VICTORIA – Haley Paekau says she was shocked when her mother told her that an orange shirt she had designed to support First Nations schools was listed for sale on an American clothing and clothing website. accessories without his consent.
The 12-year-old Indigenous artist who lives on Vancouver Island created the logo on the t-shirt from a design his paternal grandmother created for a Cowichan sweater over 40 years ago.
“I felt pretty angry that someone was using my design for their own benefit,” she said. “It’s kind of to my disbelief that someone is using my design.”
Paekau says the similarities between his design and the shirts and accessories available at Indiana-based online retailer “teebechic” are hard to ignore.
“It looks almost identical to my design, everyone could see it was almost identical,” Paekau said. “My grandmother designed what is on (the shirt) but I put it all together.”
Orange shirt designed by 12-year-old Indigenous artist Haley Paekau is shown: (CTV News)
Paekau says she created the shirt just over a year ago to help raise money for First Nations schools. Proceeds from the sale of orange shirts bearing his logo enabled him to donate $ 6,000 to the Qwam Qumran Stuxixwulh School of the Snuneymuxw First Nation for sports uniforms.
Paekau’s father says it’s upsetting to know that a company uses patterns and designs created by his mother, who has knitted Cowichan sweaters for more than 70 years.
“Her granddaughter is using these designs you hold dear in the family for a cause that helps our people and a business comes and takes advantage of it, it’s very upsetting,” said Paekau’s father, Steve Sxwithul’txw.
“It’s not the way First Nations do it. We don’t mind sharing and we don’t mind helping, but you have to ask,” he said.
Paekau says she has contacted the online retailer to ask them to remove shirts and clothing that resemble her design from their website.
“We wrote to tell them that this is copyright infringement because our shirt is copyrighted,” Paekau said. “We complained for two days and they still haven’t taken it off.”
CTV News has reached out to the online retailer by email to request a response to Paekau’s concerns that the company is profiting from sales of products similar to its design.
In an email response, teebechic said, “As a user-generated content platform, we take the issues of illegal content seriously.”
The company has also directed CTV News to an online portal where formal complaints can be filed.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, the shirt with similarities to the Paekau design was still available for sale on the teebechic site.
“It’s hard to remove these elements, they can change it in a small way while still retaining the design,” Sxwithul’txw said. “This is something lawyers obviously should get involved in trying to solve this problem, but lawyers cost money and it takes time.”
Sxwithul’txw says that because the money raised by the orange shirts designed and sold by Paekau will help First Nations children, he is working to remove the shirts from the online retailer’s website that are important to his family.
Paekau says that when people buy his shirts, they aren’t buying from a big company, they are supporting school children. She asks that when people buy orange shirts online, they wonder who benefits from the purchase.
“Just research where you get your orange shirts from and that will help a lot of people,” Paekau said. “So you are donating to a good cause instead of a big business.”
Although Paekau only sells their shirts locally, the family say they plan to start selling the shirt as a fundraiser through a Facebook page called “Orange Shirt Day Students 4 Students”.