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A short history of counterfeit sneaker designs

From Forever 21 to Nike, stealing sneaker styles is ubiquitous

Posted by Acclaim

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While it may seem like fast fashion giants ripping of the little guy is a somewhat recent development, fakery, copies, and counterfeit items have been an unfortunate reality of the fashion industry for centuries now—long before serial sartorial thieves H&M and Zara hit the scene.

What’s made the recent slew of rip offs more insidious and problematic then appropriation and mimicry in times gone by is the lightning speed with which fast fashion operates. If the $300 pair of sneakers you just blew your savings on turned up in Topshop as an only vaguely modified form just a few weeks later, you’d be feeling pretty bummed right? Granted, much of sneaker culture is about exclusivity and being one of the lucky few to cop a certain new release, but if hundreds of people can purchase a pair that at first glance appears to be exactly the same as the real deal, that sneaker’s image inevitably becomes a little tarnished.

In a recent example of this, the Puma x Forever 21 lawsuit (where Forever 21 has rightfully been accused of unashamedly ripping of the Rihanna designed range of Puma footwear) is heating up, with Puma serving Forever 21 with a design patent, copyright infringement, and trade dress lawsuit over the Rihanna designed Bow Slide, Fur Slide, and Creeper designs. In the competitive, high pressure world of sneaker design, it’s no wonder that certain styles and designs stand out from the pack to become iconic bestsellers, leaving creatively lacking brands and companies scrabbling for a slice of that sweet sneaker pie, even if it’s not even really their pie to begin with. Take a look below at a selection of recent, often embarrassingly blatant, sneaker rip offs that have sparked legal action.

01. Puma x Forever 21

https://twitter.com/idcdarIing/status/844427935562039297

Puma has experienced a rapid upswing in popularity since the release of their Rihanna designed range of footwear, and they’re clearly prepared to fight tooth and nail to keep it that way. The brand purposefully keeps low levels of stock on all Rihanna designs in order to increase demand for the products, and it’s a system that’s been working out pretty nicely for them thus far, with sought after second hand pairs retailing for hundreds on eBay. However, Puma claims that Forever 21’s recent rip-off versions of their Bow Slide, Fur Slide, and Creeper are confusing consumers and more significantly, taking profit away from Puma. The sneaker behemoth is pursuing preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, as well as demanding all profits and damages incurred by Forever 21’s forgery. You’d almost feel sorry for Forever 21 if they weren’t so completely deserving of some karmic retribution.

02. Adidas x Skechers

Very occasionally, a design comes along that isn’t merely an ode to a certain style of sneaker, instead it just is that sneaker. This is what happened in 2015 when Adidas sued Skechers for their Onix sneaker, a shoe that is essentially an ever so slightly re-jigged Stan Smith, complete with the raised green heel tab, angled perforated lines, and classic tennis shoe profile. It was evident to anyone looking at the Onix sneaker that Skecher’s designers had been too lazy or too careless to even attempt putting their own spin on things. Apart from the blatant design stealing Skechers engaged in, what makes this case stand out is that a federal judge ordered Skechers to stop selling its Onix sneaker in February 2016, declaring them to be a direct replica of the Stan Smith. While this seems like an obvious reaction to a very obvious rip-off, sneaker companies have been getting away with stealing designs for years, and this decision has set an important precedent for all future sneaker related court cases.

03. Converse x 31 different companies

Arguably the most iconic shoe of all time, the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star has been mercilessly mimicked and replicated by a absurdly large amount of brands and companies—think Walmart, Skechers, Ralph Lauren, Fila, and H&M, just to name a few.

Considering the timelessness of the Chuck Taylor All-Star and the fact that Converse has been in the game for over 100 years, it makes sense that they would do everything in their power to protect their iconic design. In October 2014 they did just that, suing 31 companies for infringing upon the Chuck Taylor All-Star design, claiming that trademark infringement had occurred and listing their three trademarks as the rubber toe bumper, the toe cap and the stripes going around the shoe. While an International Trade Commission judge initially ruled that these all constituted valid trademarks, the decision was later overturned and it was decided that only the diamond pattern out sole on the shoe was a valid trademark. Despite this only being a partial win for Converse, it’s an important win for those against shoe replication as it provides greater protection for sneaker designs, meaning that trademark protection for shoe designs may eventually become a reality.

04. Nike x Adidas

Adidas are known to be a formidable force in the fashion industry when it comes to protecting their designs, but they perhaps met their match when it comes to sneaker and sportswear giant Nike. The legal rivalry between these two dates back to 2005 but the first shoe related drama took place in 2006. Nike filed suit against Adidas citing patent infringement in connection with a patent for a sneaker with a lateral stabilizing sole, part of Nike’s SHOX cushioning technology.

To this day, there are still ongoing legal issues surrounding the brands’ knitted sneaker designs, with Nike alleging that their Flyknit shoe was the first of its kind and ordering that Adidas halt the production and sale of their knitted sneaker. In retaliation, adidas challenged the validity of Nike’s European patent several months later, and despite the case seemingly being in Nike’s favour, the court eventually ruled in favour of Adidas on the grounds that the technology involved in making the knitted upper of the shoe has been around since the 1940s.

More recently, in 2014 Nike filed a $10 million lawsuit against three of their top level designers who had left Nike to work for Adidas, taking with them a veritable ‘treasure trove’ of top secret information, including drawings for unreleased shoes and the plans for Nike’s high tech design studio, enabling adidas to create their own copycat version. While the lawsuit was settled outside of court in 2015, it’s pretty clear that there’s no love lost between these two sneaker powerhouses.

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