Back in the day, it was easy for unethical businesses to pop up and disappear quite quickly. A number of years ago, I was interviewed by the local TV news when I discovered that a kiosk in a shopping mall was selling Livestrong wrist bands at a gross profit ($4 for bands purchased from the Livestrong Foundation for $1) and in contravention of the Livestrong Foundation’s agreement.

When the kiosk owner was nowhere to be found in the mall, the staff claimed ignorance and referred the reporter to the owner, and … things just passed over. Flea markets or other public events were popular places for people to show up with fake merchandise, bootlegged music or video, and make a quick buck.

But with social media, things can’t stay submerged for long, as brands like Urban Outfitters and Forever 21 have learned to their chagrin. Bot those large companies were discovered (sometimes repeatedly) to have been copying the designs of small designers without permission and selling those designs.

Now, there appears to be a local example.

Two Ottawa men created and began selling promotional t-shirts with the message “Don’t F**K with the  Walrus” during the NHL playoffs. The phrase refers to Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean, who sports a rather outrageous moustache, and was referred to as a “bug-eyed fat walrus” by Montreal Canadiens player Brandon Prust.

The men, Jamie McLennan and Eric Chamois, made two shirts to wear to a playoff game, and found the market for them rabid and enthusiastic. They began making the shirts, selling them, and then donating $1 for each shirt sold to the Ottawa Senators Foundation.

But then they discovered that Ottawa Sports Experts stores were selling a design that was essentially identical to theirs.

Here’s the two. On the left is the original design by J and L Ink; on the right, a photo of a Sports Experts store display from the Senstown blog.

sedisplay JandLInk3












Looks to me as if the design on the right has slight variation in the font used and has had the F**K removed (making it a bit nonsensical — don’t moustache with the walrus?!) but is otherwise identical.

The creators of the original shirt are adamant that no deal is in place; I’ve reached out to Sports Experts for comment, but have heard nothing as yet.

Sports Experts has no active Twitter account, but they’re receiving dozens of angry messages on their Facebook page (which is showing a last update a day before the angry messages started.) They haven’t responded to any of those messages either. I’m at least the third blogger to find this, after the Senstown blog and the League of Ordinary Gentlemen.

What’s the lesson here? At this point, it’s that sometimes, even people with great ideas and generosity can do things that small-minded people then rip off. Or… if you are selling retail and you get an idea to use someone else’s design… maybe you should think again. But let’s wait and see. Maybe Sports Experts will make this good. Hey, FGL Sports, owners of Sports Experts and other brands — it’s your move.

UPDATE: At about 10:50, Sports Experts posted a response on their Facebook page:

“Hello everyone, we are aware of your comments and concerns regarding the Walrus T-shirt. Details concerning the situation are presently being investigated and we will keep you updated as soon as we know more on what exactly has happened. Thank you very much for your understanding.”  

Look forward to more information as it comes.

UPDATE, 2:45 pm: Sports Experts has an apology and explanation up on their Facebook page:

Dear concerned customers,

The sale of the Walrus t-shirt in the Ottawa Sports Experts stores was a local initiative and in no way was meant to harm the artist. The Sports Experts franchise owner sourced the T-shirts from an Ottawa supplier and asked to modify the design (removing the obscene language) not knowing that the supplier didn’t own the rights to the graphic. As soon as he became aware of the problem, the store owner decided to stop selling the t-shirts and removed the unsold t-shirts from all locations. After discussing the situation with the local artist, the owner of the stores will donate all the sales revenues to the Sens Foundation. It was a misunderstanding between the artist, the supplier and the Sports Experts stores owner.

We, as a national team, are truly sorry for this mishap and look forward to your continued business.

Thank you for your understanding.

The Sports Experts team

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