By Luisa Zargani
with contributions from Sindhu Sundar
 on June 30, 2021
Thom Browne Spring 2022

MILAN — Thom Browne is not taking Adidas’ suit over its striped trademark lightly.

“We believe we are right and we are confident in the outcome of the case, as we have acted honorably for all this time,” chief executive officer Rodrigo Bazan told WWD exclusively. “They [Adidas] consented for 12 years and now they are changing their mind. The court won’t allow that. And consumers won’t as well. It is an attempt to use the law illegally.”

A Thom Browne spokesman said that “there have been continuing discussions to resolve the matter amicably but Adidas, without warning, walked away and filed this litigation. On review it seems to us that Adidas is very much playing the role of Goliath, trying to muscle a case that has, in our view, little merit.”

He underscored that the consumers of the two brands are “markedly different” given the positioning of Thom Browne’s goods in the luxury end of the market.

“What is important to understand is that Adidas gave its consent to Thom Browne over 10 years ago and in fact suggested that Thom add an additional stripe to reach four on the sleeves or the pants and that this would be OK by Adidas. From that point for over a decade Adidas never said a word to Thom Browne,” continued the spokesman. “It is more than reasonable to believe that Adidas, having first expressed concern to Thom Browne over three stripes, made sure to watch what Thom has been doing ever since. Adidas, like all good brands, monitors the market. It is only now, with Thom finally achieving some real success that Adidas has behaved differently. We cannot guess why Adidas is acting in this manner at this point in time.”

According to the spokesman, Adidas “must have something to fear from the honorable conduct of Thom Browne, who has been true to his word and uses four parallel distinctive stripes in what has become a design that is synonymous with his products.  Thom hasn’t altered his design philosophy which apparently is working well if one looks at the global markets. But for Adidas to claim it has lost value in its trademarks or that somehow they have lost sales due to Thom Browne’s use of a four-striped design for over 10 years, which Adidas has been more than aware of, is simply nonsense.”

Browne is preparing its answering documents, which will be filed “in a timely manner,” the spokesman said. At that point the full story will be detailed, concluded the spokesman.

The latest infringement suit by Adidas seeking to assert its stripes, filed Monday in New York federal court, argues that Browne’s sporty apparel had moved squarely on its turf. 

The sportswear brand alleged that Thom Browne apparel bearing two to four stripes “imitates Adidas’s Three-Stripe Mark in a manner that is likely to cause consumer confusion and deceive the public regarding its source, sponsorship, association or affiliation.” 

Adidas strikes an imposing note in its complaint, citing its decades-long history of cultivating the three-stripe mark as its defining iconography since the 1950s on shoes, and then the following decade on apparel. In the suit, Adidas highlights its many-stripes trademarks dating back to 1994, which it argues cover the use of stripes on a range of apparel, and across different combinations of shading patterns.  

The suit highlights Thom Browne’s athletic and casual wear, including jogger pants, sweatshirts and hoodies that bear horizontal and vertical stripe patterns. Adidas makes claims for trademark infringement under the Lanham Act, the federal law governing trademark protection, as well as various claims under New York law addressing business practices relating to infringement.

Adidas is known for its sweeping efforts to enforce its rights relating to its stripes, which it often depicts as a singular symbol of its brand. Other apparel brands including Forever 21 and Skechers, have come before its cross-hairs in similar litigation, though some have pushed back at the notion that the mere use of stripes on clothing could infringe Adidas’ brand.

In its suit against Thom Browne, Adidas is asking the court to stop the high-fashion brand from selling the striped apparel, and to order the company to “deliver up for impoundment and for destruction” the apparel and shoes Adidas is taking issue with.

Browne launched his business in 2001 as an appointment-only shop in New York’s Greenwich Village. In 2018, the Ermenegildo Zegna Group acquired an 85 percent stake in the American designer’s brand, although the two companies remain independent.

Bazan joined Thom Browne in May 2016 from Alexander Wang and has helped grow the label to a reported $200 million in annual sales and is spearheading a retail expansion globally.