Monday, September 2, 2013

Real or Fake?

While mindlessly poking around on the internet today I saw an article about the number of resellers crashing Etsy's Economy and killing to mood for handmade sellers. Stories of handmade artists having their designs and product photos stolen by Chinese Factories can sure make you shudder - especially if you create and sell your items through this online marketplace!

Etsy claims to be a site that fosters handmade. They have thrived on the ideal that everything sold on their site comes from an individual, a person that makes each item with love and care. Yet they have had to create teams of people to police their site for "resellers." If you ask me, I'm positive the Etsy police can't patrol the rip-offs as fast as the Chinese factories can make them.

Alibaba is a wholesale site selling items manufactured in Asian countries. Alibaba is well known among Etsy sellers as a site that fosters resellers and rip-offs. Most stories of Etsy products being mass produced without permission from the artist are linked to an Alibaba listing or twenty. (For those of you wondering what you are supposed to do when intellectual property is stolen by Alibaba, I would direct you to their complaint form. I can't personally speak to the effectiveness of using this form but I would love to hear from anyone who has had experience with this.) Occasionally I make a point to surf the massive site for my items being pawned off at a discount rate. A simple "teepee" search reveals... Alibaba sellers still can't make a real tipi. Let's do a quick comparison.

A Real Tipi Tepee Teepee:

  • Has 13 to14 poles total depending on the tribe making it.
  • Has 3 to 4 poles (again depending on the tribe making it) called "lift poles" that form the base upon which the other poles are added.
  • Is cone shaped with a round footprint. 

The pole structure of an 18 foot Sioux-Cheyenne Tipi. Photo thanks to my wonderful friend M.

  • Is held together with small wooden sticks called lacing pins.  

Lacing Pins being put in during a tipi setup. Photo thanks to M.

  • Is sewn together from very long strips of canvas resulting in beautiful seam lines on the inside. (When laid a flat tipi looks like an imperfect half circle.)

See all the lines? Only a real teepee has awe-inspiring lines like that. Photo thanks to my friend M.

  • Has smoke flaps on the upper front to control the airflow inside the Tipi. These are controlled by two additional poles and secured with ropes from the lower corners to the ground.

Many Thanks to Little Joe of Ahki Tipi for use of this photo.

 Now lets look at a wannabe tepee:

For sale here if you happen to need 50 or more at a time.

  •  No smoke flaps. A strange cap instead...
  • Only 1 steel pole in the center, not 13 or 14 poles. The sides are staked down.
  • No lacing pins.
  • Is Technically a TENT, not a Tipi Tepee Teepee.

What does it have in common with a Tepee though? It is cone shaped and round. It is made from canvas. That's about it.

The problem with these wannabe Teepees (or Cheepie Tipis as a friend of mine calls them) is that they don't have all the strengthening features that a real tepee does making them vulnerable in many ways. Authentic Teepees have reinforcement patches, a time tested structure that is erected and bound in a way that resists strong winds and heavy snow, openings at the top to allow a fire inside without smoking out the people inside, and most importantly - tradition. To me, a real tipi is made by someone who has a great love and appreciation for the history of the tipi and it's people.

This brings me to my closing thoughts. I am proud to make real tipis and pleased that the imitation tipis are so inaccurate and (personal opinion) ugly. I am thankful to have been able to learn my craft despite all the challenges I encountered. Most importantly I am grateful for the friends I have made along this path. Many thanks go out to Maria (the Spanish speaking lady who taught me to sew my first tipi front), Linda Holley (who wrote the most amazing book about Tepees and aided me in producing a historically accurate pattern), Little Joe of Ahki Tipis (who constantly inspires me by making tipis the traditional way taught to him by his grandmother), Marian (who lives and dreams in one of the first Tipis I made and is always the source of a good smile), and my husband (who pushes me to keep reaching for the sky.)  Much love to you all, wado.

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