Designer Thom Browne takes on Adidas in court battle over stripes

Smiling, fashion designer Thom Browne emerged victorious from a New York court Thursday over sports giant Adidas in a major battle over signature stripes.

Browne told the Associated Press that he hopes the preservation of his striped designs on luxury sportswear and accessories will inspire others whose work is challenged by larger clothing manufacturers.

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

“And I think it’s more important and bigger than me, because I think I’ve fought for every designer that creates something that a bigger company comes after,” he said.

Adidas hinted in a statement that their fight may continue.

“We are disappointed by the verdict and will continue to vigorously enforce our intellectual property, including filing all appropriate appeals,” Adidas spokesman Rich Efrus wrote in an email.

A highly creative designer known for his theatrical runway shows, Browne began selling clothes in 2001 at a boutique in Manhattan’s West Village. Since then, he has become very successful, especially after a deal with luxury brand Zegna in 2018. His company now operates in over 300 locations worldwide, including Tokyo, London, Seoul, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Milan.

Thom Browne, Thom Browne Adidas Fashion designer Thom Browne waits in line outside Manhattan federal court in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Adidas sued Browne in June 2021, claiming that his “Four-Bar Signature” – along with other products featuring parallel stripes on activewear, including T-shirts, sweatpants and hoodies – infringed on its own well-known trademark.

The two-week trial ended with the eight-member jury returning its verdict in less than two hours. Browne’s courtroom supporters erupted in cheers before U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff admonished them for violating courtroom decorum. Supporters later spilled into the hallway, some celebrating with hugs and tears.

The dispute goes back 15 years. In 2007, Adidas complained that Browne was using a three-stripe design too similar to theirs on the jacket. Browne agreed to stop using it and switched to a four-lane design. For years, Adidas didn’t argue with that – but as Browne became more prominent after the 2018 sale, it began to expand further into activewear, and the sports giant took notice.

Adidas claimed in its lawsuit that Browne’s stripes could confuse customers. Browne, in turn, argued that the two companies are not direct competitors and do not serve the same market. A pair of women’s compression tights on the Browne website, for example, costs $725. A pair of Adidas leggings is well under $100 on the company’s website.

Jeff Trexler, a faculty member at the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School, said the trademark landscape is in a changing market where companies regularly expand into new categories — both in content and price — and collaborate on specialty lines with others. changed. More and more, he said, companies aren’t staying in the ruts they started in, whether it’s fashion or soda.

“It’s like Ghostbusters, where you know when you cross the creeks, everything blows up,” Trexler said.

Until Browne put the stripes “on a man’s sport coat and his tight luxe goods, maybe the occasional sweatpants,” Trexler said, there was no crossing of streams. But as it expanded more into activewear, the currents crossed.

Browne himself testified during the trial, noting the importance of sports in his life and how it played into his career.

Outside the courthouse, the former competitive swimmer said he grew up playing tennis and the rest of his large family enjoyed basketball, baseball and football.

“So it’s very authentic to who I am as a person,” he said. “It’s something that inspires me every day in what I do.”

He said he counts many professional athletes among his friends and customers and considers them a “huge inspiration”.

Trexler noted that Browne’s attorneys successfully convinced jurors that Browne was an underdog.

“In short, Thom Browne’s counsel made the jury see this case as The People versus The Corporation, and populism won,” he said after the verdict.

Browne said he hoped the courtroom fight was his last.

“I just want to design collections and never want to be in a courtroom again,” he said.

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