One day in late November, Corine Grant says, a group from the charity Invisible Children stopped by her kiosk at Horton Plaza.
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Grant said one of them was drawn to her signature bracelets, and they asked if she wanted to partner with the nonprofit.
Nothing came of the encounter; Grant was busy and never followed through. A week before Christmas, an email landed from Chadwick Gantes, an Invisible Children graphic designer. He wanted one of Grants bracelets.
Just a silver medallion w/ something lovey dovey on it that I would be able to give to my wife, Gantes wrote to Grant.
Gantes bought a bracelet at the mall later that day and Grant thought nothing more about it.
Until last week.
Thats when a documentary from Invisible Children called Kony 2012 about a warlord in Africa exploded across social media and Grant began hearing from from friends who thought they recognized her bracelet in the film.
Stamped metal bracelets are not uncommon in hobby jewelry circles. But the Kony 2012 bracelets being sold by Invisible Children for $10 are strikingly similar to Grants, even in the packaging. They are so popular the charity has them on back order.
Grant believes the San Diego-based charity, which raises awareness of strife in Africa, stole her idea.
I spent five years and lots and lots of money trying to build a brand around these bracelets and develop them, said Grant, who calls her company Hammered. To see them in the film like that and on their website, that hurts.
An Internet search on Thursday found other artisans selling bracelets with some characteristics of Grants. Hers feature phrases on coin-sized silver plates, strung on waxed polyester bands.
Lisa Niven Kelly, author of Stamped Metal Jewelry, reviewed the situation for The Watchdog. She said artisans may ply similar wares, but that may not be the only factor. She noted the Kony 2012 bracelets share similarities beyond the product.
Its clear shes worked really hard with her own design, her own packaging and marketing and concept to set herself apart, Kelly said. As artists, thats what we try to do.
The Watchdog approached Invisible Children in person, by phone and by email, starting Tuesday. Thursday afternoon, a publicist at the New York PR firm Sunshine Sachs issued this statement:
The design for the Kony 2012 bracelet started in November 2011. The bracelet is a small part of a much larger advocacy and awareness campaign to bring Joseph Kony to justice once and for all. Invisible Children does not believe any valid claims exist, and has yet to hear from Ms. Grants attorney. We will respond accordingly if and when we are contacted.
Posted online March 5, the Kony 2012 video has been viewed on YouTube more than 79 million times and likely helped raise millions of dollars. One subject in the film is shown wearing the
Grant, 26, is a San Diego native who has been making and selling hand-crafted designs since 2007. The work has not been easy, and she hasnt made much money.
An avid reader, Grant said as a girl she often scrawled inspiring messages on her arm, then washed the words away at the end of the day.
For a long time, she thought about how to continue the practice, short of getting a tattoo. Thats how she came up with the bracelets.
I had the concept in my head but it took me a while to figure out how to make them, she said. I started out in a one-bedroom apartment, and I was making them at my kitchen table.
Last year, after borrowing more than $30,000 from her family, Grant formalized her company. By November, she secured the Horton Plaza kiosk. Thats where the Invisible Children advocates were handing out fliers.
According to Grants records, Gantes paid $64.65 for the bracelet he bought Dec. 19 after emailing her.
Je taime, it read - French for I Love You.
Gantes did not respond to phone and email requests for an interview.
Grant said she was able to reach the charity two days after the video was posted. A lawyer told her she had no claim. This week, she hired lawyer Timothy OLeary.
It seems like they kind of lifted her design, he said. Whats more nefarious is that they knew about her, they contacted her and now they are selling some sort of knock-off. bracelet, which says Stop at Nothing on one side and Kony 2012 on the other.
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