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, has taken to Instagram to call out Kylie Jenner’s new “Camo Collection” – which launched today – alleging that Jenner “cut and pasted” their existing camo designs for own line.
Over the past several days, Jenner has been busy promoting the launch of her “Camo” collection in a series of Instagram photos, as well as at least one billboard featuring herself in a camouflage bikini. The collection features a range of now-sold-out bikinis, sweatpants, and crop tops, among other styles, all in varying shades of camouflage.
In two separate Instagram posts, PluggedNYC highlighted the similarities between its pieces, which have been worn by superstars like Rihanna, and those in Jenner’s collection. But the social media war does not stop there. Twitter users have taken to documenting the full extent of PluggedNYC’s allegations, which the brand shared via its Instagram story. Screenshots of the now-expired story show emails between the company and a rep for Kylie Jenner, who ordered PluggedNYC pieces for the star before she went on to allegedly copy them for her own collection.
If this sounds familiar, that is because Khloe 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. Dbleudazzled designer Destiney Bleu made her thoughts known on social media earlier this week, calling out Kardashian for copying.
Per Refinery 29, Bleu has since received a cease and desist letter from the Kardashian legal camp, threatening to bring legal action against her for defamation if she does not stop claiming that Kardashian copied her. Kardashian’s legal team has also reportedly demanded that Bleu remove all existing posts making reference to “copying” AND actively deter “trolls” from commenting on Khloe’s social media posts about the alleged copying.
As for whether either Bleu or PluggedNYC have merited legal claims, it is not necessarily clear. The designs that Bleu claims Kardashian copied largely consist of bedazzled leotards. While copyright law does not protect useful items, such as garments, it does protect original, separable elements, and has been known to protect embellishments and sequined arrangements in the past. It is worth noting that the brand likely has a better chance than ever of successfully claiming copyright infringement following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Star Athletica v. Varsity.
In theory, PluggedNYC has also a chance, as camouflage has been awarded legal protections in the past. For instance, in April of 2016, the Navy was awarded a trademark of its NWU 1 camouflage pattern, a pixelated black, gray and navy blue design. Although it was initially rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board held otherwise because the Navy “was able to show that due to actual use of the print, it has acquired the necessary distinctiveness in the eyes of the public.”
However, since PluggedNYC likely cannot claim such distinctiveness (a relatively high legal bar), this may prove to be yet another instance of a designer unable to take action beyond making social media shout outs and generating publicity as those go viral. Nonetheless, we can certainly add the hypothetical cases at hand to a long list of other brands and designers that have called attention to this family’s alleged disregard for – and willingness to profit from – others’ designs.
And regardless of the legality of these indie designers’ claims, there is a greater issue at play: The frequency with which large brands are consistently taking inspiration from indie ones without acknowledging their point of inspiration (and then in some instances, threatening to sue for defamation when the designers speak out).
Nicole Malick is a student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.