Fast-fashion retailers are not taking kindly to being called out for copying. Meanwhile, troubled apparel company LuLaRoe has been hit with a third class-action lawsuit in under a year, and Coach Inc. is taking the name-change plunge — something that has certainly proven confusing for consumers in the past.
Copycat Turned Legal Eagle
A new trend is swiftly emerging among fast-fashion retailers. Long known for taking runway looks and translating them into more affordable versions for the masses, and quietly settling any lawsuits that come their way, giants like H&M and Forever 21 are not keeping quiet any longer when faced with a cease-and-desist letter.
Forever 21 made headlines last spring and summer after filing declaratory judgment suits against Adidas and Gucci, asking a California federal court to hold that it is not legally in the wrong for making use of what the Italian design house and German activewear giant respectively claimed were trademark infringing uses of their individual striped trademarks.
While those cases are still pending, H&M has filed a declaratory judgment action of its own after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Los Angeles-based Wildfox Couture last month. According to H&M’s suit, which it filed in federal court in New York on Monday, the retailer received a letter from Wildfox Couture in September demanding that it cease all sales of a sweatshirt that bears a basketball graphic along with the words “Toronto Wildfox.”
Wildfox Couture alleged in its letter that such use infringes upon its federally registered trademark for “Wildfox” for use on garments. On the other hand, H&M claims – in its subsequently filed lawsuit – that consumers are not likely to be confused as to the source of its sweatshirt, as the Swedish company is using the “Wildfox” name in a “decorative” manner and not as an indicator of source.
This marks the third such recent suit, and thereby a trend. Fast-fashion retailers are putting their in-house legal teams — and outside counsels — to work nowadays to make it known that they do not take kindly to threats of litigation. Stay tuned. There might be more of this in the near future. Zara, after all, has not thrown its hat into the ring yet.
Yet Another Lawsuit for LuLaRoe
LuLaRoe is in hot water — again. The troubled retailer — which was slapped with two class-action lawsuits early this year, one for allegedly adding a surcharge posing as sales tax to various orders and another for unfair competition for purportedly advertising and selling defective leggings — has been hit with a third lawsuit, this time for allegedly running a pyramid scheme posing as a bona fide business.
According to a proposed class action lawsuit filed late last week by Stella Lemberg, Jeni Laurence, Amandra Bluder and Carissa Stuckart in state court in California, LuLaRoe is on the hook for breach of contract, among other claims, after allegedly promising to provide its sales representatives with a 100 percent refund for all unsold, unworn garments and then — without warning — changing its policy to providing a 90 percent refund with an added “restocking fee.”
Aside from merely seeking damages in connection with contract and false advertising claims, Lemberg, Laurence, Bluder and Stuckart, who have all worked as LuLaRoe “consultants” as the company calls its sales reps, have asked the court to certify their proposed class-action lawsuit to enable as many as several tens of thousands of other “similarly situated” LuLaRoe consultants to join in the suit.
In addition to the plaintiffs’ suit, a Change.org petition with nearly 15,000 signatures is circulating online calling for LuLaRoe — which has denied the parties’ allegations — to reinstate its original contract terms.
Even if LuLaRoe is able to quietly settle these matters out of court — all three class-action suits are still pending — it is safe to say that the bad press associated with such litigation is certainly starting to plague the company, which revealed that it reached $1 billion in sales in 2016.
Coach Inc. to Tapestry Inc.
The business of branding is a tricky. Ask any lawyer — or just ask Yves Saint Laurent, which dove right into months’ worth of confusion in 2012 when then-creative director Hedi Slimane decided to change the name of the house’s ready-to-wear line to simply Saint Laurent.
Judging by the flurry of explanatory p.r. e-mails from the team at Yves Saint Laurent that followed directly after the name-change announcement, it was not initially clear to many — or any — what was what. Was the house now called Saint Laurent? (No). Was the couture collection also being renamed? (No). Would there be a new logo? (Yes, but it would also keep the old one). And the list went on.
Now Coach Inc. has entered the arena, revealing that it will change its corporate name this month to Tapestry Inc. The confusion here — and there is some as indicated by a clarifying tweet from the brand this past week, which read: “Coach is proud to keep its name. Our parent company, Coach Inc., is changing its name to Tapestry, effective 10/31.” — stems from the fact that as of now, Coach and its parent company share the same name.
As of the end of this month, that will no longer be the case, a step that the soon-to-be Tapestry Inc. is said to be taking to distinguish its conglomerate in-the-making (Coach Inc. owns Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman) from its individual Coach brand, which might mean some initial trademark-related confusion for Coach – the brand.
The question is: Will Michael Kors — the corporation — opt to re-brand to distinguish itself from Michael Kors — the brand — now that it has bought Jimmy Choo?
Julie Zerbo is founder of The Fashion Law.