Patrick Clarke knows Cape Clasp, the small jewelry business he founded in 2013, doesn’t own the shape of a shark.
But one of the Falmouth company’s top-selling bracelets is fashioned from marine grade cord and held together by the jaw and tail of a 1-inch-long sterling silver great white shark. It’s a quirky design that’s stuck since the company introduced it a few years ago. Clarke said he’s seen plenty of knock-offs since, but until a few weeks ago the imitations didn’t bother him.
At the beginning of Shark Week in July ― an annual event concocted by the Discovery cable TV network ― he found out that Pura Vida, a much larger jewelry company, had produced what he called a “blatant, lazy rip-off” of his signature bracelet. Pura Vida, mostly owned by Vera Bradley, has more than 2 million followers on Instagram, whereas Cape Clasp has about 168,000. Even worse, Pura Vida inked a special deal with Discovery to sell it through a Shark Week-themed online store. The week of movies and specials, he said, is like Black Friday for Cape Clasp, so a lot was at stake.
“It was a gut punch,” Clarke said. “I saw that at the beginning of the week and thought, ‘This is probably not good for us’… Pura Vida has a massive audience.”
Clarke said he tried to ignore the situation and focus on the marketing plans he and five-person team crafted for the busy week ahead. But as the days went on, and as more people brought the situation to his attention through social media, he decided he had to do something. So on Thursday he posted a short video of himself to Cape Clasp’s Instagram account to address the “shark in the room.”
“It’s literally the exact same charm design,” he said in the video while comparing the products side-by-side. “This is a big risk to our business.”
The video quickly attracted nearly 25,000 views and more than 300 comments, including some that tagged Pura Vida’s Instagram account directly.
“Within hours, the Pura Vida product page was down,” Clarke said. But since Pura Vida teamed up with Discovery Store to sell the bracelet through its Shark Week shop, that product page remained online. Last week, the website indicated that the bracelets had sold out.
Pura Vida did not respond to multiple requests for comment. After Discovery was contacted by a Globe reporter, a spokesperson said the company was looking into the situation with Pura Vida, and then said the “bracelet in question has also been removed from our website.”
Pura Vida said “we absolutely value intellectual property and would never intentionally copy design,” adding it was “in the process of investigating” what happened, according to an e-mail to Cape Clasp that Clarke read.
Clarke said he is still deciding whether to take further action since it would be difficult to quantify whether the Pura Vida look-a-like bracelet diverted sales from his business. In hindsight, he said, he wishes Pura Vida or Discovery would have reached out to him about collaborating on a Shark Week bracelet.
But getting Pura Vida to take down the product page was a small victory in itself, and Clarke believes his company has gained at least 5,000 followers since he posted the video.
“It felt like a win for our community and our business,” he said. “Maybe [Pura Vida] will be cautious about taking inspiration from other creators in the future.”