Back in October 2018, Japanese clothing brand UNIQLO hosted a competition where artists from all over the world were openly invited to submit their own original t-shirt designs for a chance to win $10,000 USD and have their shirts sold in stores. The winner was even to receive an invitation to the award ceremony in Tokyo, as well as an invitation to the 2019 Pokémon World Championships.
Yesterday, UNIQLO announced the winners for this round’s competition, along with the name of the grand prize winner – a Chinese artist names Li Wen Pei. He submitted a pretty unique design featuring Magikarp and its evolved form Gyarados in a sort of geometric motif. On top of winning all the aforementioned goodies, the winner’s shirt design was also set to be featured in the upcoming Pokémon Sword and Shield games for Switch.
However, shortly after the winner was announced, fans in Mainland China pointed out the fact that the artwork had already been used on a number of accessories for sale on Taobao, a popular Chinese marketplace site.
After seeing accusations on the internet that Wen Pei had submitted plagiarized artwork, he denied the accusations entirely with a post to his Weibo account:
“Hello everyone. I sold a small number of smartphone cases with the same artwork (before I submitted it for Pokémon UTGP 2019). Unfortunately there are pirates who have pirated my artwork. Therefore please do not share the pirated goods.”
Unfortunately, regardless of whether or not what Wen Pei said was true, he basically put a nail in his own coffin. The UNIQLO UTGP 2019 rules state that participants must submit only original artwork that has never been published anywhere before. It was a little too late, but Wen Pei deleted his Weibo post shortly after realizing it was incriminating and wrote that he has “explained the situation to UNIQLO”. At the moment, it’s unclear what UNIQLO will do about this sticky situation, but I’m keeping a close eye on it.