Universal Standard made headlines this spring when it brought in $7 million in funding from the likes of Imaginary Ventures (the investment fund led by Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet), Gwyneth Paltrow, and the respective founders of SoulCycle, Sweet Green, and MatchesFashion, among others. Now, the plus size womenswear brand – which was founded in 2015 by Polina Veksler and Alexandra Waldman specifically to fill the void for modern, stylish garments for women size 14 and above – is taking on the second-largest department store retailer in the United States … in court.
In a new lawsuit filed by Universal Standard, the budding young brand alleges that its much larger rival, Target, is running afoul of trademark law by way of its new “Universal Thread” private denim label. According to Universal Standard’s complaint, which was filed late last month in a New York federal court, Target is “willful infringing [its] Universal Standard trademark in connection with its advertisement, offer for sale, and/or sale of its line of women’s clothing, ‘Universal Thread.’”
Universal Standard alleges that “not only has [Target] infringed upon its federally-registered Universal Standard trademark through the sale of clothing, but [Target] has further copied [its] brand concept.” In particular, Universal Standard is taking issue with Target’s marketing, which claims that “its designers for Universal Thread go to ‘great lengths to perfect every fit, in every piece, in every size.”
This is, according to Universal Standard, a bit too similar to its own brand message, which holds that “everything in the collection is precisely engineered from size to size.”
Still yet, Universal Standard claims that Target’s use of “Universal Thread” is particularly problematic as it is using the name exclusively on denim, which is “a core category of its brand.” In fact, Universal Standard asserts that not only did its “first full collection sell out in mere days [in 2015], the waitlist for [its] signature jeans,” in particular, has “catapulted thereafter.”
These similarities in name, brand positioning and type of goods being offered “have and will continue to cause confusion of consumers at the time of initial interest, sale, and in the post-sale setting, who will believe [Target’s] products are originating from, associated with, and/or approved by Universal Standard,” the brand argues. (Note: Likelihood of confusion – or the chance that consumers will see Target's Universal Thread jeans and think they are either endorsed by Target or maybe, the result of a collaboration with Target – is the central inquiry in a trademark infringement case).
Universal Standard further claims that Target is using the markedly similar brand name “with the knowledge and intent that such goods will be mistaken for genuine high-quality Universal Standard products,” and in furtherance of “an effort to exploit Universal Standard’s reputation in the market” and “trade off the goodwill” of its brand.
As for whether Universal Standard has a slam-dunk case, that is up for debate. As trademark attorney Ed Timberlake of Timberlake Law told TFL, “Although Universal Standard is registered, it doesn't help their case that the Trademark Office (which is well-versed in assessing likelihood of confusion) examined Target's applications to register Universal Thread for related goods and services and approved at least one for publication already.”
A representative for Target was not available for comment.
* The case is Universal Standard, Inc., v. Target Corporation, 1:18-cv-06042 (SDNY).