Ethiopia has long been considered one of Africa’s economic wunderkinds. Until recently, it had relative political stability in comparison to other countries on the continent. And with an average GDP growth rate of 10 percent in the past decade and a government that instituted policies friendly to foreign investors, the country was able to attract South and East Asian clothing manufacturers, which sell to international brands, such as Calvin Klein, Levi’s, and H&M.

But for the past two months, violent conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region fueled by ethnic power politics has threatened the country’s stability. According to the International Crisis Group, the violence has likely killed thousands of people, including many civilians, displaced more than a million people internally, and led some 50,000 people to flee to Sudan. 

The scale of the conflict could scare off foreign investment in the country’s garment industry, a sector that is hugely important to Ethiopia, as it is aimed to propel its agricultural economy toward a more prosperous future built on providing clothing to consumers in the West. While the Ethiopian textile and garment industry is still small – its export share is not more than 10 percent of total exports, and its products only represent 0.6 percent of total GDP, the sector was expected to grow by around 40 percent a year in the next few years.

In March 2019, I assessed Ethiopia’s garment industry alongside two colleagues from the New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights. We wanted to see whether Ethiopia – as the new frontier of garment manufacturing – had learned from mistakes of other sourcing countries. We analyzed the industry’s prospects and the working conditions with a close look at the flagship Hawassa Industrial Park. This is a vast – and still only partly filled facility – which currently employs 25,000 workers about 225km south of the capital of Addis Ababa.

What we found was sobering.

Manufacturers told us about the many challenges of doing business in Ethiopia. These included bureaucratic and logistical hurdles and the problems that come with an unskilled workforce that had no prior experience of working in an industrial setting. Workers reported that they could barely survive with their base monthly wage as low as $26. The government’s eagerness to attract foreign investment led it to promote the lowest base wage in any garment-producing country.

In addition to this already-strained business context, the report we published points to what we saw as the greatest challenge of all: ethnic tensions. In Hawassa, for instance, ethnic tension erupted in July 2019 and caused disruptions to the industrial park. The new conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region could be the tipping point for foreign investors in the garment industry. Manufacturers had told us that further political instability in the country could jeopardize all future business.

The collapse of this sector would be disastrous. Tens of thousands of people would lose their jobs and the investments made in this enterprise wasted. In addition, foreign investors and the Ethiopian government need to understand that its collapse could have a symbolic knock-on effect in the region – Ethiopia’s garment sector is often seen as a pioneering experiment proving that structural transformation in Africa is possible.

Unmet promises

Before the onset of such tensions, garment manufacturers were already struggling to do business. Workers, unhappy with their working conditions and pay, were increasingly willing to protest by stopping work or even quitting. Attrition was high, and production was low. There are also problems with raw materials, almost all of which need to be imported into Ethiopia from India or China. The government advertised the availability of more than 3 million hectares for cash crops, including cotton cultivation in 2010. In fact, only about 60,000 hectares were being used by 2019 to grow cotton, and that figure is falling as local farmers switch to sugar, sesame, and other more lucrative cash crops.

Ethnic tensions disrupted factory operations further. When Abiy Ahmed took over as Prime Minister in 2018, his reforms – which aimed to create a more ethnically inclusive government – unsettled the ruling coalition and opened a political space for ethnic tensions to resurface. For instance, in Hawassa, a group of the Sidama people – who are the majority ethnic group in the Hawassa state – pushed for independence in 2019. The political uncertainty due to ethnic tensions translates into economic uncertainty for investors. 

In Hawassa, security concerns emerged for local workers and foreign staff. Night shifts had to be cancelled so that workers could get home safely before nightfall. Political demonstrations at the park’s fence and within the park disrupted production. Sidama people also mobilized within factories and demanded more jobs for their people resulting in short strikes and occasional park-wide closings. Such disruptions are a wild card beyond the control of investors, which may set back further investments.

By a thread

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in early 2020, the sector was hanging by a thread. In June 2020, the International Labor Organization published a report, which described reduced orders and a situation for workers even more perilous than before. By the end of 2020, many of the over 60,000 garment workers in Ethiopia had lost their jobs or were too afraid to return to work, fearing they would catch the coronavirus.

The current ethnic conflict could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. For instance, the industrial park in Mekelle built for 20,000 workers – and with an occupancy in 2020 of around 3,500 workers – is currently closed. The current internet and phone blackout in the Tigray region now also makes any communication between buyers and the factories impossible.

A worsening human rights situation creates reputational and operational risks for investors and buyers. It increases uncertainty over the ability to complete orders and ship them on time. It also increases security risks for staff and workers. This may all cause long-lasting damage to investor confidence and the opportunity for sustainable economic development.

What must change

To assure investors, buyers, and international stakeholders, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed needs to end the blackout in the Tigray region, better protect journalists and civilians, and allow for independent human rights monitors to assess conditions. More than that, at this critical moment, clothing companies and manufacturers invested in Ethiopia need to double down on their commitments to business in Ethiopia. This means they need to stay in the country and speak up to support human rights. 

Once ethnic tensions are defused, more work will still need to be done by both the government and foreign manufacturers to strengthen the sector. This includes developing a domestic supply chain and establishing a minimum wage that ensures decent living conditions for workers.

But first, the future of the industry must be secured.

Dorothee Baumann-Pauly is an Adjunct Professor and Director of the Geneva Center for Business and Human Rights at the Université de Genève. (This article was initially published by The Conversation).

One of the most – if not the most – readily sought-after Cartier bracelet style is held together by two little screws that, when tightened, lock the precious metal bangle on to the wearer’s wrist. According to the nearly 175-year old French jewelry-maker, this gilded bit of bondage is meant “to sanctify inseparable love.” Practically speaking, given the price tags associated with these designs, those start at $4,500 and go up from there, they also “signify high incomes,” as AdWeek aptly characterized the 1970s status symbol-turned-pricey ”millennial must-have.”

When the Love bracelet was first released by Cartier in 1969, the creation of Italian-born American jewelry designer Aldo Cipullo, it swiftly became something of an intriguing purchase for well-to-do consumers, helped, of course, by powerful celebrity endorsements, such as those of couples like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti.” When Revlon executive Frank Shields – father to actress Brooke Shields’ – exchanged Love bracelets with his second wife Diana Lippert instead of rings in 1970, the shift in jewelry gave rise to the question in the media, ‘Will the Love bracelet replace the wedding band?,'” the Adventurine recalls. “Even the Duke and Duchess of Windsor exchanged Love bracelets in the seventies.”

Originally priced at $250 and reportedly sold only to couples, the Love Bracelet design, itself, remains relatively unchanged more than 50 years later – albeit the bracelets now come in three alloys of gold (which can cost upwards of $50,000 in some cases) and are now sold individually. Cartier has also since released a slimmed-down version of the Love bracelet, as well as an array of diamond encrusted options. 

As for, the bracelet, itself, with its two unique C-shaped halves that unhinge to clasp together before being screwed on with the miniature screwdriver included with each bracelet, it still functions in exactly the same manner, and in recent years, that very design has enjoyed a mainstream resurgence of sorts, thanks, at least in part, to a new batch of high profile and highly influential wearers. In place of Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren are Kylie Jenner and Rihanna.

Cartier love bracelet

Love and Legal Protections 

Given the staying power of the Love bracelet, and Cartier’s practice of aggressively protecting its valuable designs, the jewelry company maintains an array of legal protections in connection with it, thereby enabling its legal counsel to police unauthorized attempts to replicate the iconic design, whether it be the hoards of Amazon sellers offering fake Love bracelets for little more than $30 or higher-end jewelry companies doing their best takes on the time-tested classic.

Cartier’s enforcement efforts are founded, to a large extent, on its trade dress rights in the bracelet. A subset of trademark law, trade dress protection extends to the appearance of a product, assuming that such a configuration indicates the source and distinguishes it from other sources. Given the longstanding and consistent use of the Love bracelet by Cartier and the sheer level of fame associated with the bracelet, its design, and its source, Cartier’s trade dress registration for the overall appearance of the Love bracelet not only makes sense (certainly the jewelry company can show that the bracelet maintains to requisite level of secondary meaning in the marketplace), but is a valuable form of protection.

Registered in 1977 and renewed as recently at 2007 (trade dress and trademark protection can, in theory, last indefinitely subject to periodic renewals), this specific registration protects “the overall configuration of a bracelet having a series of simulated screws which encircle the goods and two real screws, which appear at the points on the bracelet where it may be opened” in Class 27. An identical registration was issued in 1985 in Class 28, which broadly covers “amusement and game apparatus” and “equipment for various sports and games.” 

Aside from the trade dress registrations, there are a number of other registrations in the mix for the Love bracelet, as well. For instance, the famed jeweler has trade dress rights in the design of “a jewelry item with a series of simulated heads of screws embedded around the outside perimeter.” Another extends to “a configuration of a simulated head of a screw that is embedded in the goods.” Still yet, Cartier maintains a trademark registrations for a “stylized version of the word LOVE,” which covers classes 14, 18, and 25, jewelry, leatherware, and apparel, respectively. And these are just a few examples of the protections that exist in Cartier’s sweeping Love-centric portfolio.

Cartier: A Vigilant Defender 

Far from merely accumulating such registrations and any common law (i.e., state law) rights in its world-famous bracelet, Cartier actively enforcers those rights. It is, after all, the trademark holder’s duty to police unauthorized uses of its marks in order to maintain the exclusive source-identifying capabilities of its trademarks (and ensure the continued value of those marks, which translates, in many cases, to premium pricing).

In addition to the many run-of-the-mill trademark infringement and counterfeiting cases that Cartier (and almost every other luxury brand) files each year, Cartier has initiated an array of more interesting legal matters in connection with the Love bracelet, and the word “Love,” as well. 

For instance, in early 2014, Cartier took on the World Gold Council in an attempt to prevent the market development organization for the gold industry from federally registering its own “LoveGold” trademarks. By way of an opposition lodged with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”)’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Boar (“TTAB”), Cartier argued that the World Gold Council should not be able to register its “LoveGold” mark because it is “confusingly simliar in sound, meaning, appearance, and commercial impression” to Cartier’s “Love” marks and thus, when used in connection with jewelry would “likely cause confusion or mistake or deceive the purchasing public” into believing the two companies’ goods are related when they are not. With that in mind, Carier argued that it would “be damaged by the issuance of a registration for the marks LoveGold.” 

The back-and-forth between Cartier and the World Gold Council before the TTAB continued through early 2015 before Cartier withdrew its opposition, seemingly in light of a settlement between the parties, and following initial approval from the USPTO in 2015, LoveGold’s marks were formally registered in 2018. All the while, Cartier and its parent company, Swiss conglomerate Richemont, were in and out of court in the United Kingdom in furtherance of a bigger fight: a case that would require internet service provider (“ISP”) companies – including defendants BT, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk and EE – to block access to websites offering for sale and selling counterfeit and otherwise infringing versions of its watches and jewelry. 

Unsurprisingly, one of most heavily-targeted jewelry products under the Richemont jewelery umbrella when it comes to counterfeits is Cartier’s coveted Love bracelet. 

Ruling in favor of Cartier and Richemont July 2016, the England and Wales Court of Appeal confirmed a lower court’s finding that ISPs do, in fact, have an obligation to block sites infringe others’ trademarks. The court stated that while the responsibility to identify the offending websites lies primarily with brands, ISPs have a legal responsibility to cooperate in disabling them, thereby sharing the burden of combating the sale of counterfeit goods online with the brand owners. The win was a big one, and the outcome has been deemed a “landmark” victory. 

As for the claims from counsel for the ISPs that its quest to block websites that offer up counterfeit goods “restricts freedom of speech [and otherwise] legitimate activity,” Cartier’s parent pushed back. “This action is about protecting Richemont’s maisons and its customers from the sale of counterfeit goods online through the most efficient means,” a spokesman for the conglomerate revealed. “It is not about restricting freedom of speech or legitimate activity.”

After all, it is those very protections that have enabled Cartier to remain the easily-identifiable source of these coveted bracelets in the minds of consumers. And that level of exclusivity – paired with famous endorsements and oft-out of reach price tags, which do not drop too far below their original retail price on resale sites like The RealReal, which implies enduring demand – plays a signifiant role in how Cartier has been able to continue to sell the Love bracelet, decade after decade.

*This article was initially published in June 2019.

Last year, individuals working in garment factories in Bangladesh that supply top global brands made headlines after clashing with police in a weeks-long strike over low wages. The news came roughly 6 months after 500 garment workers in Mynamar took part in a massive strike, demanding that their employers observe Thingyan, one of the largest and most widely celebrated holidays in the country, and on the heels of employees at Topshop’s Leeds distribution center refusing to work in protest of the “meager wages and exploitative contracts” utilized by the British fast fashion giant.

Meanwhile, higher up the fashion totem pole, luxury and high fashion brands have not been immune to labor-related unrest. In March 2018, Marc Jacobs, Coach, and Michael Kors came under fire after as many as 100 laborers in one of their suppliers’ factories went on a “major strike to protest alleged sub-standard and illegal working conditions,” according to NGO China Labor Watch. As WWD reported at the time, “Guangzhou Panyu Shimen Handbag Ltd. Co, a South Korean-owned factory, has been accused of failing to pay its workers a salary in line with local laws – its workers have gone on strike over back pay owed and are campaigning to receive a monthly base salary of 3,500 renminbi ($553) during production-low seasons.”

That same month, individuals working for Chanel’s outposts in Korea engaged in a temporary strike, protesting long hours and low wages. “The recent strike shows the desperation of workers in the services industry,” a representative for Korean Federation of Service Workers’ Unions said in a statement in March 2018. “Although department stores look luxurious and fancy, salesclerks working there are suffering from intense work for low wages. This is the reality of the nation’s cosmetics industry.”

More recently, labor-related discord came in the form of reports that supplier factories for British fast fashion giant Boohoo consist of “cramped high-density conditions,” and workspaces dominated by extreme temperatures and poor air quality, and wages that fall well below the national living wage. The Sunday Times shed light on the allegedly egregious situation in much the same way as the New York Times uncovered the web of “secret underpaid workers” laboring in factories in Los Angeles in order to churn out Fashion Nova’s low-cost garments and accessories, which have been heavily endorsed by mega-stars like Cardi B and the Kardashian/Jenners.

And still yet, a number of brands, including adidas, H&M, Gap Inc., and Lacoste have been embroiled in allegations of forced labor tied to mass detention camps in China, where ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are reportedly are tortured and forced to work, media outlets across the globe report. In fact, as the Guardian reported this summer, “Global fashion brands source so extensively from Xinjiang that a coalition [of more than 170 human rights and trade groups] estimates that it is ‘virtually certain’ that as many as one in five cotton products sold across the world are tainted with forced labor and human rights violations occurring there,” which means that “virtually the entire [global] apparel industry” – high fashion and luxury names, included – “is tainted by forced Uighur and Turkic Muslim labor,” in large part due to the difficulty that comes with tracing the origins of garments and their composite parts in multi-national brands’ sweeping supply chains.

The foregoing instances of exploitation, which continued to run rampant in the global fashion industry, raises the question: Why do fashion brands continue to fail to clean up their acts?

Even if brands want to be part of the solution, particularly as consumers, investors, the media, and their laborers consistently demand that they do, they are hindered by the current legal system. One of the biggest problems is that if brands are to eradicate labor exploitation, they must take more control of their supply chains. But if they take more control over their supply chains, they open themselves up to the risk of tremendous legal liability.

To effect real change in the global fashion industry, the countries where brands are headquartered – whether it be Spain, home to Zara’s parent company Inditex, Sweden for H&M, or France for most of the brands owned by LVMH and Kering – need to reconsider their legal policies. To be specific, the existing liability rules need to be amended to incentivize brands’ direct involvement in labor issues within their supply chains.

Global Value Chains

Over the past few decades, the production process for garments (and other things) has evolved, becoming very complicated. These “global value chains” include all the activities that are necessary to a product’s life-cycle – designing, manufacturing, selling, and sometimes, even recycling. When it comes to the relationship between these vast networks of suppliers and the law, there is a connection between responsibility and liability. Generally, a brand is only legally responsible for the actions of suppliers if the brand directly employs and controls that supplier. In a global value chain, most suppliers are typically outside of the brand’s direct control, operating, instead, as contractors and in many cases, even subcontractors, the latter of which are more often than not completely undocumented, as they tend to work from their homes.

Like many activist organizations, Oxfam places the onus on fashion brands to improve the labor practices of their subsidiaries and suppliers in developing countries. For instance, Oxfam calls for brands to implement a “living wage,” a wage that is sufficient for workers to meet their basic needs. A recent report from international confederation of charitable organizations focused on the alleviation of global poverty estimates that enforcing a living wage will only increase the final product price by 1 percent. This, Oxfam suggests, could be absorbed by the chain in order to keep prices from rising.

The key is this: To ensure individual garment workers receive a living wage, brands would need to exert additional oversight and coordination of their suppliers and subsidiaries. In other words, brands would have to take stronger control not only of their suppliers but also of their suppliers’ suppliers, and their suppliers’ suppliers’ suppliers, and so on. This is known as chain integration.

And in fact, in certain respects, brands themselves are also eager to integrate their supply chains, but for different reasons. From the brands’ perspective, integration can help ensure production efficiency, product quality control and effective management of brand reputation. This is one of the reasons why, for example, Chanel and other luxury brands have been actively acquiring an array of their supplier factories.

In many ways, it turns out, activists and brands actually want the same thing. They want greater chain integration. What then is stopping the brands from doing so, you ask? The legal reality that if brands were to take greater oversight efforts, from that follows the risk of colossal liability. It is impossible to put an exact figure on how much such liability might cost a fashion brand, but it is clear that if brands opt to more thoroughly oversee their suppliers, they will no longer be able to disclaim liability or knowledge of misconduct – either legally or in the court of public opinion amongst their consumers.

What will it take to create change?

In this regard, brands are in something of a Catch-22 situation. As the law currently stands (and because brands consequently limit integration), brands are rarely liable when a supplier or subsidiary in their chain runs afoul of the law. The problem from the brands’ perspective is that they are likely to lose any of their legal defenses if they proactively take control of their supply chains. This is true whether the control is for purposes of what they selfishly want (more efficient supply chains) or what activists want (better labor practices).

This dilemma played out following the 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy, when many European brands signed a safety accord that seeks to protect Bangladeshi workers from unsafe working conditions. Some American and Australian fashion brands refused to sign the accord precisely because of the fear of future liability.

To get brands on board with improving their supply chains and stopping worker exploitation, we must first recognize the complex landscape in which brands operate. In the current environment, it is often safer – legally and financially – for brands to limit their involvement in labor issues, and hide behind third-party “monitoring” and “audits.” To truly affect change, though, we must find ways to transform what are now risks of action into incentives for change.

Kevin Sobel-Read is a Lecturer in Law and Anthropologist at the University of Newcastle. Georgia Monaghan is a Research Assistant at the University of Newcastle. (Introduction courtesy of TFL)

It is hardly a coincidence that no shortage of fashion industry insiders and influencers took a break from the seemingly unending stream of Daniel Lee’s handbag and footwear offerings for Bottega Veneta to post photos of Louis Vuitton’s new LV Pont 9 bags at the end of May. The same was the case when there was a flurry of posts from big-name influencers showcasing Dior’s reintroduced saddle bags, or garments bearing Burberry’s Peter Saville x Riccardo Disci-Created “TB” logo or ones adorned with Fendi’s double “F” monogram. Those instances – and countless others – are a testament to the fact that nearly every brand and buzzy retailer sends gifts to editors, influencers, and/or celebrities, alike, in an effort to boost brand awareness and induce spending by the Instagram (and TikTok) followers of these figures.

Rampant gifting of everything from Louis Vuitton bags to Burberry garments is a commonplace and longstanding practice in the fashion industry. In fact, a whopping 98 percent of brands revealing in 2018 that they lend samples and/or give gifts to influencers in hope that those heavily-followed figures will post the products on their social media accounts. However, one relatively novel development – the advent and marked rise of the online resale economy – has put a twist on the traditional model of gifting. And that development has potentially significant tax implications for both gift-givers and recipients.

Look beyond the practice of gifting, and there is another long relief-upon practice at play: many of the gifts are traditionally sold off by their recipients, who, in turn, pocket the money. As the New York Post noted back in 2003, editors, stylists, and models, alike, were readily bringing designer wares into upscale consignment stores in Manhattan and hawking them on eBay. 

The practice has evolved and expanded since then, as the rise of the $24 billion-plus resale economy and the ease with which products can be sold on e-commerce consignment sites like The RealReal and co. in an anonymous capacity has changed the game. What was once merely a steady stream of gifts has turned into potential sources of revenue for their recipients – sources of revenue that almost certainly come with tax implications, that is.

These otherwise seemingly innocuous – albeit, at times rather expensive – gifts present legal issues, including when they are resold, since the value of the goods, themselves, and the profits made if/when they are sold must be taken into account come April 15 (or this year, July 15), when Americans file their individual income tax returns.

Brands are required to provide “1099s forms when a transaction involves a value of more than $600,” business attorney Sara Hawkins told Bloomberg Law last year. However, many fail to do so, and many influencers tend to be unaware of the legal requirements associated with such “gifts.” At least one well-known fashion industry influencer – who said that she has sold products, including designer bags, that she received as gifts from brands by way of resale sites – told TFL on the condition of anonymity that but for receiving professional tax advice, she would not have known to report money earned as a result of reselling these gifted products. “They are gifts, after all,” she said.

The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has a different definition for at least some of these “gifts.” Depending on the circumstances, the American tax body very well may classify them as income.

Bags as Taxable Income?

The classification – and thus, the tax implications – of the luxury branded bags and high fashion garments readily hand out to famous figures can be tricky. In accordance with the IRS’ guidelines on taxable versus non-taxable income (“income” can come in the form of “money, property, or services”), “Generally, an amount included in your income is taxable unless it is specifically exempted by law.” One potential exemption? Gifts. 

So, when is a designer bag or pair of shoes a tax-free gift versus taxable income? That may depend on the intent at play. Typically, a gift is not taxable if it is the result of “a ‘detached and disinterested generosity,” according to the IRS and the Code of Federal Regulations. In the same vein, the IRS maintains that gifts cross the line and become taxable when the gift-giver “expects to receive something of at least equal value in return.” 

This is a relevant and interesting consideration when it comes to influencers, editors, stylists, and celebrities, among other figures, given that at least some brands would undoubtedly argue (just as they do in connection with Federal Trade Commission disclosure issues) that they are simply sending the products to these influential figures without any guarantee that they will, in fact, use the products or post them on Instagram, for example. In accordance with this line of reasoning, there is no expectation of anything being given in return, and thus, the gift really is a gift. 

At the same time, though, “Businesses do not send products to [these] people just because they want them to have a product,” Hawkins claims. “They send products … because those people may provide value to them.” That value may come in the form of social media posts when an influencer shows off a bad, preferential treatment/editorial placements in magazines (and/or on publishers’ websites), appearance in paparazzi photos should a celebrity carry the bag, etc., which very well could match the value of a $3,000 bag, depending on the publicity – and the person – at issue.

So, what about if the influencer, editor, etc. opts to sell the bag on a resale site like Rebag, for instance? Well, the basic tenets of the situation do not change if/when an individual sells off the products he/she was given by a brand. As tax attorney Robert W. Wood states, “Income means income from all sources. If you sell unwanted clothes, cars, furniture, even family heirlooms, are they taxed? You bet. If you sell something for $100 you bought for $50, that’s a $50 gain.” If you sell a bag that you were given (presumably with the implicit or explicit expectation that you will post a photo of it on social media), the money you earn as a result must be reported on your income tax return and is subject to tax. 

Given the lack of exemptions for fashion’s certainly-not-de minimis “gifts,” those accepting offerings in the form of designer garments and accessories (as well as trips and other things), and those who may be selling off those goods are accumulating income for items that they did not pay for in the first place, and thereby, are subjected to tax implications in connection with that income. With that in mind, this is one place where fashion could be sorely lacking in terms of its adherence to the law, and an area that may begin to garner greater regulatory attention, particularly as influencer marketing, itself, continues to grow into a multi-billion dollar industry of its own. 

*This article was initially published in April 2019 and has been updated.

The Kardashian/Jenners – America’s most famous reality television family – have been hit with their fair share of copycat claims and corresponding lawsuit. Here is a brief history of the intellectual property infringement and related allegations that have been lodged against them – from the drama surrounding their failed Kardashian Kroma beauty line to claims from indie designers that the sisters stole their original designs …   

1. NOVEMBER 2012: Chroma Makeup Studio LLC v. Boldface Group (Lawsuit)

After the Kardashians launched their Khroma Beauty collection in 2012, Chroma Makeup studio, a Los Angeles-based makeup studio, filed suit against the sisters and their licensing company, Boldface Licensing + Branding for trademark infringement. Chroma co-owner Michael Rey filed suit in the Central District of California’s Western Division court in Los Angeles, alleging that his company had been using the Chroma trademark for 12 years at the time of filing and that not only was the sisters’ brand infringing his trademark, it was creating consumer confusion and tarnishing his brand’s image.

UPDATE: This case was settled out of court in January 2014.

2. SEPTEMBER 2014: Kroma Makeup EU LLC v. Boldface Licensing + Branding (Lawsuit)

After the Kardashians settled suit with Lee Tillett over the KROMA trademark, Kroma Makeup EU, the exclusive European licensee of the KROMA collection, filed suit against them in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Kroma EU arm filed a multi-million-dollar trademark infringement suit against the Kardashian sisters, alleging that they began marketing their competing makeup line after Tillett began discussions with Kim Kardashian to represent the KROMA collection. The complaint also notes that although an undisclosed settlement was reached in 2014 between the American arm of Tillett’s complaint and the Kardashians, Tillett refused to split the settlement money with Kroma EU.

UPDATE: After suffering losses before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Kroma EU has asked the Supreme Court – in August 2019 – to hear its case against the famous sisters.

3. OCTOBER 2015: Jenners, Pac Sun Named in Trademark Infringement Lawsuit (Lawsuit)

The two youngest members of the reality television family are embroiled in a trademark battle. Kendall and Kylie Jenner, who launched a clothing collaboration with Pacific Sunwear in 2013, have been named in a trademark infringement lawsuit in connection with one of their designs. The garment at issue: a t-shirt bearing the slogan: “RUN AWAY, FALL IN LOVE, NEVER RETURN.”

UPDATE: The Jenners and Pac Sun settled the suit in January 2016.

4. NOVEMBER 2015: Just Games Interactive Entertainment v. Glu Mobile (Lawsuit)

According to this lawsuit, which was filed in California federal court by Kung Fu Factory, Kris Jenner and co. stole the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood game from a development company after working on it with them for several months. Kung Fu Factory, which had a hand in developing Mortal Combat and other games, alleged that Jenner ran off with copyrighted material that the company shared with the reality television mom while brainstorming for the project. As a result, the company filed a $10 million+ lawsuit against Jenner and Glu Mobile, another development company.

UPDATE: The case was settled in February 2016.

5. MARCH 2016: KDB Pty Ltd v. Kylie Jenner

Not quite litigation but a legal proceeding nonetheless, Kylie Jenner was named in several trademark proceedings this spring. After filing trademark applications for registration for just her first name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) in April and November 2015, Australian pop-star Kylie Minogue stepped in. Minogue’s legal team filed to oppose Jenner’s “Kylie” trademark applications, arguing that Minogue is the real thing, whereas Jenner is merely a “supporting character” in the Keeping up with the Kardashians television show that is arguably much better known for her active media presence and her “photographic exhibitionism and controversial posts.”

UPDATE: After what appear to have been successful discussions, Minogue opted to withdraw her oppositions (which were consolidated into one proceeding) in early 2017, meaning that the parties were formally putting their fight to bed. (It is worth noting that the oppositions were dismissed without prejudice, meaning that Minogue could have reinitiated the fight prior to the registration of Jenner’s marks).

6. NOVEMBER 2016: Kylie Jenner Accused of Copying Cosmetics Imagery

Kylie Jenner came under fire for her wildly popular makeup line, with the reality television star was accused of repeatedly co-opting the imagery of Vlada Haggerty, a Los Angeles-based makeup artist, in connection with her Kylie Cosmetics collection.

7. APRIL 2017: Xposure Photos (UK) LTD., v. Khloe Kardashian (Lawsuit)

Khloe Kardashian has been slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit after posting a photo of herself on her Instagram account this fall. According to a suit filed by Xposure Photos in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, a federal court in Los Angeles, the reality television star has run afoul of federal copyright law by posting a photo of herself “going for a meal at David Grutman’s Miami restaurant, Komodo” without licensing the photo from Xposure, the copyright holder.

UPDATE: According to a March 2018 mediation report, the case was “completely settled.”

8. JUNE 2017: Khloe Kardashian and Kylie Jenner Called out for Copying Indie Designers

In what is proving to be an increasingly common occurrence, the Kardashian/Jenners have again been called out for copying. New York-based brand PluggedNYC, which is known for its colorful camouflage pieces, took to Instagram to call out Kylie Jenner’s new “Camo Collection,” alleging that Jenner “cut and pasted” their existing camo designs for own line. Meanwhile, Dbleudazzled designer Destiney Bleu called out Khloe Kardashian for copying, alleging that Kardashian’s team allegedly ordered an array of garments from indie label, dbleudazzled, before the reality star included lookalike designs in her latest Good American collection.

9. JUNE 2017: Jenners Sued Over “Vintage” T-Shirts (Lawsuits)

This week Kendall and Kylie Jenner unveiled a line of $125 “vintage t-shirts” featuring their faces stamped atop old shirt designs from classic rock bands such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, and The Doors, as well as rap legends Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. Just hours later, following much public outcry and a pair of cease and desist letters (from the manager of The Doors and the mother of the late Notorious B.I.G.), the t-shirts have been pulled from the sisters’ online store.

Kardashian Lawsuit

(a) Michael Miller, who is the copyright holder of two photos depicting Tupac Shakur, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Kendall and Kylie Jenner in connection with the uber-controversial vintage tees, alleging that the famed reality television sisters “have misappropriated and wrongfully exploited” two copyright-protected photos without his authorization, thereby giving rise to copyright infringement claims.

UPDATE: According to a May 2018 mediation report, “Mediation was held on March 9, 2018, and the case has been completely settled.”

(b) In a separate suit, Al Pereira – who is the copyright holder of the photo depicting Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G. and Redman that appears on one style of Kendall + Kylie’s controversial vintage-inspired tees – alleges that the famed reality television sisters “copied [his] photo and placed it on a t-shirt to sell to the public,” thereby giving rise to copyright infringement claims.

UPDATE: The plaintiff filed to voluntarily dismiss the case in January 2018, suggesting the parties settled the matter out of court.

10. JULY 2017: Sara Pope v. Kylie Jenner (Lawsuit)

According to the BBC, UK-based artist Sara Pope is taking copyright action against Kylie Jenner over the bright neon lips seen in a trailer for the star’s new reality series, which premiered in May 2017. An image very similar to Sara’s Temptation Neon is seen in the promotion for “Life Of Kylie.”

11. JULY 2017: Kirsten Kjaer Weis v. Kim Kardashian (Lawsuit)

On the same day as the above suit filed against Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian was slapped with a lawsuit by Kirsten Kjaer Weis, a Danish makeup artist, who alleges that Kardashian is infringing her brand by way of Kardashian’s newly-launched beauty company, which bears the “KKW” trademark. According to Weis’s lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, she has made use of her federally registered “KW” trademark since September 2010 on cosmetics and that Kim K is infringing that mark with her KKW cosmetics line.

UPDATE: The case was settled in November 2018.

12. JULY 2017: Snap Light, LLC et al v. KimsAPrincess Inc. (Lawsuit)

Kim Kardashian is being sued for $100 million over her go-to iPhone case. According to a new lawsuit filed by Snap Light, LLC in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Kardashian’s company, Kimsaprincess Inc., is on the hook for promoting LuMee, the light-up phone case ideal for taking selfies, which infringes Snap Light’s own patent-protected iPhone case.

UPDATE: The case was settled in March 2018.

13. DECEMBER 2017: Kim Kardashian’s Kids Supply v. Vetements, Comme des Garçons

Kim and Kanye came under fire in December 2017 after their kids collection was revealed to include some oh-so-similar looking garments. In particular, one Kids Supply bomber bore a more-than-incidental resemblance to a Comme des Garçons x Kosho & Co. souvenir jacket, and another silver-sequined dress was a near replica of the miniature Vetements dress that daughter North West rather famously wore to match her mom during New York Fashion Week last fall.

14. APRIL 2018: Pizzaboyzzz v. Kendall Jenner (Lawsuit)

Kendall Jenner only just launched her new Beats 1 music show, which Apple Music describes as “a monthly living room pizza party,” and she has already been threatened with a lawsuit. Thanks to the brand-new Apple Music audio show venture, which Jenner launched along with DJ Daniel Chetrit, entitled Pizza Boys, the reality star-turned-model has found herself on the receiving end of a strongly-worded cease and desist letter from Robert Karaguezian, the founder of a Los Angeles-based brand and artist collective called Pizzaboyzzz.

UPDATE: The case was settled in July 2018.

15. APRIL 2018: KKW Body v. Jean-Paul Gaultier

Designer Jean-Paul Gaultier took to his brand’s Instagram account this week to shed light on the visual similarity between his classic body-shaped fragrance bottles and the newly-revealed fragrance, KKW Body by Kim Kardashian. The famed couturier seemed to suggest that the reality star-turned-budding consumer goods mogul was inspired by his own 25-year old fragrance range.

Kardashian Lawsuit

16. JULY 2018: Vibes Media, LLC, v. KKW Fragrance, LLC (Lawsuit)

Kim Kardashian has been hit with yet another lawsuit for allegedly stealing another company’s trademark-protected logo – the latest in a long line of litigation and copying claims for the reality television family. According to the complaint that Vibes Media filed in a federal court in Illinois this week, KKW Fragrance is on the hook for selling a Kimoji fragrance in a bottle that looks a bit too much like the Chicago-based marketing company’s federally registered “Vibes” trademark.

UPDATE: The court granted the parties’ joint motion to dismiss in February 2019 in light of a settlement agreement.

17. FEBRUARY 2019: David Liebensohn v. Kimsaprincess, Inc. and Kim Kardashian West (Lawsuit)

Kim Kardashian is being sued for allegedly stealing the name and idea for her multi-million dollar grossing Kimoji app. App developer David Liebensohn filed a $100 million fraud and breach of contract suit against Kardashian, alleging that he and his team created the “Kimoji” venture and agreed to a partnership deal with Kardashian in 2014, only to have Kardashian swiftly cut him out less than a month later and create the app with her own team.

UPDATE: As of August 2019, Liebensohn moved to voluntarily dismiss the case (without prejudice), which will now be settle by way of arbitration.

18. JULY 2019: Kim Kardashian v. Emilio Pucci

Kim Kardashian is being called out for allegedly copying sunglasses for her collab with eyewear brand Carolina Lemke from ones that were first shown by Emilio Pucci, and which 38-year-old Kardashian was spotted wearing just last summer.

19. JANUARY 2020: Saeed Bolden v. SKIMS BODY, INC. and KIM KARDASHIAN (Lawsuit)

Kim Kardashian and her shapewear venture SKIMS are on the receiving end of a new copyright infringement lawsuit. According to the complaint that Saeed Bolden filed in a New York federal court on Wednesday, Kardashian is on the hook for her “unauthorized reproduction and public display of a copyrighted photograph of [herself] and [husband] Kayne West,” which was taken by and is “owned by Bolden,” a New York-based professional photographer, and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in his name.

20. JANUARY 2020: Klauber Brothers, Inc., v. The Kylie Shop, Inc., Kendall Jenner, Inc., Kylie Jenner, Inc. (Lawsuit)

According to the complaint that it filed in a California federal court on Wednesday, lace-making company Klauber Brothers is accusing the corporate entities of the wildly-famous reality television sisters, and Kylie’s e-commerce entity The Kylie Shop, as well as Nordstrom and of running afoul of federal copyright law by hijacking one of its lace patterns, and using it to make and sell products – from thong underwear to a mini slip dress – under the Kendall + Kylie collection name.

21. MAY 2020: dbleudazzled, LLC v. Khloe Kardashian and Good American (Lawsuit)

According to the common law trade dress infringement, misappropriation, fraud and deceit, and unfair competition complaint that it filed in a California state court on May 29, Los Angeles-based d.bleu.dazzled claims that between 2016 and 2017, Khloe Kardashian – by way of her team – “purchased and borrowed numerous pieces of [d.bleu.dazzled] clothing, under the false pretense that the clothing items were for [the 35-year old star’s] personal use.” The problem? Instead of actually wearing the garments, as her team had led d.bleu.dazzled to believe would happen, Kardashian allegedly copied them for the clothing brand that she was secretly working on at the time. 

UPDATE: According to the notice of settlement that counsel for dbleudazzled, LLC lodged with the California Superior Court in Los Angeles last month, the parties have come to a confidential resolution, prompting d.bleu.dazzled to voluntarily dismiss the $10 million fraud and deceit, common law trade dress infringement, misappropriation, and unfair competition case that it initiated against Kardashian and her 5-year-old brand.

Kardashian Lawsuit

22. JULY 2020: Christian Cowan v. Khloe Kardashian

Designer Christian Cowan called out Khloe Kardashian for allegedly taking samples that he loaned to her and selling them on her Kardashian Kloset website. “Why are my runway samples I loaned you being sold on your website?,” Cowan wrote on his Instagram Story. According to the New York Post, Cowan alleged that he has reached out to Kardashian’s team multiple times,” only to be ignored by the mega-famous reality star. “We’ve emailed 3 times and had no response,” he said.

23. OCTOBER 2022: Marine Serre v. Kendall + Kylie

Kendall and Kylie’s eponymous label was called out for allegedly taking a bit too much inspiration from Marine Serre. As first reported by Dazed, some new loungewear from the Jenners’ label bears a little moon print that is reminiscent of the crescent moon that appears on no shortage of offerings from burgeoning young brand Marine Serre. Among the big-name figures that have been spotted in Marine Serre-printed garments? Beyoncé, K-pop stars Sandara Park and Jennie Kim, singers Ariana Grande and Dua Lipa … and Kendall Jenner and Kylie Jenner.

24. JUNE 2022: Beauty Concepts LLC v. Kim Kardashian West, et al (Lawsuit)

A budding trademark opposition battle over Kim Kardashian’s newly-launched skincare brand SKKN by Kim has resulted in a new lawsuit, pitting Kardashian (who is named as a defendant in her personal capacity in the complaint), her corporate entity Kimsaprincess Inc., and Coty, Inc. against a similarly-named company that claims the mega-star and her cosmetics manufacturing collaborator are on the hook for trademark infringement and unfair competition, as well as civil conspiracy under New York common law, for launching the “confusingly similar” SKKN by Kim brand and using the mark on goods and services that are “identical to, or highly related to, services offered by Beauty Concepts under [its own] SKKN+ trademark.” 

*This article was initially published in March 2016 and has been updated accordingly.