The Ethics Of Tutu Making-Respecting Creative Ownership

Copyright. Before the invention of the digital information highway, our teachers warned us about plagiarism from the books and magazines we had access to at the library. Copying from another in any shape or form could be grounds for punishment. Why? The teacher wanted you to use your own mind.  She had to know that her students really understood the subject matter and were not riding on the knowledge of someone else’s hard work.

As you keep reading, you will understand how this concept is just as important for dance garment design as it is for paintings, photography and written content.

The Highs And Lows Of The Tutu Making Business

Running a couture garment business can be an exciting, fulfilling occupation. Not only can you pour your creative heart out into molding gorgeous swaths of fabrics and trims, you experience the joy of helping others achieve their dreams. Ballet is beautiful. The music is deep and meaningful. Young dancers are inspiring to be around. There is drama , suspense and thrill being involved in theatrical productions.

However, there is a dark side to the tutu making business. Some aspects are not thrilling at all. As with any creative occupation, there is always the chance that someone will take your ideas and use them as their own.

White Classical Tutu by Monica Newell
I really love the way this embellishment looks……I think I’ll do my next tutu exactly like this. Designing sure is easy! © Designed by Monica Newell-Costume Creations

Ethical Considerations In The World Of Garment Design

What many people fail to understand is the amount of time and planning a tutu maker sacrifices to make her client happy. The following is an example of the detailed creative process that may be involved from the initial client inquiry at Costume Creations to the finished garment:

  1. Examining a photo of the dancer to capture the essence of her personality as well as her body shape, hair colour, eye colour and skin tone. 
  2. Researching and listening to the music of the variation that will be performed.
  3. Communicating with the client’s instructor about the style of the dance and particulars on choreography.

This knowledge gives a professional tutu maker a framework to begin developing a design that best suits the dancer, the  venue and the variation. If you consider that we are taking about pre-construction research for one tutu, you can understand how unethical it is for another tutu maker to come along, admire a design, then copy the style.

If you do this, you are not a designer. You are robbing your own brain of the exercise it needs to flex creative muscles and offer something different and unique to the dance world. Ask yourself this; if every photo, video, Pin, Tweet, Facebook share, book or magazine image of a tutu ceased to exist, could you birth a design that is self-inspired and generated only within your own mind?

What  It Means To Be  A True Designer

Who is a true designer? Is it someone who invents new things, or someone who adds a twist to things that already exist? A true designer looks for inspiration deep within their own artistic soul. There must be pride in originality of expression. When you have this pride, the idea of making a costume that looks like someone else’s is tabu. To the genuine artist, what they touch and mold with their own hands is an extension of their very essence. It is highly personal.

How Design Shortcuts  Cheat The Ballet World

What happens to the ballet world when tutu designs are disrespected as creative properties of the maker and treated like inspirational pieces that are okay to mimic?

  1. Girls Classical Tutu Peach
    © Tutu by Monica Newell, © Photo by Angela Brain

    The Dancer Is Cheated Of Her Opportunity To Shine–  Every dancer wants to look special and stand out from the competition on stage. Families and dancers make personal and financial sacrifices for a ballet career. Copycat tutu styles are a direct threat to her uniqueness on stage.

  2. The Unethical Tutu Maker Is  Secretly Judged-Sadly, some ballet parents will present a tutu picture for copying. They may act thrilled that they found a maker willing to produce a cheaper copy. However, they will secretly consider you a bit of a fraud. Even if it was their idea, you took the shameful bait.
  3. Parents Are Misled About Professional Costume Standards-It isn’t fair to lead dance parents into the notion that a ballet career works with shortcuts or discounts. Ballet is expensive. Quality shoes are costly. Classes are costly. Professional tutus are not cheap to make. If they are getting a huge discount, something about that tutu is low-quality; the netting, trim, thread, construction method, closures, fit, function or originality.

Why do we go to a bespoke garment maker in the first place? Because we want something made just for us that nobody else has.

Why Would A Tutu Maker Copy The Designs Of Another?

There are several reasons why a tutu maker may find it necessary ( in her mind) to mimic the artistry of another:

  1. Fear Or Insecurity-With so many articles about the shortages of tutu makers, some may think that opening a business in this niche is a great idea. Creating a coveted business name that attracts respect in the ballet community takes years and years. Comparing the work of established experts to her own, a tutu maker with less design experience is afraid of appearing incompetent with clients.
  2. Laziness Or Greed- There is no other way to say it; business owners can look for easy shortcuts to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time. It’s easy to grab a tutu picture and go from there.
  3. Lack Of  Conscientiousness-In the general scope of life, those who work hard for a living appreciate and understand others who also work hard. Those who toil to make artistically unique items by hand tend to value and respect other toiling artists.

Business Ethics-What Would You Do?

Let’s pretend that a potential client approaches you with a photo of a beautiful tutu by a known competitor that they found online. They cannot afford ( or do not want to pay) the price for it and ask if you could copy the style at your lower prices. You, as a self-employed  tutu maker,  have expenses to pay and a living to earn. What would you do?

  • A. Take the money and run. All’s fair in love and business.
  • B. Tell the client you can do it, but have to tweak the design a bit so the other tutu maker might not notice.
  • C. Try to encourage the client to make an appointment with the original designer. Explain that you cannot, in good faith, feel right making money from a tutu style that another maker worked so hard to imagine and construct.

The Golden RuleIf you chose C, then you have taken the ethical high road as a business owner. Call it Karma or what you will, but the universe will reward you when you do the right thing. You may lose a sale, but you will gain respect and honor as a business owner. Word of mouth will spread that you are unscrupulously honest and fair to your fellow human beings.

You will be seen as one with an impeccable character and high standards of behavior. It goes without saying that if you run your business by The Golden Rule, you will attract positive experiences into your life and finances. Your credibility as an honest person will gain you much respect in the ballet community.  Remember; your reputation follows you everywhere.

 The Biggest Excuse For Copying Garment Designs

Once a person is caught red-handed making a dance costume that looks exactly like a design already out there, they typically come out with this statement:

Bodice Embellishment Classical Tutu
© Gilded Bodice Design by Monica Newell The hand-embellishment process is very personal and intense. All designers can instantly recognise when their ideas have been “borrowed”.

” There are only so many ways you can decorate a tutu. Of course some of them are going to look alike. All of the same companies sell the same exact trims, embellishments and fabric colours.”

Here is an old-fashioned word for that response; balderdash! This is like saying there are only so many ways to decorate a cake. I find this to be a pitiful excuse for not stretching the brain muscles of invention and imagination. There can be materials used to decorate a tutu that will guarantee it will look like no other.

Although some materials may not be ballet-appropriate, experiment. If you have the knowledge to construct a professional tutu, you have the basics to invent your own trims, embellishments and specialty shades. Couture expertise demands that each garment be 100% original, inventive, creative and artistic.

We Owe It To Every Dancer Who Expects Her Original Couture Tutu To Be Just That; An Original

The One Sentence That No Artist Appreciates

Those of us who create original works and strive for quality, will, at one time or another, be the victim of a copyright violation. As we run to our family and friends to broadcast our dismay, they try to comfort us with these words:

“In a way, it’s flattering to be copied. That means you are the best.”

Truthfully, being copied feels less like being flattered and more like being robbed and pillaged. There is a creepy sensation that takes place when victimised by a total stranger who helped themselves to your hard work. You can feel vulnerable, yet very indignant at the same time. It reminds us that we live in a world where things are not as lovely as soft, romantic ballet music and lilting, floating ballerinas gliding by on the tips of their toes.

People are ready, willing and able to profit themselves quickly and easily by stealing the ideas of those who do it the hard way. Not only is this an ugly character flaw, it damages the self-worth of the one who practices it. Deep down, you can never feel good about yourself when you do the wrong thing.


A couture garment is a creative property; It was born in the imagination of the designer, constructed with her own hands and shaped into an artistic original with her own unique style. Let us strive to respect the artistic rights of every individual tutu maker and uphold the traditions of high standards in the ballet world.


 Image Credit: Classical Tutu in Peach by Angela Brain Photography



  1. thank you for writing in depth on this very important aspect of dance competition. It is essential for young competitors to have individuality . Everyone in the business needs to respect this.

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