The activewear giant fired off a lawsuit Monday alleging that Matthew Millward, a former design executive, broke his non-compete agreement when he took a job at Lauren’s Club Monaco brand. Both the designer and his current employer were named as defendants in the suit.
Nike said Millward, who resigned Oct. 6 and took a job as vice president of men’s design for Club Monaco, brought sensitive information about the company’s plans to a competitor in the ath-leisure space.
Since 2012, Millward was senior apparel design director for the Nike Sportswear line, a role for which he was paid a base salary of $215,000 and which included a one-year non-compete clause.
Nike described Millward in the suit as “a senior, highly compensated former Nike apparel designer who was given broad access to Nike’s most competitively sensitive trade secrets.” The designer was familiar with not only the Nike Sportswear business, but also categories, such as the brand’s tennis, running and basketball businesses.
“In particular, Millward contributed to and worked frequently with Nike’s ‘Innovation Roadmaps,’ which are critical, highly confidential documents detailing the company’s years-long strategy to develop and bring new apparel to market, as well as other similar and equally sensitive slideshows, diagrams, sketches and other planning materials,” the company said.
And Millward was involved in Nike’s design of the jackets U.S. athletes will wear when they accept medals at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next year.
Nike said: “The jacket has not been released to the marketplace, and its design remains highly confidential….A competitor could design a knock-off product and have it ready to hit the retail market before or at the time when Nike’s Medal Stand jacket makes its initial splash in the media.”
In his new job, Nike said Millward “is responsible for designing, or supervising the design of, the same types of apparel that he worked on during his employment with Nike; Club Monaco’s line of activewear competes directly with [Nike Sportswear] products.”
Nike said it warned both Millward and Ralph Lauren of its position on the matter and had “no choice but to bring this legal action” in Oregon federal court.
Lauren officials declined comment.
The tussle shows just how competitive the ath-leisure market has become and the degree that activewear companies, such as the giant Nike, square off with the established designer companies.
Sporty yet fashionable looks have been one of the standout performers in what has so far been a relatively dour holiday selling season and are a big part of Nike’s ambitious plans for the future. The company is looking to add nearly $20 billion to its topline, hitting $50 billion by 2020.
Millward was hired from Nike to replace Aaron Levine, who left Club Monaco in June to become head of men’s design at Abercrombie & Fitch.