Adidas didn’t invent stripes, but they want to prevent other brands from using it for commercial gain.
When it comes to stripes, does Adidas immediately come to mind? Well, that’s what the beloved sportswear brand wants to prove in a contentious legal battle with luxury fashion designer Thom Browne.
On Tuesday, attorneys for the German company and Browne appeared in Manhattan’s Southern District Court to, hopefully, answer the longstanding question: Is Browne’s namesake label infringing on Three Stripes’ using the classic parallel stripes on apparel, footwear, and other merchandise?
To Adidas’ credit, they’ve been using the triple stripe emblem since the 1940s, and Browne didn’t debut his own line until 2003. Known for sporty but meticulously tailored suits, Browne adds four stripes to its various pieces. The 57-year-old businessman doubled down on that aesthetic by wearing a black and grey shorts suit paired with black high socks, one of which striped. A number of Thom Browne’s famous clients include LeBron James and Lionel Messi, the latter of which has also had a relationship with Adidas.
According to WWD, Adidas wants $867,225 in damages that will go toward would-be licensing fees. Additionally, the brand is seeking $7 million USD for profits that it believes Browne made from pieces bearing stripes, according to Adidas lawyer R. Charles Henn Jr. of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP. Adidas, however, did admit they operate in a different retail market than their opponent. However, they still allege Browne’s use of four stripes still causes a mix up with buyers.
Browne’s attorney, Robert T. Maldonado of Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks P.C. argued customers aren’t actually misled by the two brands, and Adidas weren’t particularly affected with Browne’s inclusion of the stripes because the target audience is different.
“Thom Browne does not compete with Adidas,” Maldonado said. “Thom Browne is a luxury designer and adidas is a sports brand. Three stripes are not the same as four horizontal bars. [Adidas] fell asleep at the wheel and woke up too late.”
The trial itself is scheduled to last two weeks, but this spat has gone on for more than a year. Adidas first took legal action against Thom Browne in 2021, as reported by Hypebeast, claiming he is “selling athletic-style apparel and footwear featuring two, three or four parallel stripes in a manner that is confusingly similar to Adidas’ three-stripe mark.” In the original suit, they also stated Browne “imitates [its] three-stripe mark in a manner that is likely to cause consumer confusion and deceive the public regarding its source, sponsorship, association, or affiliation,” consequently “harming Adidas’ brand and its extremely valuable [mark].”