Why Adidas’ Lawsuit Against Thom Browne Is About More Than Just Stripes

After more than a decade of legal disputes, a New York jury will decide in the coming weeks whether Thom Browne can keep his stripes.

Adidas is suing the designer and CFDA chairman in 2021, claiming that labels bearing his name will include basic sportswear like hoodies and joggers, along with the activewear giant’s three-stripes logo. claimed to use a confusingly similar four-stripe pattern. Thom Browne argues that the two companies are not direct competitors and that shoppers are unlikely to confuse his $750 leggings with Adidas’ much more affordable offerings. are doing.

The trial began earlier this week and could end later next week, according to court documents.

The details are similar to countless other lawsuits filed by designers and brands who feel their work has been duped. But there’s a bigger question here than who has the right to draw parallels on shirts.

At a time when the meaning of fashion brands has fundamentally changed, the outcome of this lawsuit could expand the power to enforce trademark rights beyond just the fashion industry. Today, few brands remain in niche specialties such as luxury suits and running shoes. For growth and expansion, it is increasingly necessary to launch new categories, collaborate with other brands and operate in multiple price points. Adidas and Thom Browne lawsuits regardless of verdict will set a new standard for how brands navigate this process.

The conflict dates back to 2007, when Adidas demanded that its designers stop using the three-stripes motif on its sport coats. For a while.

Thom Browne incorporates the 4-Stripes into everything from hoodies to overcoats to socks. The designer sold his own brand, which he founded in 2001, to Zegna in 2018, valuing the brand at his $500 million. In 2021, Thom Browne made his €263 million ($280 million) in earnings (Adidas reported he earned €21 billion in 2021).

Adidas claims it was Thom Browne’s expansion into activewear that put the brand back on Adidas’ radar. In November 2020, the label released its official line of running his apparel, including shorts, compression tees, and other athletic gear featuring the signature 4-Stripes. Timing is a key point of contention, with Thom Browne claiming to offer sportswear-inspired products since the early days.

In June 2021, Adidas filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in New York federal court, arguing that as Brown moved beyond suits and formal wear into “athletic-style apparel,” his stripes were once again “misleading with Adidas’ three-stripes mark.” It’s very similar,” he claimed. The controversy hinges on whether Thom Browne’s use of stripes in casual sports-inspired styles will confuse consumers who would otherwise associate stripes with the German sports giant.

Thom Browne claims the two brands are not direct competitors. This is because the two brands belong to different segments of the market. Thom Browne is a luxury brand and Adidas is a mass player. The label also claims Adidas missed a reasonable time frame to take legal action after 14 years.

But what makes this case so interesting lies between the lines of the legal document. Thom Browne and Adidas stepped outside the boundaries that marked their respective domains in fashion in 2007, said Jeff Trexler, an associate of his director at the Fashion Law Institute.

It’s true that Thom Browne is obsessed with activewear, including becoming the official uniform manufacturer for Spanish football club FC Barcelona in 2018. Many other luxury brands followed suit as consumers of all income levels embraced more casual fashion. Even Zegna, who is best known for his suits, bases his growth strategy on his daily outfits.

Adidas has also invaded Thom Browne territory in recent years, partnering with luxury brands like Gucci and Kite. A pair of $850 Adidas X Gucci Gazelle are more expensive than Thom Browne’s tech his runners.

“It’s like international politics where you can have peace as long as you’re on your own territory,” says Trexler. “There’s a superpower with a sphere of influence and another superpower with its own sphere of influence, and as long as they’re separate, they won’t fight.”

Thom Browne and Adidas aren’t the only fashion companies vying for market share outside their core specialties. Today, collaboration and category expansion are key drivers of growth for brands large and small. Theoretically, many fashion companies could be in the same position as Braun and Adidas, ‘crossing the river’, so to speak, with brands far from their direct competitors, forcing them to defend their signature styles. there is.

“The idea that one brand is confined to one elite market and other brands are trying to colonize other parts of the market is an old idea. “Today, no brand says any product line is off limits. From sneakers to socks to belts to bed linen to cookware, the brand wants to be a lifestyle brand that can conquer everything.” .”

Depending on the results of this week’s trial, brands may need to pay more attention to new products and partnerships.

“This is going to be a lot of business for lawyers in the next few years,” said Trexler.

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Edited by Joan Kennedy.

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