Tom Dixon, Marcel Wanders, Moooi and Emeco on copying in Milan

“Milan is a breeding ground for people who copy our products”

Dezeen and MINI World Tour: in this movie filmed in Milan earlier this month, leading designers and manufacturers discuss the phenomenon of copying and how they are responding. "It’s become an increasingly big problem for us," says Tom Dixon. "People can steal ideas and produce them almost faster than we can now."

“Milan is a breeding ground for people who copy our products”

"An original design product will have a cost higher than its copy," says designer Marcel Wanders (above). "It’s very simple. Stealing most of the time is more cheap than buying."

Unscrupulous manufacturers visit Milan to photograph new prototypes and then rush out copies before the original products reach the market, according to Casper Vissers (below), CEO of furniture and lighting brand Moooi.

“Milan is a breeding ground for people who copy our products”

"It’s very sour if you have presented a product in April and it’s in the shops in September, but a bloody copier has it already in August," says Vissers, speaking at Moooi's spectacular Unexpected Welcome show in Milan (below). "This is what happens at the moment."

Vissers adds that legal action against copiers in Asia is expensive and, even if it’s successful in the short term, it does little to stem the tide: "You need huge amounts of money [to launch a law suit in the Far East] and if you win - if - a new limited company in China will start production [of copies]".

“Milan is a breeding ground for people who copy our products”

Copiers are increasingly shameless about their intentions, says Tom Dixon, speaking at his presentation at MOST in Milan. "People feel very confident copying things. Some people come around with spy glasses photographing things but other people are more overt and come in with iPads or film crews."

Dixon says the problem is getting worse, with markets around the world and even the UK market increasingly flooded with copies. "Everywhere we go in Australia or Singapore or India we’ll see many, many copies, and that’s also hitting more and more the UK as well."

“Milan is a breeding ground for people who copy our products”

Gregg Buchbinder (above), CEO of furniture company Emeco, says the solution is for designers to push manufacturers to make more sophisticated products that are harder to copy. The furniture collection Emeco developed with designer Konstantin Grcic for the Parrish Art Museum on Long Island (below), for example, "was a very difficult project to do. Although the chair looks simple, there’s nothing skipped."

"The more difficult it is, the more difficult it is for people to knock it off," Buchbinder adds.

“Milan is a breeding ground for people who copy our products”

Emeco aggressively pursues copyists through the courts and earlier this year won a case against fellow US manufacturer Restoration Hardware, which had copied the iconic Navy chair.

But outside Europe and the US, copyright law is less robust and harder to enforce. "It’s very, very difficult to protect yourself legally," says Dixon.

Dixon’s company is directly responding to the problem of copying by developing a range of new products designed to make life more difficult for counterfeiters.

“Milan is a breeding ground for people who copy our products”

"What you’ll see [at our Milan presentation] is a number of coping strategies," Dixon explains. "We’ve been trying as much as possible to invest in tooling and slightly more advanced technology. We’re working on adaptive models where we make specific things for clients. A new bespoke division where we make things for people, so we adapt our products to suit a client’s needs. So there’s ways of dealing with it. We’ve just got to be faster and smarter."

See all our stories about copying in design ».

“Milan is a breeding ground for people who copy our product”

Milan is the second stop on our Dezeen and MINI World Tour. See all our reports from our first destination, Cape Town. This movie features a MINI Cooper S Paceman.

The music featured is a track called Divisive by We Have Band, a UK-based electronic act who played at the MINI Paceman Garage in Milan on Friday. You can listen to the full track on Dezeen Music Project.