Dezeen Magazine

Chris Diemer at Voga

"To tar all replica furniture companies with the same brush is neither fair nor accurate"

Opinion: earlier this month Vitra's Tony Ash argued that copyists are "eating away at the very creativity of our industry". In response, Chris Diemer of replica furniture company Voga argues that firms like his are making good design affordable for the masses.

I walked into our offices in west London recently to be greeted by an unusual amount of activity for 8:42am on a Friday – several of our staff huddled around a computer screen, deep in debate. And even though our staff are a bright, hard-working bunch, I did feel the need to investigate why they were so transfixed by something that wasn't making coffee or ordering breakfast.

"There's an article on Dezeen about replica furniture," explained our e-commerce manager, visibly annoyed at what she'd just read. Initially, I wasn't too worried by this. People are entitled to their opinions and all that.

But when I read Vitra MD Tony Ash's comments regarding the replica furniture industry, I was more than a little disappointed, particularly in the implications he made about the ethics, motives and methods of its members. So, rather than simply let it lie, we decided that we'd like to speak up for ourselves.

Before I go any further, I should say that Mr Ash did make some valid points in his piece.

There have been notable examples in the last few years of disreputable replica furniture manufacturers producing sub-standard furniture, failing to deliver products and leaving customers out of pocket. Several companies have even gone out of business as a result.

But making crass generalisations about an industry of thousands of people is bold at the best of times, and to tar all replica furniture companies with the same brush is neither fair nor accurate.

I can only speak for Voga, but I can say that, unequivocally, we take great pride in what we do. We do not take advantage of our customers, we do not skimp on quality and we don't do what we do just to make a quick buck. We love design, we love our products and we want to make them accessible to everyone.

But we also know that's exactly what you'd expect us to say.

That's why, over the last 12 months, we have taken initiatives to show how serious we are. In 2014, Voga established the Replica Furniture Association, a collective of responsible companies who adhere to a strict code of ethics. We refuse to be associated with any business that doesn't demonstrate a tangible commitment to customers' rights, financial security or quality assurance.

Mr Ash's assertion that our manufacturing process is led by a "let's try and make this worse than the designer intended" attitude is both ignorant and downright insulting. At Voga, we quality control-check every single item that leaves our factory, regardless of size, price or designer, to ensure the highest possible standards are maintained.

I disagree with the idea that cheaper can only mean worse, and, as several Dezeen readers pointed out, any claim that designs by the likes of Charles Eames and Børge Mogensen are "too cheap" is kind of missing the point.

For example, a Harry Bertoia Wire Chair would have cost you $90 in 1968. Now if you adjust that price based on inflation in the intervening years, it equates to around $300 in 2015 money – less than half what an original manufacturer will typically charge, and actually a little less than we charge.

Can you still call Mogensen's J39 'The People's Chair', an item first sold in Danish supermarkets, when it costs over £400? Is it fair that Arne Jacobsen's Series 7 sells for hundreds of pounds, even though it was designed to cost around a fiver? I'm not convinced.

Our number one aim is to make great design accessible again, as it was always supposed to be.

Aside from all of these points, it was the assertion "copyists are eating away at the very creativity of our industry" that struck me as odd.

By their very nature the designs we produce are vintage classics, all more than 25 years old. As a result, a claim that we are in some way eating away at creativity by producing pieces that have been in existence for over a quarter of a century seems strange to me. We just produce replica furniture; we aren't preventing any designer anywhere in the world from creating anything new.

Quite the opposite, in fact; we're fans just like anyone else. We get just as excited about fresh new designers bringing out mind-blowing products as any design geek would.

And it isn't as if the powers that be agree with Mr Ash's point of view. The British government show scepticism in their impact assessment of Section 52 of the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act. They questioned whether a lack of unlicensed copies in the UK market would mean substantial gains to rights holders or designers and admitted that licensed and unlicensed copies of furniture are unlikely to be substitutes for one another in price terms or in the eyes of the consumer.

Section 52 also states that consumers are unlikely to switch to buying licensed copies due to an inability or unwillingness to pay for the higher-priced version, even if they are interested in the specific design. In other words: the removal of non-licensed copies from the marketplace would not increase sales for the original producers, it will simply prevent consumers from being able to afford good design.

A change of law will have a significant impact on consumer opportunities and welfare, according to the UK government – something that we vehemently oppose.

But I guess the main issue we have is the suggestion that replica furniture companies like ours don't care about their customers.

Whether we could actually be classed as a competitor to companies like Vitra is debatable – the government certainly doesn't think we are – but we don't really see why we would take any less pride in our work than they do, or not work as hard for our users.

In truth, we work tirelessly to produce the same quality designer classics as the original manufacturers for a fraction of the price, all 100 per cent legally and all because we want these designs to be accessible to all. And we're going to keep doing it.

Chris Diemer is the managing director of Voga, a replica furniture company based in London.