Accused of copying British illustrator Gemma Correll’s work, Singapore brand The Tiramisu Hero says it has learned a ‘hard lesson’

The Tiramisu Hero on Tyrwhitt Road has been accused of copying the artwork of Gemma Correll.
The Tiramisu Hero

A dessert cafe in Singapore – which recently received the support of Japanese media and netizens after a company there allegedly copied its concept – has been accused of plagiarising the artwork of British illustrator Gemma Correll.

The Tiramisu Hero, a cafe at Tyrwhitt Road that specialises in the Italian dessert, is said to have used some of Correll’s works in its logo, merchandise, and also design elements at the cafe.

Correll first highlighted the similarities between illustrations on The Tiramisu Hero’s packaging and logo and her artwork via Instagram Stories on Thursday (Feb 7, Singapore time).

Instagram Stories posted by Gemma Correll which highlighted the similarities between her work and illustrations used by The Tiramisu Hero.
Instagram / Gemma Correll

In the first of two Stories posted, Correll said the cafe had “basically based their entire identity branding and decor” on her artwork.

The artist, who is based in the US, told Business Insider via an email interview that she was first alerted to The Tiramisu Hero’s artwork by a follower on social media.

“When I first saw it, it was a little annoying but I didn’t bother looking into it any further. My work gets copied a lot and I don’t really have the time or the energy to chase up every instance,” she said.

But recent reports accusing a Japanese firm of passing off as The Tiramisu Hero (see below) resulted in many more people alerting Correll to the artwork used in the Singapore cafe’s branding material.

“That’s when I saw that they had copied more than just one cat image. There may be more that I haven’t seen, but there are at least 10 images, either on their packaging, products or on the walls of their cafe, including imagery from my books ‘A Pug’s Guide to Etiquette’, ‘A Cat’s Life’ and illustrations (published on my flickr account) that I made between 2009 and 2013,” Correll said.

Unintentional or a case of copycat?

The Tiramisu Hero promptly responded to Correll’s posts with an apology published on their social media pages on the same day.

In the post, the cafe’s owners acknowledged that the artwork used in their branding was “heavily inspired by the creations of Gemma Correll”, and explained that they had first made the doodles when they were still “unsure of our ability and still learning how to draw”. This led to them studying the work of illustrators they liked, they said.

“While we tried our best to make sure our cat drawings looked different, we did reference Gemma’s style on background, setting and certain body positions,” the company wrote.

The owners added: “We now know that this was not right, even in study of discovering our own illustration style. We are truly deeply sorry and regretful towards Gemma and her fans.”

They also said that they had no intention of passing off Correll’s work as their own and added that they had been “making a constant and conscious effort to evolve our cat mascot over the years”.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

When our two-girl team first started The Tiramisu Hero in 2012, we wanted to doodle a cat mascot to represent our brand. As the both of us were unsure of our ability and still learning how to draw, we turned to studying the work of illustrators we loved and who inspire us. The artwork produced in the early years of our business was indeed heavily inspired by the creations of Gemma Correll. We had been big fans of her work for years, even before our brand was conceived. While we tried our best to make sure our cat drawings looked different, we did reference Gemma’s style on background, setting and certain body positions. We now know that this was not right, even in study of discovering our own illustration style. We are truly deeply sorry and regretful towards Gemma and her fans. We hold Gemma in high regard and had absolutely no intention of reproducing her drawings directly, nor to wrongfully pass off her work as our own. It was a huge oversight on our part for not informing Gemma at the very start, to let her know that her work had inspired us and that we were referencing it while learning to draw. We have since reached out to Gemma to extend our grave apologies. We have been making a constant and conscious effort to evolve our cat mascot over the years. Our logo, that we registered in 2014, is shown in the cover photo of this post. We have also included drawings that were done from 2015 onwards, to show the changes we’ve done our best to make over the years. Once again, we are deeply sorry for the unhappiness and inconvenience we have caused Gemma. We will ensure that the artwork created in close reference to Gemma’s will no longer be used by us nor by our franchise here forth. All art pieces referencing Gemma’s were produced when The Tiramisu Hero was still in its infancy stages, and have no longer been in production since 2015. As a small, independent business, we are constantly learning and we strive to do better. Thank you for your support and your understanding.

A post shared by The Tiramisu Hero (@thetiramisuhero) on

 

But Correll told Business Insider that the company’s apology did not “really address the whole issue”.

While the current logo – which features a cat – is no longer based on her artwork, Correll said many of The Tiramisu Hero’s products still featured artwork copied from her drawings.

“Of course, I have no problem with people being inspired by my artwork. I have several books that teach how to draw in my style! But being inspired and outright copying are not the same thing, especially if you aim to become an international brand,” she said.

She added that the cafe’s walls appear to still feature the same questionable artwork.

“They have not explained how, if they are no longer inspired by my work, the ‘Jawsome’ cat pins and prints that they are selling, for example, have a ‘shark suit’ that is exactly the same as one of my drawings from my book ‘A Pug’s Guide to Etiquette’,” she said.

When contacted, co-founders of The Tiramisu Hero, Aileen Koh and Peggy Chang, told Business Insider that when they first started the business, their “inexperience as artists” led to them making “the mistake of relying too heavily on someone else’s artwork”.

The duo said they had decided on drawing a cat mascot for their brand as they were both cat-lovers.

“We knew we wanted simple hand drawn illustrations for our creative direction. This was quite a far cry from the simple cat heads we had been sketching and we turned to Pinterest to find simple cat doodles to reference. Regrettably, this is where our mistakes began,” they said.

“In retrospect, we could have hired a professional designer, commissioned an artist, or gone with a simpler and more generic design. But back then we were two women starting out a backyard business, and we tried to wear many hats,” they added.

As for why they let the illustrations stay up for so many years, the duo – who opened their cafe in 2013 – said they did not realise the “graveness of our oversight”, and had also developed their own original artwork over time.

They are currently preparing to have the disputed artwork removed from the cafe, the business partners said.

“We hope we can be given a bit of time and grace to set things right on our end,” they added.

Koh and Chang also said that the last production round for merchandise bearing illustrations that resembled Correll’s work ended in 2015.

“We hope to clarify this with Ms. Correll and the public and assure her that no sales are and henceforth will be made using any of the artwork,” they said.

Lesson learned

The Tiramisu Hero’s owners also said they hoped Correll and the general public would accept their apologies “for disrespecting and being ignorant of the boundaries of inspiration, plagiarism, artwork referencing etc”.

“This is, without a doubt, a hard lesson for us.

“We are disappointed that we allowed artwork to overshadow the product (tiramisu) in this instance, and we will not make the same mistake again,” they added.

No legal action – yet

Being an illustrator, Correll said she was aware that sharing her works with fans online was a double-edged sword. Although it makes it easier for people to steal her designs, it has also become a great way for followers to notify her of copycats.

But while cases of copycats happen “almost every day”, Correll said it was very frustrating to try and stop them as they “always pop right back up”. And despite trying not to let these copycats bother her too much, she has pursued legal action against a few brands in the US in the past.

When asked if she would pursue legal action against The Tiramisu Hero, Correll said she was still undecided.

“I am generally easygoing and conflict averse, which makes me kind of a bad businessperson, but this case has really frustrated me since Tiramisu Hero are not telling the whole story and have not fully apologised by willfully ignoring the other artwork that they copied,” she said.

A Japanese copycat

Earlier this week, the Japan Times reported that a Japanese cafe called Hero had been accused by netizens of copying the name, logo, and primary product of The Tiramisu Hero.

According to the news report, netizens reacted harshly against Hero, and accused it of plagiarising The Tiramisu Hero’s logo.

Referring to these reports, Correll said she found it “audacious that Tiramisu Hero made such a fuss over a logo that they did not even design”.

In their messages to Business Insider, Koh and Chang clarified that the trademark dispute in Japan had nothing to do with the illustrations of the brand, adding that they have not disputed the rights for any imagery in Japan.

However, they also said they were not able to elaborate more on the case as legal proceedings were still ongoing.

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