A look from Cult Gaia

Cult Gaia designer Jasmin Larian is framing her growing fight with Steve Madden as something of a David and Goliath battle.

Larian told a New York federal court on Tuesday that Steve Madden’s push for formal declaration that the company was not infringing on the designs of Cult Gaia’s popular geometric bamboo “Ark” bag is little more than a large corporation’s “attempt to bully…a small start-up company from enforcing its hard-earned trade dress rights.”

“The Ark bag is a big part of Cult Gaia’s DNA,” Larian added in a statement. “We have spent years introducing it to the world and making it a signature of the brand. We won’t be intimidated by a big corporation that’s looking to cash in on our hard-earned rights and dupe consumers into believing the knock-off bags are genuine.”

And more than simply being a part of the brand’s image — they have been selling. Larian said in her complaint that the Ark bag alone in 2017 pulled in $4.5 million worth of sales, thanks in part to “extensive, unsolicited press coverage.”

Beyond simply rejecting Steve Madden’s motion for declaratory judgment, Larian hit back with legal claims of her own, including trade dress infringement, unfair competition, deceptive practices and unjust enrichment. She’s also asking for a permanent injunction against Steve Madden’s allegedly copied bag design and for damages of at least $15 million, along with any profits realized from the sale of the purported copies.

  

Larian’s attorney, Andrea Calvaruso, noted that the bag at issue has a “distinct combination of elements,” which she argued are now recognized a “signature” of the brand.

“By refusing to back down to the threat of litigation, Cult Gaia is sending a powerful message to corporations that build their businesses by unfairly trading on the hard-earned rights of others,” Calvaruso said.

A representative of Steve Madden could not be immediately reached for comment.

When Steve Madden in March kicked off the litigation, after it had received a cease-and-desist letter over it’s alleged sale of an Ark bag copy, the company argued that the design couldn’t be protected. It said the design is little more than a “slavish” copy itself, of a traditional Japanese picnic bag and accused Cult Gaia of attempting to “appropriate the traditional Japanese design for itself” with a trademark application.

Steve Madden added that Larian’s first trademark application was denied for essentially this reason and noted the style of the bag has been sold “since at least as early as the 1960s through today” and pointed out 10 versions that are currently selling through various brands.

But this is far from Steve Madden’s first trip to court over infringement allegations. As Larian noted in her complaint, more than a dozen brands have sued the company over the last several years, from Valentino to Skechers, accusing it of copying designs.

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