it and pursue it. It can't be bought or taught, you either have it or you don't. And that is also why it's just me and only me in my shop. How can you hire someone to help you create something that is so incredibly personal? How do you teach it or instruct it? You can't. So yes, I do take it personal. And, I will continue to create and put it out there for others to enjoy and touch and to use. I will also continue to pursue someone that copies, I won't let up and I won't resign myself to thinking that is all there is. If you want to steal a piece of me by copying then you will hear from me, or my friends or my customers or my attorney. It's as simple as that. I own a piece of this earth too and I intend to defend it and own it and love it. I own my art and my expression, I can be fierce and I can be soft. I can love what is mine enough to defend it. We have to own it, whatever it is that makes you tick, own it and defend it. You are unique, so am I so is everyone else out there.
Enjoy your life and all it's experiences, it's what we have right now. We don't own tomorrow yet and yesterday is gone. Until next time, peace out. Gail Travis
Who doesn't love turquoise and gemstones? We all do and we all have our favorites. There is something mysterious and timeless about gemstones. We gaze into them and see memories, feelings, truths, experiences and dreams. If you let your mind wander you can get a sense from them, something deeper that cannot be described, I won't even try. To hold a piece of gorgeous amethyst in your hand you feel the gem warm to your touch, you turn it over, look deep inside and it holds you there. Have you ever held moonstone in your hand?
It's fascinating. Next time you are around gemstones look at them, really look at them. Touch them, feel them, turn them around, see the light and the depth. They were created for our enjoyment and we need to stop and experience it once in awhile.
I have the privilege of having an extensive supply of just about everything, it's fun and it's relaxing to take a break and pick through it all and gaze into the depth of it.
Turquoise, ah...there we go..a truly wonderful stone.
Here is the scientific description:
"Turquoise is an opaque, blue-to-green mineral that is a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminium, with the chemical formula CuAl6(PO4)4(OH) 4H2O. It is rare and valuable in finer grades and has been prized as a gem and ornamental stone for thousands of years owing to its unique hue."
It comes in all colors and varieties and from all around the globe. Did you know there are turquoise mines in Arizona, Colorado, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah to mention of few of the bigger ones. There are mines in Afghanistan, Armenia, Australia, Brazil, China, Chile, Egypt, Iran (Persian), Israel, Mexico, Russia, Siberia, Turkey and Tibet to name a few? I know, right? Each mine has it's own coloring, style and unique qualities. I use turquoise from everywhere, there are so many varieties that it is fun to use the different coloring and elements.
Turquoise in the U.S. was originally discovered by the Native Americans and was hand mined obviously. Some of my favorite and most cherished turquoise comes from the U.S. mines. I often (mostly) use Native American sterling silver turquoise pendants from the U.S. craftsmen and women. They are gifted and know how to incorporate the natural stone into works of art so I am thrilled to be able to use their stunning work on mine. You need to check out my Pendant Headstalls section.
The price of turquoise has sky rocketed in the last 5 years or so. It has become extremely expensive for some of the best mined turquoise. If I look back at pricing from years ago to now it is astonishing. My take on this is that it's worth every penny. I love the fact the we are able to have a variety of real and stunning turquoise and having a second rate knock off stone (watch out for 'turquoise' that's not really turquoise) that speaks for itself. I want quality for my pieces, jewelry and personal use and I know my customers do as well. It's hard to tell the difference sometimes with real and fake as it's done so well.
Almost all turquoise sold for jewelry purposes has been heat treated and stabilized. This is a good thing, especially in my business because all it really means is that because turquoise in it's native, freshly mined state is not stable, it is a bit brittle and can break, crack, split, crumble and change color. Stabilizing 'clear coats' the turquoise so that it 'seals' the color and prevents fractures. I guarantee every piece of turquoise (or just about) sold on the market as or for jewelry has been stabilized. That just means I know for a fact I can use it on my designs and it will hold up. Yay for us, right?
Explore what you find appealing about gemstones, search your heart, somewhere in there a stone is calling to you. There are so many ways to express ourselves but nothing more personal than choosing a color or stone that speaks to you. (Okay, not literally but you know what I mean. I don't hear voices either.)
So, rock on my friends, enjoy your journey, find your voice and express yourself . Display it on yourself and try it on your horse, I guarantee you'll love it.
Evolution: It has been 15 years since I first conceived the idea of putting stones and turquoise on tack. I have to say it's been a learning experience right from the get-go. It took time to figure it all out. I started during a time of very little 'bling' tack. There wasn't a lot of really nice custom tack out there that had turquoise, silver and stones. So I made my own. It caught on. In that wasteland of no-tack there were a few makers with crystals perhaps, but that was limited. After experimenting with media and of course wire I landed on the perfect way of wiring, the technique of sewing the beads on the leather without making it look sloppy and contrived. I wanted it to look like the stones were there from the beginning, as if they belonged there the whole time. I really feel like I found that gift.
Pendants were my idea. I started it and perfected it. It has always been fun to find the perfect one, searching out the best craftsman or woman. Finding the balance between taste and the edgy look.
It has always been my goal and mission to make the customer the number one priority. I get to know them, their horses, their family and their love. We share that passion or they wouldn't be coming to me for tack. It's all about the customer and horse. I have made friends along the way as sometimes you just don't want to let go of that feeling, when you really connect with someone who loves what you do. I have had slumps, the economy took a dump in 2008, that was hard. But, I didn't give up. I am proud of my customer base and the fact that I hear from long-time multiple purchase customers that are still using their tack from 15 year ago. I love that, it feels good. I have always been an advocate of 'standing behind the product'. I was the first to have the lifetime guarantee on custom work. If you are going to make it nice, make it last. If you stand behind it you are saying you really believe what you have is the best, it's worth it and I want you to have it forever. We live in a disposable society. Not here, I want the experience to last as long as you do.
Challenges: Well, there aren't that may to tell the truth. It is an art that is always moving and changing and one idea spawns another and so on...There has been slight competition along the way, there always will be. There has been a handful of copy-cats, most don't last long. The few that do are often exposed by their own selves in the end. I will blog about that subject in detail at some point, it needs to be said but I'm not ready to blow that one out the door quite yet. You'll enjoy it when I do, trust me.
What it's about: It's about loving something, creating something and feeling good about something. It's about creating and reaching out to others with the creation. It's about feeling good about what you do and knowing it's yours, you own that look, you created that perfect look. It's about sharing it with others.
This is my blog, thoughts, feelings and sometime torments. You are welcome to follow along, it's a fun journey we share. Spread the turquoise and gemstone love where ever you go, it's meant for us to enjoy and be mesmerized and fascinated with. I know it does that for me.
Turquoise Musings by Gail Travis
My blog, my thoughts, my journey. The writings here are my own, my thoughts and my experiences. I may or may not say something you don't agree with and if that happens remember that it is my life and my experiences that I am writing about. Mostly this blog is to entertain and maybe inform. Sometimes it feels good just to vent or reflect. I am sometimes (okay mostly) sarcastic, always sassy and seldom in the mood for things that aren't fair and don't make sense.