Demand for certain Puma products has been enormous since the German sportswear brand tapped Rihanna to collaborate on a collection of sportswear-inspired garments and accessories beginning in late 2014. “Rihanna’s relationship with us makes the brand hot again with young consumers,” Chief Executive Bjorn Gulden said in a statement in October. Not only did the partnership spawn a handful of sold-out collections for Puma, demand for the parties’ footwear, in particular, has been evidenced further by the amount of Fenty x Puma counterfeits and knock-offs that have hit the market in recent years.
In addition to domestic counterfeiting efforts and a partnership between Puma’s parent company Kering (which also owns Gucci, Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, and Alexander McQueen, among other brands) and Alibaba, Puma was tipped off earlier this year about the sale of counterfeit goods in Barbados by Rihanna, herself, which led to the bust of a counterfeit operation this spring.
This week, the second man arrested in connection with a Barbados-based counterfeit ring charged with putting forth an array of Fenty x Puma accessories is expected to appear before a local court for knowingly selling products that could “mislead the public as to the nature of the goods.” That man: Leroy Brathwaite, Rihanna’s uncle.
According to a spokesman for law enforcement in Barbados’ capital, Mr. Brathwaite, 53, was arrested in May after Rihanna – who has served as the creative director for the wildly successful Fenty collection with the Kering-owned German sportswear brand since late 2014 – identified “knock-off products of her brand being worn and sold [in her native Barbados]. She reported it to a Puma executive,” who confirmed, by way of a private investigator, that the products at issue, were, in fact, counterfeits.
Upon identifying the garments and footwear as fake, PUMA’s counsel filed “a report with police, and we investigated,” says Bridgetown police spokesperson Roland Cobbler. Brathwaite, who is being charged with violating Barbados’ Consumer Protection Act Cap 326D and its national trademark law, is slated to go before a judge on Tuesday.
The Barbadian proceedings come as Puma faces off against Forever 21 in the U.S., over the Los Angeles-based fast fashion giant’s sale of what Puma alleges are line-for-line copies of three of the most prominent footwear designs from Rihanna’s collection for Puma in an attempt to “trade on the substantial goodwill of Puma, Rihanna, and the Fenty shoes.” The parties have been sparring by way of court filings since Puma filed suit in April, citing copyright, trade dress, and design patent infringement.
Forever 21, which is also currently embroiled in litigation with Gucci, has fought the allegations, arguing that not only has Puma failed to establish that Forever 21 infringed its intellectual property rights in the Fenty footwear collection, including the Creeper, Bow Slide and Fur Slide styles, Puma’s lawsuit amounts to “an attempt to stifle fair competition by claiming exclusive intellectual property rights in universal shoe styles are without merit.”
While Rihanna showed her final collection with Puma during New York Fashion Week in September, the availability of counterfeit and other lookalike products based on her wares for the brand has not diminished. As for the next target of counterfeiters, that will almost certainly be Rihanna’s newest venture, the Fenty Beauty collection, which she launched in September with LVMH-owned LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s Kendo division.
After all, where Rihanna goes, fans – and fakers – are sure to follow.