Woolworths denies accusations of 'copying' local sock design

02 July 2019 - 11:27 By Nico Gous
Woolworths says it is investigating a complaint about its sock design.
Woolworths says it is investigating a complaint about its sock design.
Image: 123rf.com/Kirill Ryzhov

A year after admitting there were striking similarities between Ubuntu Baba's baby carriers and its own, Woolworths is again facing controversy, this time over sock designs.

Sexy Socks founder Dave Hutchison wrote in a Facebook post on Monday evening that some of their and other "small" sock brands' designs had allegedly been copied.

"Today [Monday] I walked into Woolworths and saw my socks. Only, they weren't my socks. It was just my design, altered ever so slightly, with a minor colour change. It was one of our original, iconic, designs from the really early days, and one that was a top seller for years.

"These were even made from bamboo. And it was on sale for a price well below what I can afford to offer. That's what you can offer when you manufacture in China," he wrote.

Woolworths denied the allegations. 

Spokesperson Kirsten Hewett initially told TimesLIVE on Tuesday: "We take allegations of IP [intellectual property] infringement very seriously. We are investigating this issue and will [provide] feedback as soon as possible."

She later said: "We deny the allegation that we copied Sexy Socks's bicycle design or the bamboo material used. Bicycles are an international design trend used by fashion houses, designers and retailers all over the world.

"We have used bicycles on T-shirts, socks, trunks and boxers. We first used the bicycle design on a pair of boxers, which we designed in-house in Woolworths in May 2015. Due to its success, we extended the design across other categories."

Hewett added that Woolworths had also used bamboo as a textile in towels, shirts, trousers, jackets and socks since 2005 due to its "sustainability attributes".

"We remain deeply committed to the development of small business in SA," she said.

For the last five years, I have poured my heart and soul into building Sexy Socks. I have tried to prove to the world...

Posted by Dave Hutchison on Monday, 1 July 2019

In January 2018, Ubuntu Baba founder Shannon McLaughlin accused Woolworths of copying her baby carrier designs and using her name on their version of the carriers, which were on sale in-store and online.

The retailer admitted there were striking similarities between their carriers and the Ubuntu Baba ones, which they recalled from stores, and subsequently apologised.

Hutchison wrote that he had poured his heart and soul into building Sexy Socks over the past five years and that entrepreneurship could at times be a "long, dark and lonely road" exacerbated when "big players" were "leveraging off our hard work".

"I hope that South Africans will put their foot down and show that we will not tolerate this. I hope that they will stand up for the little guys, stand with our entrepreneurs, stand with small business and refuse to accept such poorly disguised plagiarism," he wrote.

He said every sale taken away from his company affected a team of eight. "You take away from our social mission. You take away and say small business is NOT the way forward. NOT something that can move and transform SA."

Editor's Note: This story was updated to reflect Woolworths's fuller response to queries about the allegations.