Not all stripes are Adidas stripes: A look at the legal battle between luxury designer Thom Browne and Adidas

Not all stripes are Adidas stripes: A look at the legal battle between luxury designer Thom Browne and Adidas

Adidas sued Forever 21 several times between 2006 and 2017 before reaching settlements.

Adidas has lost a legal battle to try to stop a luxury designer from using its signature stripes. The sportswear giant claimed that Thom Browne Inc.'s four stripes were strikingly similar to its three stripes, as reported by the BBC. Among other factors, Browne pointed out that his brand had a distinct number of stripes, making it unlikely that customers would confuse it with Adidas.

Browne told The Associated Press that he hopes the preservation of his striped pattern on luxury athletic clothing and accessories inspires others whose work is undermined by larger clothing brands. 

“It was important to fight and tell my story," Browne told The Associated Press after a Manhattan federal court jury sided with him. Adidas had claimed that the striped designs used by Thom Browne Inc. were too similar to its own three stripes.

“And I think it’s more important and bigger than me because I think I was fighting for every designer that creates something and has a bigger company come after them later,” he said.

Adidas, who was pursuing close to $8 million in disgorgement and damages, made it known that it might challenge the rulings. Adidas spokesperson Rich Efrus told the Associated Press in an email that they are upset with the ruling and will continue to vigilantly protect their intellectual property, including filing any necessary appeals.

What is the legal between Adidas and Thom Browne Inc? A brief timeline

2001: Thom Browne debuts his own made-to-measure menswear brand, four years after relocating to New York to pursue a career in fashion. He held positions as a designer for Club Monaco, a salesperson for Giorgio Armani, and a tailor before launching his own collection.

2003: Browne establishes his first storefront in New York City.

May 2007: Browne changed his jacket's three-stripe pattern to four stripes after Adidas objected that it was too similar to their own.

2018: The popularity of Browne's brand grows as it enters the sportswear market. Italian luxury fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna acquires an 85 per cent stake in the brand. 

June 2021: Thom Browne is sued by Adidas, which claims “Despite Thom Browne’s knowledge of Adidas’s rights in the famous Three-Stripe Mark, Thom Browne has expanded its product offerings far beyond formal wear and business attire and is now offering for sale and selling athletic-style apparel and footwear featuring two, three, or four parallel stripes in a manner that is confusingly similar to Adidas’s Three-Stripe Mark.”

What were Thom Browne’s winning arguments?

The premium brand Thom Browne Inc. caters to a very different demographic and operates at a totally different price range. For instance, a pair of women's compression tights sold by Browne retails for US$725, but the same item sold by Adidas costs less than US$100.

Not all stripes are Adidas stripes: A look at the legal battle between luxury designer Thom Browne and Adidas
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The former competitive swimmer used his lifetime passion for sports to explain why he makes sportswear, adding that varsity sports at the collegiate level served as inspiration for his usage of stripes. His strongest argument being—Why Adidas waited an entire decade to contest Browne's stripes design? 

Adidas's claim on stripes: Why does it keep suing brands over it?

The three stripes are now found on the majority of Adidas products. Adolf Dassler, the company's founder, originally used them on shoes in the 1950s, when they first gained popularity. This isn't the first time that Adidas has taken legal action against another brand for copying it in any form.

Adidas sued Forever 21 several times between 2006 and 2017 before reaching settlements. Adidas sued Juicy Couture over its designs in 2009 and again in 2017. It filed a lawsuit against Marc Jacobs in 2015 over the four-stripe pattern. Beyond the sphere of fashion, it engaged in trademark conflicts.  In 2017, after being challenged by Adidas, Tesla withdrew its intended trademark for the Model 3 electric vehicle.

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