NEW YORK — After five months of battling in the courts over control of the Yummie by Heather Thomson brand, Heather Thomson Schindler and her cofounders have yet to strike common ground with the company’s manager, Eric Rothfeld.
The legal dispute kicked off in September when Thomson and Yummie’s cofounders, her husband Jonathan Schindler and Michelle Mooring Daray, requested a temporary restraining order — which has since been granted — that prohibits Rothfeld from taking retaliatory action against them. The trio owns 51 percent of the company and Rothfeld has 49 percent.
Initially named Yummie Tummie by Heather Thomson and focused on intimate apparel, the company was funded through a $1 million loan from Rothfeld’s REI Capital. A lawyer in his own right, Rothfeld is chairman and chief executive officer of REI. In a hearing earlier this month in New York State Supreme Court, Thomson’s legal team aimed to replace Rothfeld as the brand’s lead decision-maker since the founders claim to have repaid the loan. Wendy Herman, who is said to have served as president of Yummie Tummie by Heather Thomson for the past two years, was the potential successor.
During that Feb. 19 court appearance, Judge Eileen Bransten advised the respective attorneys for Rothfeld; Thomson and her husband; Daray, and Herman to resolve the dispute through a mediator. “There are very qualified people out there that would help you, by the way, for a price. They don’t come cheap, these wonderful people, to get to that stage that you can resolve these issues. It’s always better to resolve rather than spend money coming to see me,” Bransten said.
Thomson’s attorney, John H. Reichman of Wachtel Missry, said Friday, “We are confident that ultimately, we are going to prevail in court, if there is not a settlement. But we are concerned that by the time the court rules, the company could be irreparably damaged by Rothfeld’s management.”
Thomson declined to comment Friday. She, her husband and Daray are said to have exited the company. Their numerous legal claims include Rothfeld being unqualified to be manager, his fraudulently marking down inventory, blocking factory orders and failing to submit financial statements to Wells Fargo.
Rothfeld did not respond to a request for comment Friday, nor did his attorney Donald Zakarin of Pryor Cashman. Herman’s attorney, Bijan Amini of Storch Amini & Munves, also did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
During their most recent court exchange, lawyers for Thomson and Rothfeld disputed the value of Rothfeld’s 49 percent stake, for which Thomson’s team had offered $5 million. The company’s total value has been pegged at between $30 million and $40 million, according to other court filings.
While Bravo fans recognize Thomson for her role in the knock-down-drag-out reality show “Real Housewives of New York City,” a good number of fashion industry executives have known her to be a familiar face for 20-plus years. After graduating from SUNY Plattsburgh, she worked as a ski instructor at Catamount Ski Area in the Berkshires not far from her hometown of Hillsdale, N.Y. Switching gears, she joined Cypress Apparel, learning the ins and outs of the industry during what became a five-year run. That led to jobs at Calvin Klein, Smith Jeans and Sun Apparel — the latter is where she worked with Rothfeld, who at one time served as chairman and ceo.
After Sun Apparel, Thomson helped launch Sean John sportswear as director of design. She later took a similar role when Jennifer Lopez introduced her own label. After that, she went on to work for Beyoncé and Tina Knowles at House of Deréon. As reported, while busy with her House of Deréon responsibilities and dealing with a chronically ill son, she dealt with post-baby extra weight by developing the three-patent tank, which unknowingly wound up being the launch product for Yummie Tummie by Heather Thomson.
In line with the brand’s expanding products beyond intimate apparel, the company was renamed Yummie by Heather Thomson in 2012. Thomson’s decision to join “Real Housewives” was reportedly driven by the marketing potential it provided. With more than one million viewers tuning in each week, Thomson was known to be vocal about the fact that being a “Real Housewife” was all about creating a broader audience for her brand. In 2012, in step with her TV fame, Thomson joined with HSN to sell Yummie by Heather Thomson, selling about $350,000 in that first year, according to a source familiar with that venture. HSN was said to tally about $12 million in retail sales of Yummie by Heather Thomson last year.
Thomson is said to be due back on air for HSN on March 13. But a source said the company’s namesake, whose annual salary is said to have remained at $225,000 since Day One, has not been paid for 18 months. That allegedly has also been the case for Michelle Daray, who earns $125,000 annually and until recently was based in Yummie’s Cleveland office.
This is not the first time Thomson has wrangled in court, having also taken Spanx and Maidenform to task in separate shapewear-related infringement suits. Thomson is said to be considering a return to “Real Housewives” in some capacity.