Two years ago, I wrote a post about how to protect yourself from being sold a counterfeit wedding dress. I was in the middle of a ridiculous battle with a bridal shop owner who sold me a counterfeit dress and and refused to refund my money. I never actually discussed how everything went down, just how to make sure what you’re purchasing is authentic. But today I’m here to tell you the whole story, and how it played out. Not for your sympathy or to rally a mob of angry brides, but to show you what can happen if you don’t educate yourself.
So here it goes. From the beginning. (Remember, I was naive and uninformed and had no idea what I was doing. No judgement. Please just learn from my mistakes!)
I found this amazing Liz Fields gown at a bridal shop located over an hour away from me. I fell in love with it, but wanted to see if anyone in my town sold it because I didn’t want to have to deal with driving that far while I was going to school full time as well as working full time. I called all of the bridal shops in Lincoln, NE (where I was living), and only one told me she could order it in. I was elated. Look how gorgeous it is!
I went to the bridal shop to order it, the owner pulled a picture of the dress up on her computer (the same picture as the one on Liz Fields’ website), verified that was the gown I wanted, and I put my money down. How stupid does that sound typing it out? Red flag #1: She didn’t have a sample in the store. Oops. Red flag #2: She said it would arrive 4 months before the other store could get it in. Oops again. In my defense, though, her price for the gown was about the same as the other store that was selling the authentic gown. Usually places that sell counterfeits sell them for cheap ($300 for a gown that’s supposed to cost $2500).
So, ignorance was bliss, and I was so excited for my perfect wedding dress! My future husband and I were getting married on a beach in Mexico, and the gown, in my opinion, was the perfect combination of formal/sophisticated and relaxed/flowy. Like a mullet – business on the top, party on the bottom. (Did I really just compare my wedding gown to a mullet?!)
So the shop owner called me to tell me the dress was in, and we all went in to look at it. It had been a couple months since I’d seen the real dress in the other store, and you sometimes forget little details. Ever watch Say Yes To The Dress where girls come in for their alterations and can’t even remember what their gowns looked like? Yea, it’s like that. So I tried on the dress and the biggest thing we noticed was that the layers didn’t lay flat like the image on the website or the picture of me at the other store. The shop owner gave this reason: “The dress is shipped in a teeny-tiny box so when it comes out it’s all wrinkled. Once it hangs up for a while and airs out, the layers will flatten out.”
We bought the excuse. Hook, line, and sinker.
So, we did what she recommended. Took the dress home and aired it out hanging up. Didn’t really think anything of anything. Went in for my first alteration. The layers still didn’t lay flat. What did the seamstress say? “Oh, once we get that steamed it will be fine.” Okay. I told them I wanted them to steam it before my next appointment. The shop owner was hesitant, but I told her I needed to see what it looked like. So we went back in for my second alterations appointment (this time I brought my fireball of a future grandmother-in-law), and the dress LOOKED THE SAME. I verified that they steamed it. OMG PANIC MODE. My future grandmother-in-law was fussing about the terrible stitching and cheap fabrics. I am now officially freaking out. My sister and I check the inside of the dress. OMG NO TAG. We called the store I originally saw the dress. They said, yes, absolutely – authentic designer gowns come with the designer’s tag sewn into the back, and some even come with certificates of authenticity. SERIOUSLY HYPERVENTILATING NOW. Keep in mind, this is like THREE WEEKS before we left for Mexico for the wedding.
It’s a bit hard to tell, but the layers of the counterfeit dress weren’t stitched properly and the raw edges were exposed.
Notice not only the Liz Fields Lo-Ve-La tag, but the difference between the elastic bands that help hold the dress up. Two hooks versus A MILLION.
I go back in with my mom to talk to the shop owner. I show her the picture on the website and me in the other store, and then compare it to the pictures of dress that she sold me. I told her there is no label/tag in the dress that she sold me and there’s supposed to be. I asked her to prove that the dress was authentic, because the silhouette of the two dresses didn’t look anything alike. She asked me why this was the first time I’d raised any concerns, and said that because I paid for the dress in full and took it out of the store, I “accepted” the dress and the sale was final. I told her how we trusted her about the dress settling down to what the picture showed, but she retorted that she only looked at the picture to verify the dress and when it came in, she didn’t remember what it was “supposed” to look like, and thought that the fluffiness was normal.
We also asked her why there was no designer tag in the dress, and she claimed that most of her dresses come without tags in them (because they’re all COUNTERFEIT!). I asked her again to prove that it was the real dress, and all she could show me was the website she ordered it from, which when we looked closely, had the picture taken from the Liz Fields website, but had ANOTHER COMPANY NAME stamped across the image. My mother was upset because the layers did not pull down like we were told they would, and raw seams were still showing. The seamstress said, “You would be surprised at the lack of quality of the some of the dresses we get in.” OMG. IS THIS FOR REAL? We told the seamstress and bridal shop owner that it was completely unacceptable, both the quality of the dress and the fact that it wasn’t an authentic Liz Fields gown, and we wanted our money back.
She said that was absolutely not possible because we “accepted” the dress when we took it out of the store.
And then guess what she said. Just guess.
She likened it to buying a shirt from Dillards and asking to return it six months later. OH NO SHE DIDN’T.
So anyway. We were able to buy the floor sample from the original bridal shop (why didn’t we just order from there in the first place?!), and after a crazy week of rushed alterations, we were married in a perfect ceremony on a perfect beach in Mexico. Then we decided we needed to take action against the business owner who sold us counterfeit goods.
We filed a complaint with the Nebraska Attorney General’s office, where they provide written mediation for situations between customers and businesses. I prepared and submitted a 19-page report documenting everything from the entire timeline of events, payments made, website claims, and discrepancies between the two gowns. The business owner responded, addressing NONE of the issues I mentioned, claiming she did nothing wrong as I agreed to the PHOTO on the computer that she showed me, and saying, “We have always gone over and above for our brides. Just couldn’t make this one happy.”
THERE SHE GOES AGAIN.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering. She did submit a printout of the site she ordered the counterfeit from, although she blacked all of the important information out (which doesn’t make sense because that just makes her look more guilty!). Regardless, it was still obvious that the site was called “Brand of Dress” thanks to the ugly watermark they placed over a STOLEN photo from Liz Field’s website (scroll up for a refresher).
Around the same time as the response from the business came back to the Attorney General’s office, I heard back from my wedding gown designer herself! I had sent the company an email through their website to let them know what was going on, and had a few emails back and forth with a representative. This rep actually forwarded everything on to Liz herself and SHE EMAILED ME PERSONALLY. That felt good. She told me that Brand of Dress is like the Amazon.com of counterfeit dresses. All of the images on the site were being used illegally to sell counterfeit gowns.
Here’s what Liz said about the process bridal shops have to go through to become authorized retailers of a designer’s line:
“If you are a retailer, in order to receive an authentic gown or anything else authentic, you must be buying directly from the manufacturer (designer) or their distributors. Since we are in the USA, stores in the USA buy directly from us. When we talk about Australia or Brazil or Europe, we have distributors who order directly from us but handle shipping, customs, etc. But in those cases, those contacts are provided directly by us to any retailers interested. There is no other way around it.”
Funny enough, a while after all of this went down, I happened to check the Brand of Dress website and lookie what I found!
I heard back from a couple other designer representatives (after contacting them regarding this bridal shop claiming to sell their products), and it was the same all around. I submitted a second report, proving that the bridal shop was NOT an authorized retailer for any of the designers she listed on her website, to which she replied: “Rachel wants to turn this into a spitting match and I will not participate.”
Is your blood boiling?
(FYI to my Nebraska friends, this woman is still running her business, but under a different name than before. She now focuses on selling homecoming/prom dresses, but I recently did some research and it still looks like she’s not authorized to sell some of the brands she claims to sell. If you are concerned about accidentally doing business with this person, shoot me and email and we can chat!)
Unfortunately, the mediation that the Attorney General’s office provides cannot make judgement on customers or businesses, and cannot force anyone to do anything. Our attempts failed. I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, which also launched a mediation-of-sorts, that ultimately ended the same way. The business owner completely failed to acknowledge the real situation: she promised a designer gown and delivered a counterfeit product.
DID YOU KNOW THAT IS ACTUALLY ILLEGAL?
It’s not just that it’s morally wrong and that she failed to deliver on her promise (illegal in and of itself). It is LEGITIMATELY ILLEGAL for anyone to sell counterfeit products. From the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributer website (www.naw.org):
“The federal criminal laws that prohibit any person from trafficking in counterfeit goods and services apply not only to the counterfeiter – the law applies with equal force to any individual or company that knowingly sells a counterfeit product.”
Also, from the Federal Trade Commissions website, regarding wedding gown label requirements:
“If you manufacture, import, or sell wedding gowns, you must ensure that consumers have certain garment information. The Textile Act, its regulations, and the FTC’s Care Labeling Rule require that labels be attached to imported and domestic textile products such as wedding gowns. These rules apply to sample gowns as well as to gowns that are for sale.”
In the end, the last option we had was to file a suit in small claims court against the business owner. I had some heart to hearts with a couple of my best friends, my husband, and my mom. I realized that I was so focused on getting revenge and getting the business owner to admit her wrongdoing because I was so incredibly embarrassed and ashamed of the mistakes I made, and of not seeing the warning signs. I talked it over with my father, and we decided small claims court would not be worth the time and money it would take to go through it.
So I dropped it. I came to peace with what happened. I recognized that the situation sucked a lot, but that the experience I went through could help me educate other women and families and hopefully prevent other people from making the same mistakes. Does it still bother me sometimes? Of course. Do I think her business should be shut down? Definitely. But no longer am I consumed with the desire for revenge.
If you ever watch How I Met Your Mother, there’s an episode where Ted comes to the same conclusion I did. He just phrased it better:
“Kids, you may think your only choices are to swallow your anger, or to throw it in someone’s face, but there’s a third option. You can just let it go. And only when you do that is it really gone, and you can move forward.”
If you’re a bride and you’re just beginning your wedding gown search, check out my 5 tips for spotting counterfeits (my original post). If you are a bride and you think might have been sold a counterfeit wedding dress, know that the law is ON YOUR SIDE! Contact a lawyer right away. Contact a representative for your designer (I just email through the designer’s website). Shoot me an email if you don’t know where to start! Above all, even though shopping for a wedding dress is an incredibly emotional experience, before you even go to a bridal shop, make sure they’re listed on the designers’ websites that they claim to sell. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble and heartache!
For everyone else, I would GREATLY appreciate if you would pin the image below to help spread the word about counterfeit wedding gowns. When I got engaged I had NO CLUE this was even an issue! Make sure your friends aren’t like me!
PS – This is an old article, but check it out anyway: NJ Wedding Dress Makers Sue To Stop Counterfeits
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