In a surprising move streetwear brand Supreme has sued Leah McSweeney’s Married To The Mob for $10 million dollars over the brand’s popular “Supreme Bitch” design. Originally released as part of the brand’s inaugural 2004 collection as a commentary on the men’s dominated streetwear landscape, the design has since come to define the label causing Supreme’s James Jebbia to seek damages as the design “infringes his trademark rights.”
The case is curious for a number of reasons. For instance, the tee was carried at Union in 2004, a shop owned and managed by Jebbia. Furthermore, the original Supreme design is largely based on the work of prolific artist Barbara Kruger, not to mention the number of brands Supreme has reappropriated over the years.
On the other hand, Supreme set out from the beginning to keep their product exclusive and the practically unregulated reproduction of “Supreme Bitch” certainly waters down Supreme’s exclusivity and integrity.
McSweeney had the following to say about the case:
As some of you may have heard, Supreme is suing me for $10 million over my “Supreme Bitch” design. I’ve been using this design since the first MOB collection in summer 2004. I even sold it as a tee at Union, a store owned and managed by Supreme’s founder James Jebbia, who gave the design his blessing. Now, he’s claiming that the design infringes his trademark rights.
Unlike some companies that blatantly rip-off other brand logos, Married To The Mob has always had its own identity and aesthetic by being an extension of my life experiences. I started this company when I was 22 and have come a long way without a piggyback ride from anyone.
Supreme Bitch is one design of many; one slogan of many. And the use of the design has always been to make fun of the misogynistic vibe of Supreme and the boys who wear it.
Bottom line is this: I don’t think Supreme should be able to squash free speech or my right to utilize parody in my design aesthetic. It’s one of the most powerful ways for me to comment on the boy’s club mentality that’s pervasive in the streetwear/skater world. The fact that Supreme is coming after MOB and me personally is just another example of the hostility that MOB — the first women’s street wear brand — has faced from Day 1. And it’s why the Supreme Bitch message is so important.
Civil liberties attorney Norman Siegel agreed to take my case and act as co-counsel along with Edward Rosenthal of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC, a law firm that specializes in trademark issues. This isn’t a fight I went out looking for, but I have no choice other than to fight back. Because right now, it’s about more than just a t-shirt!
More recently, a New York Magazine article has provided a few more details:
In 2004, when 22-year-old Leah McSweeney started a women’s skate-fashion line called Married To The Mob, her first T-shirt was a sort of homage: supreme bitch written in the Supreme (via Kruger) style. Jebbia carried the shirts in Union, another store he owned. As Supreme’s fortunes multiplied, so did Supreme Bitch. Rihanna posted pictures of herself in a Supreme Bitch cap. Karmaloop and Urban Outfitters have sold Supreme Bitch items. In January, McSweeney took what would be a normal step for an upstart clothing label: She filed a trademark application for Supreme Bitch. Two months later, Supreme sued McSweeney for $10 million and demanded she remove the offending items from retailers. According to Jebbia, McSweeney’s shirts aren’t just logo appropriation; they’re “trying to build her whole brand by piggybacking off Supreme.” Though he does remember approving the original Supreme Bitch designs, at the time, “I thought it was just going to be a one-off. Now it’s on hats, T-shirts, towels, mugs, mouse pads.” McSweeney has a different take: “There’s this one Barbara Kruger piece that says, ‘Your comfort is my silence,’ and I can’t help but think that I’m being silenced by Supreme with this lawsuit. I don’t have $250,000 to litigate this case, and they know that.”
UPDATE: On June 24, 2013 reports come in that Supreme has dropped the lawsuit against Married to the MOB, after having reached an amicable solution.