An independent dressmaker has hit out at Chinese e-commerce giant Temu after it displayed a ‘pirated’ listing featuring her designs and photographs on its website.
Christina Ashman, 34, from Bristol, says an unscrupulous third-party seller swiped photos of her wearing her custom-made Valentine’s Day dress and used it to flog a tawdry imitation at a fraction of the price on the shopping behemoth’s platform.
While the real dress, designed and made to order by hand, costs £79, the Temu imitation was just £18.50. But the listing used all of her photos and even claimed the price had been ‘reduced’ from £74.49, a not-dissimilar price to the real deal.
Screenshots of the listing suggest that more than 9,500 were sold before Temu removed it following an ardent social media campaign — but not before deceiving at least one of Ms Ashman’s fans into placing an order for the fake thinking it was real.
Speaking to MailOnline, the dressmaker of 10 years said she had received an apologetic message from one follower who, having seen photos of her smiling in the pretty dress on the site, placed an order with the site. They have vowed to return it.
Photos of Christina Ashman in her handmade Valentine’s dress were stolen by a third-party Temu seller. The listing claimed 9,500 of the knock-offs had been sold at £18.49 apiece
Images of the real dress – like this one here – were swiped by the unscrupulous third-party seller and used to promote a knock-off at a reduced price
Temu is a Chinese-operated online marketplace that markets itself under the slogan: ‘Shop like a billionaire’
Ms Ashman shared photos of the Temu listing in a post on X, formerly Twitter, fuming: ‘That’s my design, my dress, my FACE’
She said: ‘Someone did message me to say she had ordered one of the dresses thinking it was mine, that because it was my photo on the site it was me.
‘She bought it on there because it was cheaper. It was £18 – I even can’t afford to buy the fabric for that.’
Temu, which markets itself with the slogan ‘shop like a billionaire’, purports to offer millions of products at knockdown prices. Its app is the number one most-downloaded iPhone app in the UK, according to Apple data retrieved today.
It runs a ‘third-party’ marketplace – meaning that most of its listings are created by external sellers, down to the product details and illustrations, with Temu effectively acting as a wholesaler.
Items are typically sent directly from suppliers, according to Temu’s own website – despite items being labelled as being ‘shipped from Temu’.
In a statement to MailOnline, Temu bosses admitted that the sheer number of goods being sold means it can be a ‘challenge’ spotting stolen designs.
But this means the platform can and is being used by immoral sellers to rip off designs created by hard-working artists and undercut them with imitations of their own designs – an accusation also levelled at other Chinese ecommerce sites such as Shein and Wish.
Ms Ashman, who trades as Interrobang Art, was only made aware of the listing after being contacted by a follower on social media, who had suspected that the Temu seller had stolen her pictures.
Suspecting she wouldn’t get the Chinese firm to take any action without public pressure, she tweeted images of the Temu listing with the caption: ‘That’s my design, my dress, my FACE.’
The tweet has been seen over half a million times; its replies were full of criticisms of Temu, and some screenshots from followers suggesting they had reported the item as a fraudulent and misleading listing.
Eventually, around 16 hours after she tweeted the photos, Temu pulled the item. A notice on the page later read: ‘This item was discontinued.’ It has not been in touch with Ms Ashman.
She continued: ‘They were pictures of me, in my dress, in my garden, promoting some kind of knock-off. I couldn’t report it without making an account, and I didn’t have the energy to fight it because it happens so frequently (to small artists).
‘Copying is one thing but those are my pictures. But I don’t have time to sit down and work out what to do. I can’t afford a lawyer. I don’t have the time to go to court, and they know that they know that.
‘You have a look (on Temu, Shein, etc), and you see things that you recognise from other small businesses. And it’s just so gross.
‘I think, while people do care about the the environmental impact, people have been exploited in the making of their clothes, they don’t necessarily have the option (of buying ethically produced clothing).’
Temu eventually pulled the item, which was listed as ‘discontinued’ in its mobile app
Temu launched in the US in 2022 and the UK last year, bringing with it scarcely believable prices – and concerns over the ethics of those producing its products
Temu, based in Dublin under the name Whaleco Technology Limited but controlled by Chinese megacorp Pinduoduo Inc, has been accused of hosting stolen designs several times since launching in the US in 2022 and the UK last year.
Members of the Commons’ Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and the US House Select Committee, have also expressed concerns that suppliers are sourcing products made through the forced labour of children and Uighur Muslims in China.
Alicia Kearns, head of the foreign affairs select committee, told the BBC in November she had long-held concerns ‘about the rise of Temu and the risks it poses’.
In response to those allegations at the end of 2023, Temu told the BBC anyone doing business with it must ‘comply with all regulatory standards and compliance requirements’, adding: ‘Employment by all our…suppliers must be voluntary.’
In November last year, consumer rights group Which? discovered Temu was selling potentially illegal weapons including knives, axes and batons for as little as £8.48 – often without any safety checks on buyers.
Other Temu goods have been linked to house fires in the UK — with items not always produced to UK safety specifications.
Scottish mum Natalie McNeill says her Temu-bought tablet burst into flames as she left it charging in her house in Greenock earlier this week, the ferocity of the flames blowing out a window in her house.
Responding to MailOnline’s questions about Ms Ashman’s dress, a Temu spokesperson said the company ‘immediately began an internal review’ after being alerted to her post on social media.
The spokesperson said the firm maintains a database of ‘known infringing images’ that it compares to newly listed products to cull knock-off items, but said it ‘cannot guarantee 100 per cent certainty’ in spotting fakes.
They continued: ‘We took this step without requiring proof of copyright ownership to minimize further harm to the artist.
‘We incorporate known infringing images into our image library to help prevent the online sale of pirated products. However, we acknowledge that we cannot guarantee 100 per cent certainty.
‘As Temu works with many third-party sellers, due to the volume of new designs created daily by them, determining which has secured authoritative copyright certification is a challenge.
‘To address this, we have established an IP portal and encourage all copyright holders to proactively inform us of violations and help in our fight against piracy.
‘Rights holders can use our IP Portal for filing notices. Our trained team promptly acts to remove listings after receiving and verifying appropriate notifications.’
The company added that it ‘continuously emphasises education and training’ for third-party sellers.
It concluded: ‘Our goal is to cultivate respect for third-party intellectual property rights, ensuring that merchants operate legally and comply with regulations.’