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Bed Bath & Beyond pulls cups with ‘ripped off’ NC barbecue design from House of Swank

John Pugh, wearing his House of Swank design, and holding up a copy of that design on a Tervis tumbler sold at the Cary, North Carolina Bed, Bath and Beyond store.
John Pugh, wearing his House of Swank design, and holding up a copy of that design on a Tervis tumbler sold at the Cary, North Carolina Bed, Bath and Beyond store. John Pugh

Bed Bath & Beyond announced Tuesday it is removing insulated plastic tumblers from its stores and website while it looks into a Raleigh T-shirt merchant’s claim that the cup manufacturer “ripped off” his iconic North Carolina barbecue design.

In an interview Monday, John Pugh of House of Swank said he was tipped off that the Cary store was carrying a cup with his design showing the state of North Carolina split in two, with one side marked “vinegar” and the other side “tomato,” illustrating the state’s split over what type of barbecue people prefer.

“Bed Bath & Beyond works with a variety of vendors to identify and offer localized products,” a spokeswoman for the company said in a statement to The N&O. “As we learned of the issue with this artwork on the Tervis product, it is being pulled from shelves and our website, pending further investigation with Tervis, the company that produces the cups.

“We understand the importance of design and crediting the artists for their work. We are working with our vendor to find a resolution,” the statement read.

When asked Monday, cup manufacturer Tervis said it took the claim seriously and was looking into it.

“It’s quite literally the very least they can do,” Pugh told The N&O on Tuesday. “They’re already legally required to do that.”

Pugh said he spoke with Tervis representatives on Monday, who told him that Bed, Bath and Beyond “sent Tervis the design to print.”

“Tervis is throwing Bed, Bath and Beyond under the bus,” Pugh said. “Tervis said they did nothing but print the design.”

A Tervis spokeswoman told The N&O in an interview on Tuesday that Bed, Bath and Beyond is a “valued retail partner” and that the houseware chain sends designs to Tervis to print.

The spokeswoman said fewer than 50 of the cups bearing Pugh’s design had been sold.

As of Tuesday at about 6 p.m., Bed, Bath and Beyond had the tumbler still featured on its website for $16.99 and a larger size for $19.99, though the website said the cups were out of stock.

Pugh created the two-sides T-shirt about seven years ago when he started his company, with the tongue-in-cheek name House of Swank, in a two-bedroom apartment. Since then, he has moved the operation to downtown Raleigh and now has about 150 different designs.

He called the use of his design “blatant theft” on Tuesday.

“Bless your thieving hearts,” he said.

Neither Tervis nor Bed, Bath and Beyond has offered Pugh any type of compensation for the use and sale of his design, he said.

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Pugh said House of Swank has too many designs to trademark, but that he had copyrighted the design.

Thousands of the barbecue T-shirts have been sold in local shops, pop-up markets and arts and crafts fairs, and even shipped to other countries, Pugh said.

Tervis is a Florida company that has made a highly successful range of insulated tumblers. Bed Bath & Beyond is based in New Jersey.

Pugh’s design is on the foreground of the cup. In the background are illustrated images of sausages, a bag labeled “coal,” vegetables, skewers, a charcoal grill, hamburgers, chicken drumsticks and other things that might be common at Florida cookouts. They certainly aren’t representative of North Carolina’s iconic, slow-cooked pork barbecue tradition.

Pugh posted the dust-up on Facebook on Monday, and it quickly caught attention.

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