Wider-leg denim may be trending amongst the fashion pack, but skinny jeans are at the center of a new legal battle involving QVC. According to a lawsuit filed on Monday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Skinny Brand Jeans LLC – you guessed it, the maker of … skinny jeans – and its founder Catherine Hart allege that after pitching its jeans to QVC, the home shopping network knocked off the “slimming fabrication and slimming wash pattern” that is unique to its New York-based brand.
Skinny Brand Jeans alleges that back in September 2013, its founder Catherine Hart met with QVC to “demonstrate the slimming fabrication and wash pattern of her premium slimming denim line called SkinnyJeans®, and to pitch a version of the premium-priced, domestically-made slimming jeans that would sell at a price point well above the low-end jeans [that were] being sold on QVC.”
The brand claims that at the time, “QVC’s market was saturated with low price, low quality in-house brands of denim, and there was large, unfulfilled market for better, higher-quality jeans.” This is a void that Hart believed Skinny Brand Jeans could fill with its denim, which is unique due to Hart’s “innovative idea of taking the light and dark [color] values created naturally over time by wearing a jean and employing them to ‘photoshop’ or contour the body.” Such varying uses of color “makes the legs appear thinner … and longer, [and] essentially creates a very effective illusion of a slimmer body.”
Just weeks after Hart’s meeting with QVC, the shopping network filed to register a trademark for “How Slimming” for use on its own in-house brand, something that Hart says she did not learn until several years later.
In March 2014, Skinny Brand Jeans entered into a licensing deal with QVC. In exchange for a fee, “Skinny Brand Jeans granted a license to QVC to manufacture and sell a lesser-priced version of its American-made slimming jeans to be called ‘SkinnyJeans2®.’” As part of the deal, Hart was contractually obligated to take part in an array of design meetings between 2013 and 2015 during which she taught QVC staff “exactly how to replicate each detail of its American-made premium slimming jeans [including how to properly execute the slimming wash pattern] in a lower-priced Chinese-made version using Chinese denim for SkinnyJeans2.”
The SkinnyJeans2 collection ultimately made its debut on QVC in late 2014 and sold out immediately. According to Skinny Brand Jeans’ complaint, the first round of sales resulted in a waitlist that called for an increase of “200 percent of the first production level.”
It is against this background that 6 months later QVC allegedly “stole Skinny Brand Jeans wash pattern and put the slimming wash pattern on its in house branded jeans called G.I.L.I,” prompting Hart to file federal copyright registrations for the “two-dimensional depiction of the innovative, non-functional and separable image of the wash pattern on denim.”
Hart alleges that in addition to copyright infringement, “the theft by QVC of Skinny Brand Jeans’ wash pattern and [the placement] on its in house branded G.I.L.I. products” amounts to trade dress infringement since “Skinny Brand Jeans’ unique, innovative, [and] distinctive slimming wash pattern is … recognizable as a Skinny Brand Jeans’ product,” and “likely causes confusion among consumers” as to the source of the jeans.
As a result of such “willful, intentional and purposeful, in disregard of and with indifference to [Skinny Brand Jeans’] rights” by QVC, Hart is seeking an array of monetary damages, including punitive damages, statutory damages, treble damages, attorney’s fees and full costs and expenses in connection with the sale of QVC branded products which “unlawfully used Skinny Brand Jeans’ designs, copyrights, trade dress and other Intellectual property.”
Note: If you are perplexed by the alleged “non-functionality” of Skinny Brand Jeans’ asserted copyright and trade dress rights, both of which make specific mention of the “slimming” benefits of the design (an inherently functional effect), you are not alone. (For more about such functionality, Christopher Buccafusco and Jeanne Fromer’s Star Athletica amicus brief is worth a read).
A spokesman for QVC told TFL, “As our standard practice, QVC is unable to comment on pending litigation.”
* This case is called Skinny Brand Jeans LLC and Catherine Hart v. QVC, Inc., 2:18-cv-02011-JCJ (E.D.Pa).