Amid a pandemic, supply chain slowdowns, and record high inflation, there was no shortage of legal issues affecting the fashion industry in 2021.
As is typical for the industry, trademark complaints and disputes made up the bulk of the legal dramas in 2021. Many brands such as Nike, Yeezy, and Crocs cracked down on what they perceived as “copycat” products from competing brands. In some cases, complaints were filed before 2021 and saw new updates throughout the year.
Other notable legal battles in 2021 centered around false advertising, fraud, and counterfeit.
From Nike and John Geiger’s trademark dispute to Yeezy suing Walmart for copycat shoes, FN rounded up the biggest legal dramas to hit retail and fashion firms in 2021.
Crocs cracks down on copycat clogs
Crocs Inc. filed lawsuits in July against 21 companies for allegedly infringing on its trademarks. The defendants include Walmart Inc., Loeffler Randall Inc. and Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. as well as many lesser-known companies that sell online — or wholesale to retailers such as Walmart. The suits follow Crocs’ complaint in June with the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) requesting an investigation into the unlawful import and sale of allegedly infringing footwear.
The Broomfield, Colo.-based footwear brand’s clog surged in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic and was even named the Shoe of the Year at the 35th annual FN Achievement Awards.
Nike sues over ‘Satan Shoes’
In March, Nike filed a trademark infringement and dilution complaint against MSCHF, the company that released its controversial Satan Shoes with Lil Nas X. The shoes were essentially the classic Air Max 97s reimagined with black uppers and red detailing. Only 666 pairs of the shoe, which also contained drops of human blood and sold for $1,018, were meant to be released.
John Geiger and Nike battle over infringement claims
Nike named footwear designer John Geiger a defendant in August 2021 when it expanded its initial complaint against footwear manufacturer La La Land Production & Design.
According to the complaint, La La Land supplied Geiger with sneakers that were similar to Nike’s Air Force 1 shoes, which infringed on certain trade dress elements for that product. Nike said that Geiger’s marketing and selling of the shoes intentionally created “confusion in the marketplace” and capitalized “on Nike’s reputation and the reputation of its iconic shoes.”
However, Geiger filed a motion to dismiss the trademark infringement lawsuit from Nike in November. In the motion filed to dismiss the case, Geiger’s counsel argued that his shoes lack Nike’s iconic Swoosh and instead feature Geiger’s own signature “G” logo.
“I’m preparing to fight this battle for all creator and underdogs fighting the same uphill battle as me,” Geiger wrote in a public statement on his Instagram account.
Lululemon and Peloton’s spat over apparel
In November, Lululemon accused Peloton of trade dress infringement, false designation of origin, and unfair competition. The lawsuit represented an escalation in the legal battle between both athletic powerhouses. Lululemon filed this lawsuit just days after Peloton brought the allegations to a Manhattan federal court. In this Nov. 24 filing, Peloton asked the court to reject Lululemon’s “baseless” copyright infringement claims that “lack any merit” because of clear differences that distinguish the sets of products, including the brand logos.
In 2016, Peloton and Lululemon launched a wholesale co-branding partnership wherein Lululemon supplied apparel to Peloton. The items were generally co-branded with both companies’ trademarks and re-sold via Peloton’s showrooms and website. This partnership ended in 2021, after which Peloton launched its own product line.
According to the complaint, “Peloton imitated several of Lululemon’s innovative designs and sold knock-offs of Lululemon’s products, claiming them as its own” after the partnership ended.
Yeezy sues Walmart for copycat shoes
In June, Kanye West and Yeezy sued Walmart for allegedly selling copycat versions of its popular Yeezy Foam Runners. The suit claimed that by selling an “unauthorized exact copy” of the “sustainable” algae-based slip-on, Walmart effectively deprived West and Yeezy of “market share they otherwise would have had,” according to Sourcing Journal.
Walmart said the footwear in question was sold by third party marketplace sellers, not Walmart.
This suit follows another legal spat involving Walmart’s Logo. Walmart Apollo LLC filed a notice of opposition with the United States Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in April, arguing that a sunburst-star trademark sought after by West’s brand is too similar to its own spark-like logo.
Nike-backed track coach was banned for misconduct
Alberto Salazar, the once-celebrated coach who led Nike’s Oregon Project for long-distance running until 2019, was officially banned from the sport by the U.S. Center for SafeSport in December after trying to appeal a July ruling.
The organization initially cited sexual and emotional misconduct in its ruling. The news followed a 2019 New York Times op-ed video by former teen track star Mary Cain alleging that Salazar publicly shamed her for not meeting weight targets and demanded weight loss to the point that she missed periods, broke five bones and suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. Several of Cain’s Nike teammates came forward to back up her experiences, describing an environment of psychological and verbal abuse
Salazar appealed SafeSport’s initial July ruling. Now that the ruling is official, the SafeSport database only lists sexual misconduct, not emotional misconduct, as the reason for the ban. Salazar has previously denied any allegations of abuse or weight shaming, while apologizing for potentially hurtful comments.
“In August 2021, we changed the Alberto Salazar building name to Next% following SafeSport’s decision to permanently ban Alberto from coaching,” Nike told FN in a statement.
Nike Sues Adidas for patent infringement
In this clash of the sneaker titans, Nike accused Adidas of infringing on patents related to its technology for knitted footwear. In a complaint, filed in early December, Nike asked for an FTC investigation into Adidas’ “unlawful and unauthorized importation” and sale of products that infringe on Nike’s own Flyknit technology.
According to Nike, Adidas has “forgone independent innovation” and has instead “spent much of the past decade challenging several of Nike’s patents directed to Flyknit technology.”
Nike unveiled its Flyknit technology in 2012, which it has described as “groundbreaking technology” for performance footwear. In the complaint, Nike highlighted Adidas’ Primeknit shoes, which it says infringes on Nike’s Flyknit technology. Nike is seeking a ruling to prevent Adidas from infringing any further.
“We are currently analyzing the complaint and will defend ourselves against the allegations,” Adidas told FN in a statement. Our Primeknit technology resulted from years of dedicated research and shows our commitment to sustainability.”