Sunday, 18 March 2012

Who would have thought that a few pieces of knitwear design would create such a crisis of conscience?

I really liked Yarn Forward magazine. This was for a few reasons:

1) The patterns – even their charity squares for a blanket (my first contribution – a freebie) were complex and interesting.
2) The magazine contained all original patterns, not yarn company promotions, or items that had been seen elsewhere.
3) The size range – being a traditionally upholstered woman myself, I appreciated patterns that covered a wide range of sizes.
4) Lots of tech editor questions. I’ve sent many grovelling and apologetic emails over my inability to count!

As it turned out, my first published pattern for the group (KAL Media) was for Inside Crochet, their stablemate, but I was still very happy to be involved with them.

I realise (now) that I should have done a bit more research into the company, but I naively carried on, submitting designs, answering call outs and making samples. I didn’t realise, at the time, that the lead players have a certain amount of “form” when it comes to not getting mags out on time, delays in paying designers, not returning samples, etc. But I didn’t do this research and all seemed to be trundling along in a satisfactory fashion.

And then KAL went into liquidation. The assets of the company were bought by the newco (ACM). This, known as a “prepack” is not unusual – the owners of ACM are the same people as owned KAL. I worked in a business environment for many years and so was used to this concept. Unpaid suppliers, if they choose, can continue to provide goods and services and make back their money through future sales. It’s not ideal, but it can mean ongoing business for the suppliers and is sometimes seen as preferable to losing the customer.

It’s a beautiful theory.

I was asked to re-invoice any outstanding amounts to the newco, which I duly did (which presumably meant they were written off the oldco list, when the liquidators started getting their hands on the paperwork).

Because of my business background, I am well aware that the owners (although they are the same people) have no legal obligation to pay the debts of oldco and so, at the time, I was grateful that efforts were being made to pay the designers. To this end, I was happy to keep submitting ideas.

A few weeks ago, there was a call out. As is my way, I put in a few ideas (four in total), hoping just one or two would be accepted. I thought it was odd when all four were. The thought did occur to me that maybe nobody else had submitted, but it wasn’t until I went onto the Rubberneckers thread entitled “This was never going to end well” on Ravelry that I found out why.

So, I’m busy working away on my designs, and then I read the item saying that a number of designs have been sold onto a Canadian Co for entry into a magazine called “Love of Crochet” (NOT to be confused with “” a fab new online mag).

On examination of the contracts again, it appeared that the company hadn’t done anything illegal (mea culpa if I agree to something to my detriment) but I felt that this was bad practice. After all, I was now published in North America, but had received no notification of this. I could use that info to promote myself in other mags, and so felt that I should have been informed. This is particularly galling, considering it’s one of the KAL items that I still haven’t been paid for!

Yarn support arrived for the latest ideas, I started swatching and then I began to see the stuff on the internet. To say I felt foolish is an understatement. I know I can be a bit “Pollyanna” but I felt completely gullible and taken for a ride. But, what to do? I had agreed to the four designs and, as an added incentive, I was going to get paid for some of the old items at the same time as some of the new. No, this is not remotely altruistic, but at that point I just wanted my money back.

But then I realised that an ACM invoice was unpaid, a newco invoice which should be paid within 30 days of receipt. Along with it was some of the old KAL debt, but that didn’t matter, I hadn’t got a penny of either.

So I gave the company seven days notice of my intent to sue. To be fair, I had a phone call straight away and would like to stress that there are some good and reasonable people at this company who are working under very difficult circumstances and who appear to be doing their best for the designers and the customers. Kudos to Mandy.

I don’t wish to breach the confidentiality of our conversation, but suffice to say some of the situation was explained to me and I agreed to continue with the current project (the first of the four having already been sent).

I also had this feeling that I didn’t want to leave myself in a situation where I could be accused of breaking the terms of my contract. (Just because others have behaved badly, I don’t have to go down to their level). So, I decided that I would carry on making the second design, but not send it to the company until I’d got some money.

Before I got to this stage, a payment was received for an ACM and a KAL invoice. Would you believe that, at first, I felt grateful? I mean, how bloody stupid am I to feel grateful about being paid late? The KAL invoice was eighteen months old!

Another thread came on line, where a question was posed that I had considered myself. Are we in danger of making the situation worse with all of the bad publicity? Aren’t we more likely to cause the failure of the business through reduced sales and advertising, which would mean that designers and other suppliers are even less likely to be paid?

The straight answer to those questions is, of course, “yes”. But it’s more complicated than that. Do we want to continue supporting a business that has repeatedly let folks down. How many more times can we act like it’s going to get better, when there is little evidence to the contrary? And do we want to be associated with a company which has developed a toxic reputation?

The internet can verge on the hysterical sometimes, but many of the people commenting on this are calm, respected designers and suppliers who have worked hard to build their reputations. They deserve to be listened to.

It got to the point where these questions cost me a sleepless night and, believe me, I really like my sleep.

So that was it, I advised ACM that I would complete the contract currently being made, but I was giving the 30 days notice required to cancel the other two. I contacted the yarn suppliers to let them know that I was returning their items. I explained the situation, offered to refund their postage costs and the price of the yarn that I’d already used for swatching. They have been universally lovely and supportive – thank you to them.

I would also like to add that through my dealings with KAL/ACM, I have met some really great people who have kindly asked me to submit designs etc. But, more importantly, they are a pleasure to know.

So why am I writing this blog post now? I had previously made a deliberate decision not to enter into the debate.

Firstly, to get it off my chest. This has been getting on my threepennies for a while and causing some consternation, so I needed to get it out there.

Secondly, to explain why two of my patterns (assuming that they get published, after this) are appearing in future editions of the mag.

Thirdly, to wish the many good folks at ACM good things. There are some lovely people whom I wish well. I certainly don’t wish the makers of bad decisions any harm. I just wish that they’d stop over-trading.

The initial ideas for the magazine were great. I truly hope that with a new editor in chief, they can return to those concepts and re-build their reputation.

May this not be the triumph of optimism over experience.

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