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Not Exactly a Stand-Up Move

"We're risking everything," Buchbinder says. "For a little company, we put so much livelihood and development into the tooling. If someone else is allowed to make it, it just kills us."

Like Target, Buchbinder has sought to raise the profile of his company by working with celebrity designers. Along with Starck's Hudson collection, Emeco makes a Superlight chair designed by Gehry. Buchbinder was hard at work on a new chair by Norman Foster, the British architect, when he learned of the aluminum chair on Target.com. He bought one and put it through a few tests before deciding to challenge it. He worried that legal fees could prevent the launch of the Foster chair.

"I only have five collections," Buchbinder says. "Those jobs depend on making those chairs. My back is up against a wall. I don't have a choice. I have to fight for it."

Target's commitment to design began at the Washington Monument. The corporation organized sponsorship of the famous Michael Graves blue wrap used during a lengthy renovation in 1998. Smart executives bought the notion that design could differentiate Target from other big-box stores. Exclusive collections have been commissioned from Graves, Starck, Isaac Mizrahi, Todd Oldham and others. Anonymous designers toil away on staff. The corporation also has partnered with such brand-name companies as California Closets, Sony, Eddie Bauer, Tupperware, Calphalon, Waverly and Woolrich to offer quality design at volume pricing.

Target.com includes comments from three shoppers who have purchased the Cafe Aluminum side chairs. Two of them complain about sloppy welds. One of them gives the chair four stars as a "great alternative to the Emco [sic] chair."

If Target's guests know the difference, surely those in the executive suite do, too.

Why not apologize, pull the imitation and maybe even work out a partnership to ensure that a great example of American design not only survives but flourishes?


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