12-year-old Indigenous artist shocked after orange shirt design appears on U.S. website

Haley Paekau says she was shocked when her mother told her that an orange shirt she designed to support First Nations schools was offered for sale on an American clothing and accessory website without her consent.

The 12-year-old Indigenous artist who lives on Vancouver Island created the logo on the T-shirt based on a design her paternal grandmother created for a Cowichan sweater more than 40 years ago.

"I felt pretty angry that someone would use my design for their own personal profit," she said. "It's kind of to my disbelief that someone would use my design."

Paekau says the similarities between her design and the shirts and accessories available on Indiana-based online retailer “teebechic” are difficult to overlook.

"This looks almost identical to my design, anyone could see that it was almost identical," said Paekau. "My grandmother designed what’s on (the shirt) but I put it all together."

(teebechic)

The orange shirt designed by 12-year-old Indigenous artist Haley Paekau is shown: (CTV News)

Paekau says she created the shirt a little more than a year ago to help raise funds for First Nations schools. Proceeds from the sale of orange shirts bearing her logo design allowed her to donate $6,000 to Qwam Qumran Stuxixwulh school on the Snuneymuxw First Nation for sports uniforms.

Paekau’s father says it is upsetting to know that a company is using patterns and designs created by his mother, who knitted Cowichan sweaters for more than 70 years.

"Her granddaughter is using those designs that are dear to you in the family for a cause that helps our people and some company comes in and takes it for profit, it is very upsetting," said Paekau’s father, Steve Sxwithul’txw.

"It's not in the way of First Nations People to do that. We don’t mind sharing and we don’t mind helping, but you have to ask," he said.

Paekau says she has reached out to the online retailer to ask them to remove the shirts and apparel that resemble her design from its website.

"We wrote to tell them it is a copyright violation because our shirt is copyrighted," said Paekau. "We have complained for two days and still they’ve not taken it down."

CTV News contacted the online retailer by email to request a response to Paekau’s concerns that the company is profiting from sales of products similar to her design.

In an emailed reply, teebechic said, "As a user generated content platform, we take infringing content concerns seriously."

The company also directed CTV News to an online portal where formal complaints can be made.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, the shirt bearing similarities to Paekau’s design was still available for sale on the teebechic website.

"It’s hard to have these things removed, they can alter it in one little way and still have the design," said Sxwithul’txw. "It's something that obviously lawyers would have to get involved to try and take this down, but lawyers cost money and it does take time."

Sxwithul’txw says because the money raised by the orange shirts Paekau designed and sells goes to help First Nations children, it makes efforts to remove the shirts from the online retailer’s website important for his family.

Paekau says when people buy her shirts they are not buying from a big company, they are supporting school children. She asks that when people are buying orange shirts online, they question who is profiting from the purchase.

"Just research where you get your orange shirts from and that will help a lot of people," said Paekau. "Then you are donating to a good cause instead of a big company." 

While Paekau has only been selling her shirts locally, the family says they plan to begin selling the shirt as a fundraiser through a Facebook page called "Orange Shirt Day students 4 students."