Image: FashionToast

Using the word “Band-aid” to describe a generic adhesive bandage is problematic. The same goes for the use of “Kleenex” interchangeably with tissues, “ChapStick” as synonymous with lip balm, and “Photoshop” to describe the general digital manipulation of photos. Each of these terms (Band-aid, Kleenex, ChapStick and Photoshop) are (or in some cases, were) federally registered trademarks, which means they were originally distinctive trademarks used to indicate the source of a particular brand’s goods. 

As you may know, trademark law provides protection for any word, name, symbol, or design, or any combination thereof, used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from those of another.  Unlike copyright law or patent law, which enjoy protection for a specified duration, trademark protection could potentially last forever as long as the trademark does not become generic.  As such, it is in the trademark owner’s best interest to keep tabs on and shut down any unauthorized use of its trademark.

Chanel’s legal counsel began cracking down on unauthorized use of its trademarked name years ago. The Paris-based design house has made its position rather well known. For many years, it has been taking out full page ads in popular trade publication, Women’s Wear Daily, for instance, to inform editors, journalists, bloggers, etc., of its rights in the Chanel mark. The ad consistently includes the following language:

A note of information and entreaty to fashion editors, advertisers, copywriters and other well-intentioned mis-users of our Chanel name: Chanel was a designer, an extraordinary woman who made a timeless contribution to fashion. Chanel is a perfume. Chanel is modern elegance in couture, ready-to-wear, accessories, watches and fine jewelry. Chanel is our registered trademark for fragrance, cosmetics, clothing, accessories and other lovely things. Although our style is justly famous, a jacket is not ‘a Chanel jacket’ unless it is ours, and somebody else’s cardigans are not ‘Chanel for now.’ And even if we are flattered by such tributes to our fame as ‘Chanel-issime, Chanel-ed, Chanels, and Chanel-ized’, PLEASE DON’T. Our lawyers positively detest them. We take our trademark seriously. Merci, Chanel, Inc.

You are probably wondering: Why Teva?  Well, for a few seasons now, the classically sport-centric sandal has been making its way onto the runway.

For Spring/Summer 2016, Chanel adopted the aforementioned sandal. Writing for Vogue, Sarah Mower stated: “The Chanel range runs from the witty and kitsch (Chanel hard-case wheelie carry-on bags, Teva-style sandals with tweed straps and flashing runway-landing lights running around the soles).” Alexander Wang also showed a similar style of sandal a few seasons ago. Just before Wang’s runway show, the Telegraph dedicated an article to the rise of the brand’s signature, noting that lookalikes have hit the runway by way of collections from Burberry, Christopher Raeburn, and Antipodium.  

There are the others (think: the jewel-encrusted sandals that Prada showed for Spring/Summer 2014 or the ones Marc Jacobs showed that same season).  There are the Teva collaborations, such as the Teva x Opening Ceremony one or the one with NYC-based Grey Ant. And last but not least, the sporty-style sandal has also been adopted by fast fashion retailers.  Charlotte Glover, women’s accessory and shoes buying manager at Urban Outfitters, told the Telegraph: “We are confident that SS15 is the summer of the Teva.”

The issue arises in connection with the reviews of the shows that included these non-Teva brand shoes, in which critics, journalists and bloggers have taken to using Teva’s trademarked name to describe this new trend of sandals.  

For instance, reviews of Wang’s 10th Anniversary show, in which he showed his Spring/Summer 2016 collection, included the following language: models “came down the runway in Teva-like sandals covered in studs” (courtesy of T Magazine’s The Daily Shoe column); “Wang presented his own take on the Teva-style sandal” (from an article on Footwear News’ site); and Racked noted the ” Teva-esque sandals.” These come after Wang introduced another similar style in 2012, promoting sites to write: “Alexander Wang is making Tevas.” They were not actually a collaboration with Teva at all. 

Reviews of Spring/Summer 2014 collections include the following excerpts: “Prada showed sporty-inspired footwear including flat Teva-like sandals”, “Miuccia Prada and Marc Jacobs decided to parade Teva-type sandalsdown their spring 2014 runways”, and “there were opulent sweatshirts, all embellished and worn with flat, Teva-esque sandals.”

Also worth noting are the reviews that simply referred to some of the non-Teva brand sandals as Tevas (think: “Prada Brings Back Tevas”, “Reclaiming rather pedestrian-looking footwear and Teva sandals from tourists” (in reference to Prada), and of course, the S/S 2014 trends reports that include photos of Prada, Marc Jacobs, Dries Van Noten, Givenchy, and MSGM sandals and refer to them as “Tevas”). This is problematic.

Most recently, Saks began offering a pair of Prada “Teva” sandals, suggesting that the two companies had collaborated. They had not; Saks was simply using the word “Teva” to describe the type of sandal. 

The problem is this: The term Teva is being used by fashion editors, advertisers, copywriters, and bloggers as the name of a product itself (such as the Prada sandals or the Marc Jacobs sandals or the Wang ones, and others that are made up of “webbing upper, hook & loop closure, universal strapping system, EVA footbed, and durabrasion rubber outsole” or some combination thereof) as opposed to identifying an exclusive source of the product.  The fact that Teva is being used not as a trademark but as a descriptive term to categorize a style of sandals could have seriously unpleasant effects on the term’s status as a distinctive indicator of source.

So, word up, Teva. It may be time to get out your pen and paper and start sending out some cease and desist letters because once your brand name becomes generic, there is no way to regain it.