Fostering the Future of Creativity

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Aiming to empower tomorrow’s design leaders to effect positive change in the fight for original design, Be Original Americas has developed a unique fellowship opportunity for two students to gain hands-on experience in all it takes to make, distribute, and market great design from leading companies across the United States. As Be Original Americas President and Global Brand Director for Herman Miller Sam Grawe says, “The Fellowship is an investment in the future of design through education, and one that celebrates innovation and original design thinking through the work of industry leaders.”

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Many students learn in their courses that good design is driven by ethical problem solving – the understanding of a need or problem, and the development of creative solutions that address that issue in the most elegant way possible. By inviting fellows to see this process in action at Herman Miller, Emeco, Ligne Roset, Vitra, Design Within Reach, Chilewich, Carnegie, and Bernhardt Design, Be Original America’s hopes to make clear that thoughtless copies can never contribute to communities, support craftsmanship, or deepen our understanding of our environment like authentic products do. Over the course of 7 weeks, these two fellows will also develop relationships that will help them contribute to the industry in earnest after graduation, whether through the design process, marketing, or distribution.

As Jan Vingerhoets, CEO of FLOS told DWR in an interview, “We feel an educated public is the best offense and defense against the proliferation of copies. That’s the approach Be Original Americas is taking – to educate, to inform and to influence consumers, designers, retailers and students on what original design means.”

Three of the groups Vingerhoets mentions – consumers, designers, and retailers – make up the design community of the present, but it’s the students currently pursuing degrees in industrial or interior design, architecture, and other applied arts who represent the future of the industry. If the movement to reverse the current trend of knockoffs is to succeed, the design industry’s next generation must be one that is fundamentally original. Reaching these young creatives in and out of the classroom, and instilling in them a commitment to integrity is essential to building a better future for creativity. Similarly, young people studying the business side of design must understand how their choices in marketing and development will affect the design marketplace. In this way, students become professionals and leaders who serve as ambassadors of authenticity to the trade and public over the entirety of their careers.

The Be Original Americas Summer Design Fellowship will be supported by an online auction featuring one-of-a-kind designs and experiences from Be Original America’s members and friends of the organization. Check in here on the blog for more on how to participate, or become a member to stay up-to-date on this developing story.

The Originals: Joe Doucet

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What does “original” mean to you?
Original design, by definition, is a work which begins with a process and not another design as a reference.


In what ways do knockoffs affect the power of original and good design to improve our lives?
The creation of good and original design requires a substantial investment of time, resources and money from both the designer and company producing the work. When a company or designer chooses to simply copy an original design, it is intact stealing. Not just the “creative theft” often cited, but a material and substantial theft of time and money. If the hard work and financial support required to develop original design is systematically stolen by competitive companies, there is little incentive for companies to pursue original design. This would lead to a great reduction in original work, which would then lead to the same existing work self-perpetuating ad infinitum. A sad thought indeed.


 You design for such diverse companies. How do you insure your design is not compromised?
The fact that we design for such diverse companies and industries greatly increases the exposure to the risk of our work being copied. We are particularly vulnerable to copying as we are idea-led and less focused on a particular style. The truth is that legally there is very little protection for a new way of thinking about an object. We are reliant on companies to respect the intense work which necessitates original design, and begin their own process rather than begin with another design as a reference.


Don’t miss Joe’s takeover of the Be Original America’s Instagram during Salone del Mobile 2016.


President and Chief Creative Officer at Joe Doucet x Partners, Joe Doucet’s ability to fluidly cross the different disciplines of design have made him one of the most sought-after creative talents working in America. As a designer, inventor, and creative director, his work deftly hybridizes function and visual appeal while conveying layers of meaning and message.  His portfolio encompasses furniture, consumer electronics, corporate identity, jewelry, fashion, technology, children’s toys, environments and architecture delivering innovation for a variety of clients such as Bernhardt, BMW, Braun, Hugo Boss, Lexon, Moët & Chandon and Target. His work has been exhibited numerous places internationally, including the London Design Museum and awards include two Good Design Awards in 2012 and 2008. Surface Magazine named him the only ever AvantGuardian for Design, and he currently holds more that 50 patents for his designs and inventions.

The Originals: Michael Anastassiades

Portrait by Hélène Binet_reasonable size


What does “original” mean to you?

Original is something that is created from a place of freedom. Something that doesn’t  need to carry the weight of its predecessors to stand on its feet, where the historic references are only there  in confidence of what we’ve learned and not as an attempt to disguise in the face of the ignorant.


What unique perspective on design do you feel you’ve gained from your training as a civil engineer?

My civil engineering studies have provided me with the distance to view design differently. When I first entered this world, I felt I had a lot of catching up to do, most of my colleagues had already been exposed to at least four years of Design education. I graduated from the Royal College thinking that my path didn’t fit in any of the models that existed. It was only much later that I felt ‘what a great place to be!’


Your work has been included in leading museums such as the MoMA in New York. What can these institutions contribute to the fight against knockoffs?

It is important for these institutions to collect original works that have made a difference. A gesture to confirm the contribution a work of Design has made towards the bigger picture.


Michael Anastassiades launched his studio in 1994 to explore contemporary  notions of culture and aesthetics through a combination of product, furniture and environmental design. Positioned between fine art and design, his work aims to provoke dialogue, participation and interaction. Anastassiades’ work is featured in permanent collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Crafts Council in London, the FRAC Centre in Orleans, France and the MAK in Vienna. He has designed products with various leading manufacturers including FLOS, Puiforcat, Lobmeyr and Svenskt Tenn. In 2007 he set up MICHAEL ANASTASSIADES – the company to produce his signature pieces, a collection of lighting, furniture, jewellery and tabletop objects. The studio’s philosophy is a continuous search for eclecticism, individuality, and timeless qualities in design. Michael trained as a civil engineer at London’s Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine before taking a master’s degree in industrial design at the Royal College of Art. He lives and works in London.

Design Perspectives: Women’s History Month


Supporting diversity in design is essential to fostering creativity by bringing a variety of perspectives and experiences to the field that deepen the conversation rather than maintain the status quo. To celebrate Women’s History Month, Be Original Americas spoke with three design entrepreneurs to get their take on the state of the industry, what they’ve learned in their careers, and what the future of authenticity has in store.  Jaime Derringer (Design Milk), Sandy Chilewich (Chilewich), and Felicia Ferrone (fferrone) each offer their unique reflections:


What is most exciting to you about the design industry right now? 

Sandy Chilewich:

The growing appreciation of artisanal craftsmanship.

Jaime Derringer: 

I love the design that’s happening in Mexico right now. Additionally, the Pacific Northwest is a rising star in the design world. There’s some great architecture going on in Canada. I love that we’re starting to see more pockets of great design in North American places beyond New York and LA.

Felicia Ferrone: 

The most exciting thing right now is that the traditional business of design is loosening up and that’s allowing people to shape their own destinies. It’s no longer only about traditional channels that are hard to break into, if not nearly impossible. Today you can create your own channel. It’s very exciting and limitless in terms of the possibilities.


Felicia, how has blurring boundaries created new possibilities in your work?

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Felicia Ferrone: This blurring has allowed me to do a wide range of design work from architecture to exhibitions, to graphic identities to products in addition to being an educator and entrepreneur. I have been able to curate every aspect of my work from the designs themselves to the image of them and how they are portrayed to the intended use in a client’s home. While designing I am always considering the architecture in which they will reside. Each of these aspects support the design intent of an individual piece, like a stone thrown into water causing a ripple effect.


What do you wish you had known starting out?

Jaime Derringer: I don’t know! I suppose I wish I had more business training. Maybe there should be a mandatory business class for artists and designers in college that focuses on dealing with entrepreneurship, self-employment, startups, and social media.

Felicia Ferrone: That nothing is as it seems.

Sandy Chilewich: The importance of having an open mind to listen to well-meaning advice.


Sandy, in a career defined by exploration, has there been a touchstone that you find your work grounded by again and again? 


Sandy Chilewich: I speak often about how while I am very artistic, I am not an artist. A true artist never considers their audience when they create their own work, there is no compromise. I am always on the thin line between my own aesthetic and what people actually need and want… but this is where I like to hover. This is sometimes painful, but full of satisfaction and rewards.


What new opportunities do you see for women in design? 

Felicia Ferrone: There is a growing awareness of women in design which is fantastic for everyone, and not just women. I think with the opening up of channels, women can create their own opportunities that might not otherwise be there.

Jaime Derringer: I’ve noticed more dialogue happening around women in the design world and I’d like to see more women recognized for their contributions. I would like to see more outreach toward young women to go into the field of design and architecture. There isn’t enough knowledge or information about the educational or job opportunities in this industry.


Jaime, as someone with established careers in both art & design and design media, how do you think the two industries could better support each other to foster creativity? 


Jamie Derringer: I think women can do a better job of supporting each other, drawing attention to other women who are doing great things and sharing their work. We’re all fighting the same fight, so let’s remember what team we’re on and embrace a community spirit. In addition, I am a big fan of collaboration. So, celebration, collaboration, and community.


How do you stay original? 

Sandy Chilewich: When I look back at the 3 product categories that became the foundation of my businesses [shoes, legwear, textiles] I realize that with all three I was compelled to wake up a tired category. If something isn’t really new, then I’m not interested in making it.

Jaime Derringer: I keep one eye on what everyone else is doing, but keep my other eye and the rest of me focused on how I can stay fresh and ahead of the game. I appreciate trends, but prefer to spend more of my energy focused on what sets me apart. I look at everything and ask, how can I be different?

Felicia Ferrone: I can find inspiration in just about anything – from a manhole cover to an old fence – and it is that awareness and curiosity that keeps my work original. In questioning all assumptions about the function, form, and our interaction with the object or system, new designs develop. One last thought about “staying original”: It’s a choice! It’s a choice to get out of bed that morning and create something new.


About the Contributors: 

Felicia Ferrone

Felicia Ferrone graduated with a degree in architecture from Miami University, Ohio, after which she moved to Milan. Her international namesake brand fferrone was founded in 2010 and is based in Chicago. Along with producing and distributing her own design work under her brand, she also has created designs for Boffi and The Macallan. Ferrone’s expansive reach is informed by her early experience as an architect in Milan, where she was first taught to “blur boundaries.” Her award winning work is included in the Art Institute of Chicago’s permanent collection, is a recipient of a GOOD DESIGN Award, and is widely exhibited and published internationally. She is the Director of Graduate Studies in Industrial Design and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Jaime Derringer

Jaime Derringer is Founder and Executive Editor of modern design blog Design Milk, which quickly became the “go-to” site for unique modern interiors, home furnishings, art & architecture and is now one of the most popular design blogs reaching millions of readers across the globe. Inspired by her love for dogs, Jaime founded modern design blog Dog Milk to expose dog lovers to pet design that fits their uniquely modern sense of style. Her most recent venture, Adorn Milk, is an online shop devoted to architectural and statement jewelry. In addition, Jaime has been noted as an expert on design trends, speaks on design, blogging and social media, and offers consulting.


Sandy Chilewich

The New York based designer Sandy Chilewich is founder and creative director of Chilewich | Sultan LLC, a company managed with her partner and husband Joe Sultan. For the last three decades and with two distinct businesses, Chilewich has reinterpreted underutilized and overlooked manufacturing practices. Since 2000, Chilewich has designed innovative textiles for numerous applications. Sandy launched placemats and floormats with her original signature textiles in 2000. Her designs have transformed the way tables are dressed in homes and in restaurants around the world. Her floormats provided a clean modern alternative underfoot.

5 Tips For Protecting Your Brand, from Niche Modern


Be Original Americas member Niche Modern is a pro when it comes to defending their original designs from would-be copycats and knockoff retailers. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, CEO Jeremy Pyles described how “merchants on AliExpress and other sites have used his copyrighted photographs to sell knockoffs of his lights” and “he now has an employee dedicated to filing complaints to such websites.”

Experiencing similar problems? There’s good news: with dedicated efforts, Niche has had great success in removing their products from hundreds of fraudulent websites.  The luxury glass lighting company offered to do a guest blog for Be Original and share their 5 most important tips for protecting your authentic brand name and products from imitators, here’s what they had to say:

 1. Register Your Copyright

Copyright covers published and unpublished works in the U.S. as well as in other countries, and your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created. While registering your copyright is optional, it will only help if you have a lawsuit or need to fight infringements. It’s the first step in protecting your original work.

2. Set Up Google Alerts

The world wide web consists of at least 4.65 billion pages and is growing every day, so how is it possible to know when someone is using your brand name to sell their impostors? Google Alerts is an easy way to get email notifications when new results are found on web pages that match your search terms –  for instance, your brand or best-selling product name along with words like “replica” or “knockoff”. Setting up alerts is easy and will help you catch copycats at the earliest opportunity – get started here.


Niche Modern CEO Jeremy Pyles sketches a pendant light.


3. Enforce the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998) allows owners of copyrighted materials residing on the internet to request that their material be removed from any infringing website. Notices that are created using DMCA guidelines are sent to the Internet Service Provider of the website at fault. After an ISP has received the notice, they must inform their client of the infringement and request its removal or remove it themselves. We recommend streamlining the process for sending take-downs by creating an editable sample notice, so it’s easy and time-efficient to take action. There are many sites that allow you to look up a domain name or IP address such as Try this sample DMCA takedown to get you started.

Bonus tip: You can also block IP addresses from computers that are located in China and Hong Kong from accessing your website. According to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 70% of the world’s seized counterfeit goods come from China, so why not keep them from seeing your products to begin with?



Every piece of Niche Modern glass is hand-blown in their upstate New York factory

4. Trademark Your Brand

A trademark is in essence a brand name used to distinguish the source of goods of one party from those of another. A Federal trademark, when registered, is governed by national laws. Whereas a copyright protect your products and ideas, a trademark protects your brand. Register trademarks not only in the US but in other countries as well, depending on where your products are being counterfeited. Putting the trademark sign or ® after your brand name, regardless of whether you officially file, will give you rights to your brand name if someone else tries to use it. US trademark rights are based on actual use, so use it and you’ll be protected.

 5. Educate your Clients

Niche Modern has received inquiries about our lights being sold online for drastically less than list price and many customers ask why. We explain that there are several counterfeit sites that sell cheap, inferior products from overseas, and that purchasing from us means they are supporting authentic, original design made in New York. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they understand the price tag and feel great about supporting our brand and purchase with us. We invite our customers behind-the-scenes with video features showing our process to learn about craftsmanship, and every order is sent with a Certificate of Authenticity, reassuring our client that they have an original piece, made with love.


A certificate of authenticity validates every purchase of legitimate Niche Modern designs.


Learn more about Be Original Americas member Niche Modern by visiting their website. Got another tip to add?  Comment below or tweet at us @BeOriginalUSA.

Authenticity as Intent at Pratt Institute


How do we define what is legitimate – what is real – in design?

That’s the question Be Original Americas aimed to answer at Pratt Institute last month in a live discussion between industrial designer Leon Ransmeier and Ben Watson, Executive Creative Director of charter member Herman Miller. After an introduction by Karin Tehve, Chair of Interior Design at Pratt Institute, moderator Felix Burrichter, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of PIN-UP Magazine guided Ransmeier and Watson in their investigation of authenticity.

Ransmeier and Watson know each other well, having met when the designer was approached to create what would become the AGL Table Group for Herman Miller in 2011. Using this collaboration as a model, they began to point to the specific elements that contribute to the integrity of a design.

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AGL Table by Leon Ransmeier | Photo by Francois Dischinger used courtesy of Herman Miller

Authenticity begins with intent. Herman Miller undertakes every project with an interest in people, and solving a problem for the end user. In the case of AGL, this was updating the task table for a contemporary relationship with technology.  In every Herman Miller process, the objective for a design is honored, even under constraints, and guided by the core values of transparency, equality, voice, and design philosophy. Or, in the words of Ransmeier, “Authenticity is combined passion and work.” This is one of the core differences between knockoff designs and originals. Copycats want to imitate profits, but not the good intentions or disciplined production that lead to unique and effective design.

Burrichter noted that this extends beyond aesthetics or ergonomics to environmental factors, and Ransmeier agreed that ecological consideration is part of the designer’s responsibility to make things that support and enhance people’s lives. As sustainability and the product life-cycle climb to top of mind in the global marketplace, knockoffs produced cheaply through environmentally devastating methods are more dangerous than ever, serving to exacerbate pollution and “throw-away” culture. Legitimate design – real design – responds to the circumstances of the world that created a need for it in the first place.

Solving a problem is never easy – and Watson noted that most consumers don’t know the true cost of designing an effective product.  For example, a high performance task chair, perhaps created with the intent of supporting modern working postures to improve workplace wellbeing, can cost as much as $25 million to develop and take 3-4 years to come to market. Ransmeier’s AGL Table group took 2.5 years to be ready for launch at NeoCon 2013. Premium manufacturers aren’t interested in quick fixes – they seek to create solutions that last. This requires human resources (designers, researchers, support), tools of labor, capital expenses, 3D molds, prototypes, and more in order to truly test and refine the products that improve quality of life for their users. Without this significant investment – and without clear, honorable intentions – there would be no great design to be copied.


Felix Burrichter, Leon Ransmeier and Ben Watson at the packed Juliana Curran Terian Design Center

There may, of course, be other ways to define what “real” design is – and to be sure, this discussion is one Be Original Americas continues to explore. However, it seems likely that a process that doesn’t begin with authentic intentions – to create something useful, beautiful, unique – cannot become an authentic process halfway through the making.

Be Original Americas invests in the future of design with a series of talks, round tables, and panel discussions at universities, industry programs, and more. You can learn about upcoming events here, or become a supporter to stay in-the-know.

The Originals: Marcel Wanders

International  designer, art director, and member of Be Original Americas through his acclaimed design studio Moooi, Marcel Wanders gave us his thoughts on what it takes to be original.


What does “original” mean to you?

Original means “there is at least a true unique differentiator between the new and the existing comparable.”

Knowing that in design new works are often based on recognizable archetypes, I am careful about blaming others for copying. The fact that I use an archetype does not forbid someone else of using the same archetype.  We easily find and point out things in the world and load our claims on them, humbleness is a virtue.

Let us designers not act as so many photographers do, who after taking a photo claim ownership over anything on it. Ultimately “you cannot be a leader if you are not being followed.”


Having created more than 1700 products for many premium brands, how much do you rely on manufacturers to protect your designs from copycats? Do you think they have the tools to do so?

Premium brands protect their designs, and yes, there are ways for us to protect ourselves against copycats. We help our brands by truly making differentiated products. Products that are unique when they are new, and we keep proof, of the making of, to support that. I would not advise a brand to go to war with a design that is not truly original and makes a lawsuit questionable. My designs have been the subject of more than 50 lawsuits, and we have never lost a single one!


Has the possibility of being knocked off ever been discussed during the design process with a brand or client?

It always is a subject in almost every design process, we design things that are preferably difficult or uninteresting to copy and make sure we really have a claim to win a process if we act on potential copycats. Unfortunately lots of great designs have never seen the light of day because they are too easy to copy. We have created a world where newness needs complexity and sufficient barriers of entry in order to be safe, it’s sad but its reality.



Dubbed by the New York Times as the “Lady Gaga of Design,” Amsterdam based Marcel Wanders (Boxtel, Netherlands, 1963) is a prolific product and interior designer and art director, with over 1700+ projects to his name for private clients and premium brands such as Alessi, Bisazza, Kosé Corporation/Cosme Decorte, KLM, Flos, Swarovski, Puma, among scores of others. In 2001 Marcel co-founded the successful design label Moooi, of which he is also Art Director. Regarded by many as an anomaly in the design world, Marcel has made it his mission to “create an environment of love, live with passion and make our most exciting dreams come true.” His work excites, provokes, and polarises, but never fails to surprise for its ingenuity, daring and singular quest to uplift the human spirit, and entertain. Marcel’s chief concern is bringing the human touch back to design, ushering in what he calls design’s ‘new age’; in which designer, craftsperson and user are reunited. In his process, Marcel defies design dogma, preferring instead to focus on holistic solutions rather than the technocratic. In Marcel’s universe, the coldness of industrialism is replaced by the poetry, fantasy and romance of different ages, vividly brought to life in the contemporary moment.

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Profiling the Masters: Alvar Aalto

Recognized today as one of the great masters of architecture, Alvar Aalto’s influence on design is undeniable.

Photo: Eino Mäkinen, Alvar Aalto Museum.

Photo: Eino Mäkinen, Alvar Aalto Museum.

His architecture is uniquely Finnish, and distinctive for its strong relationship to nature, emphasis on function, and attention to detail.

Finnish Pavilion, 1939 World's Fair, designed by Alvar Aalto. Gelatin silver print. Carnegie Museum of Art, Purchase: gift of the Drue Heinz Trust. Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, copyright Ezra Stoller/Esto, Yossi Milo Gallery.

Finnish Pavilion, 1939 World’s Fair, designed by Alvar Aalto. Gelatin silver print. Carnegie Museum of Art, Purchase: gift of the Drue Heinz Trust. Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, copyright Ezra Stoller/Esto, Yossi Milo Gallery.

Aalto began to think of furnishings as a natural extension to his architecture.  In fact, his first pieces of furniture were created in 1931-32 for the Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Paimio, Finland.


Paimio Sanatorium in Finland

Not only was the architecture of the sanatorium optimized to provide ample sun and fresh air – the only then-known cure for tuberculosis – but its furniture was designed be an instrument of healing as well.  The Paimio chair, below, was designed at an angle to provide ease of breathing for patients.


Aalto’s Paimio Chair

Using birch wood native to Finland and a belt wood technique he himself pioneered, Aalto created iconic products from the stacking Stool 60 to the Armchair 400.  Many of his designs continue to be produced by Artek, a company he co-founded.

Armchair 400 and Stool 60, both designed by Alvar Aalto.

Armchair 400 and Stool 60, both designed by Alvar Aalto.

Aside from his furniture, Aalto designed a staple of modern designed spaces worldwide, the Aalto vase:


The Aalto Vase

Aalto’s work was well received in the U.S. and the Museum of Modern Art organized an exhibition of his work in 1938.  The influence of his work can be seen throughout time in designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, who also shared a similar spirit for humanistic design.

Learn more about the masters of design here.

What Happens When You Buy a Knockoff?

Recently, Be Original Americas jetted off to Sin City for a panel at Las Vegas Market with industry experts to address the problem of knockoffs in design.

DJ Carey, Editorial Director of Cottages and Gardens, kicked off the talk by confessing herself to once buying a knockoff handbag in New York for her child.  “What happens when a consumer buys a knockoff?  What are the ramifications?” she asked.

What followed was an expert breakdown of the implications a consumer takes on when purchasing a counterfeit piece:

Jaime Derringer, Founder of Design Milk, joined in to share her experience once owning knockoff Bertoia chairs, an iconic design manufactured by Knoll.  “They were the most uncomfortable chairs I’ve ever sat in.”  Speaking generally about knockoff furniture, Derringer explained, “Even though the form from far away looks the same, once you get up close and start using it, you realize ‘this is not worth even the money I paid for it.'”

Designer Compensation
Josh Mintz, Dwell Store‘s Director of Merchandising, cited decreased designer compensation as a top result of buying knockoffs.  “[Designers and makers] are paying their bills through royalties,” Mintz explained.  “It’s a short cut taken by other people, to cash in on other people’s ideas and work.  […] The economy is rewarding people that it shouldn’t.”

The Creative Process
Knockoffs undermine the creative process, asserted Howard Thornton, SFMoma‘s museum store buyer.  Speaking about the investment of time, energy, and money that goes into a new product, Thornton said: “[Designers and manufacturers] are taking a risk to bring something to market. […] When somebody comes along and knocks that off, it undermines that process that people have invested in.”

The Economy
Citing a recent study on counterfeits, Carey explained: “The estimated global value of knockoffs is 1.77 trillion dollars, accounting for 5-7% of the world trade and 750,000 jobs that are lost each year.”

What effects of buying a knockoff would you add to this list?  Comment below or let us know via Twitter.