How to spot and avoid the wedding vendors that are faking it to make it

July 7 | Guest post by Chantal Mallett
These are not this designers' "blushing brides." Screenshot courtesy of Chantall
These are not this designers' "blushing brides." Screenshot courtesy of Chantall Mallett

I was checking my emails before finishing for the day working as an independent bridal wear designer, when this subject line caught my eye: "A designer in Seattle is claiming your designs as hers."

As someone who is unfortunately no stranger to the odd bit of plagiarism, I followed the links with interest. What I saw even shocked me…

Under the heading "Our Blushing Brides," nearly 30 of about 40 images were from my or my clients photo shoots. The name of one of my gowns and one of my brides had been changed, and at least three other designers' works had been appropriated and included on the landing page. This designer had included a blurb about her 25 years of experience and her design process — but nearly all her design examples were images stolen from other people!

So how does this affect you?

All over the world, people like this are taking advantage of the internet to dupe potential customers. Pretty much anyone can put together a slick-looking site that only needs a few good photos to really make them look like a legitimate business.

The problem is that if you commission someone like this to make a design for you and the result doesn't live up to expectations, what recourse do you have? Yes, you can take them to court, but that doesn't solve the dress disaster that you have little time to salvage. And it won't fix your terrible wedding photos after the fact.

So what can you do to avoid the fake wedding vendors?

Fortunately, situations like the one I discovered are the exception rather than the rule — don't be put off, but do be smart and do your research. There are some fairly easy steps to gauge how genuine a creative business is and how good they actually are.

Checklist:

  1. Is a designer's portfolio of work consistent in style?
  2. Do they have customer reviews? Reviews with photographs are an especially good sign.
  3. Do they use social media? Most businesses do, and they may even throw in a few "behind the scenes" photos.
  4. A legitimate business may also have a section devoted to press they have received.
  5. Does their "About" section share specifics about who they are and how they evolved, or is it all a bit ambiguous?
  6. Google them. Unless they're brand new, there should be at least a few results linking to them, talking about them, or reviewing them (good and bad), etc.
  7. If you visit a designer's studio, expect to see and be able to try on a selection of their designs. Take advantage of seeing their work up close.
  8. Use a reverse image search. In Google Images, you can paste an image's link, and Google will show you all the websites that feature that image. Often you can even just right-click on an image and select "Search Google for this image." See below:

google image search

How did this checklist apply to my discovery?

In this particular case, the designer in question had one posted a reference — but no photograph of the client wearing what had been made for them. The About page talked about 25 years of pouring creative energies into every design and alteration, but no real background information to back it up. The portfolio of work did look fairly consistent, because it was mostly my work — but the odd photograph of her own was thrown in and did look out of place.

But by far the easiest way to see through this business was thanks to our hero Google Images; reverse-searching all these images revealed that they belonged to other designers!

What other wedding industries can this apply to?

Outside of the world of online markets and cheap knockoffs, I don't think this level of deception occurs very often within the wedding fashion part of the industry. But fake wedding professionals are common with photographers, florists, stationers, hair and beauty artists, and so on. Make sure to follow my checklist for all your internet-based vendors!

What can wedding vendors do about this?

This situation has really taught me that serious business owners need to protect ourselves.

While I knew about reverse-image searching, I don't do it very often. I now recommend regularly Googling your own images and taking action to get any unlawful uses removed. There's always the Cease and Desist legal letter option.

Ultimately, I felt the infringement was so bad that the best way to deal with it was via an open letter to this person on my blog with evidence of the infringement (screenshots) before they removed the images from their website. Privately asking the business to have my images removed from their site leaves them with the option to simply upload someone else's work in my place and to continue defrauding the public. As a result, that designer's site is now offline, and no one will get taken advantage of by that individual.

Wedding vendors and people shopping for vendors: How are you keeping yourselves protected from scammers online?

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  1. This has been one of my BIGGEST fears when it comes to finding vendors. Some people seem too good to be true, and while I have lucked out with one vendor, I have not quite gotten to the stage where all of them are booked.

    THANK YOU for the tips and reminders!!!

    2 agree
  2. Reviews, reviews, reviews! When I was growing up, my dad wouldn't take me to go see a movie unless it got good reviews, and it turned me into a relentless review hound. I even checked the reviews of my cousin's Etsy shop before I bought something from her–yeah, she's blood, but this one reviewer said she received a 16-inch necklace when she paid for an 18-inch necklace and you ain't pulling the wool over my eyes, cuz.

    This is probably/definitely a controversial opinion, but in my experience, if there's a huge discrepancy between the quality of the vendor's website and the quality of the vendor's wares, red flag. I know, I knoooooow good graphic design isn't easy/cheap (I'm self-teaching myself the Adobe Creative Suite products–shit ain't easy), and a vendor certainly doesn't have to have a fancy website with Flash and music playing in the background and stuff for me to hire them, but Geocities-lookin' website + Martha Stewart Weddings magazine-quality photos = nope.

    3 agree
    • Trust me, it happens a lot with family. I work with people who their cousin or sister are hairdressers or barber and they would not recommend their own cousin or sister to cut a child's head of hair, never mind an adult. So it happens a lot more with family than people probably want to admit. Hopefully in your cousins case it might have been a honest mistake. But on the flip side, a review is that, a review. While in the short chain. Maybe it was an honest mistake, maybe she was trying to rip someone off by charging for a longer chain and giving a shorter one hoping the person would not notice. Just like in hairdressing, just because someone's sister or cousin would not recommend their sister to cut their 5 year olds hair, does not mean they suck. Just maybe the parent or the 5 year old did not like the cut or did not know how to cut curly hair (as an example).
      (Off topic, I've seen movies were it got good reviews, and I personally thought they sucked or vice versa).

      1 agrees
      • True, true, and some of my classmates from high school who are now hairdressers are always mystified as to why I don't go to them, when they have admitted that they're not trained to cut curly hair. (Note: I have worn my hair curly all my life. I definitely wore it curly when they knew me in high school. This is not a surprise to them.) Sorry, bub, it's just economics. You're not providing a good or service that I can use.

        I think the situation with my cousin and the necklace was just mis-measuring, not a rip-off. But the customer is always right, etc.

        1 agrees
  3. Good post. I have been working on wedding invitations for 10 years, and so far none of my photos are pilfered (that I know of), but a lot of my colleagues haven't been so lucky. It happens with etsy a lot for some reason – probably easier to set up an etsy shop than an actual website. I won't even sell on another particular crafter marketplace because you aren't allowed to upload watermarked images. No logo/watermark = more likely to be pilfered, IMO.

    2 agree
  4. For a while, I was thinking about Etsy for my dress, but I was really worried about exactly this and was too wary to pull the trigger.

    So far, our venue has been recommended by a ton of local couples and my photographer is highly OBB approved. The photographer recommended my coordinator, who recommended the makeup artist I might go with. Our officiant is a close friend. If you find one vendor you trust, figure out who else they've worked with and love!

    4 agree
  5. As a computer professional I feel compelled to point out a few things:

    1) Anything online can be faked, including reviews and social media. I would be equally leery of any recommendations — unless former clients don't mind you show up at their house to see the work they purchased. Anybody considering investing $$$$ with a vendor needs to meet with that person and look at current works in progress.

    2) Google is a huge help but if somebody knows a little Photoshop, they can fool it. If you're seriously worried about this as a vendor, the only thing I can suggest is watermarking the image in a conspicuous way. (And, of course, disable the image download on the website. ) It doesn't make it impossible to steal the image but at least not worth their while. Granted watermarking spoils the effect of the image. Only you can decide if its worth it.

    1 agrees
    • I used to watermark my images but found no one wants to pin or share watermarked images so it is totally a catch twenty two ­čÖü And I've had people steal the images & clone out the watermarks too!

      2 agree
  6. It's unfortunate that some "vendors" misrepresent themselves and their work…it makes people leery of purchasing from us honest ones!

    And while you should pay attention to the quality of images, don't discount an etsy seller because they have "magazine quality" photos rather than simple snapshots. I've just started working with some models and professional photographers, and my images have improved immensely from my "selfies" I was doing on my own (though I haven't gotten many prof shots in my etsy shop yet). I think doing some google images searches is probably the best way to see if a business's images are legit. Just do a little research so you know who you are buying from and what you should expect!

    • To be clear, I DON'T scoff at people who have "magazine quality" photos. I like good, clear, well-styled photos as much as the next consumer. But if you have a really nice photo and, say, bubblegum-pink, pixel-y Comic Sans (or whatever font it's cool to hate nowadays) text written over it, it seems a little half-baked, from a customer's point of view.

      (Note: Your Etsy shop is lovely and does not commit this design sin. And your pictures are great!)

      1 agrees
  7. I wonder about having this article up while posting a link to a website with (what other commentators claimed) stolen designer images in a previous article? http://offbeatbride.com/2015/06/california-pokemon-wedding
    This is not a comment aimed at Chantal, more questioning whether the site in general should adopt a more consistent attitude on promoting counterfeits, or at least disclosing when a vendor they link to sells counterfeits so brides following the links don't assume it has the Offbeatbride stamp of approval?

    • As awesome as we are, we do not have the capacity to police the content of every link from every wedding profile. (Nor should a link from a profile be seen as a "stamp of approval"… just because one bride used a vendor, doesn't mean we'd recommend them for everyone.) I trust each reader to do their research, and make the best purchasing decisions they can.

      That said, when we get complaints against advertisers, we do investigate and take action accordingly.

      4 agree

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