Thom Browne's signature striped branding has sparked a surprise lawsuit from adidas, as first reported by The Fashion Law. In a suit filed just this week, adidas argues that Browne's branding somehow "imitates" the Three Stripes — despite the two companies existing in pretty different markets.
In the initial complaint, adidas claimed that Browne is swiping from the Three Stripes' "widespread fame and tremendous public recognition" and "extremely valuable goodwill" that adidas garnered from "millions of dollars" of public promotion. "Despite Thom Browne’s knowledge of [adidas'] rights in the famous three-stripe mark... [Browne] has expanded its product offerings far beyond [its] formal wear and business attire speciality," adidas continued. Browne is now "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," part of an alleged bid to intentionally "deceive the public."
Thom Browne did recently expand his offering to include more elements of sportswear and his mainline fare has always incorporated at least some athleisure. In particular, his sweatsuits remain perennial best-sellers; like all of his casualwear, they're branded with his signature three red, white, and blue stripes or four tonal lines. Browne also recently deepened his partnership with F.C. Barecelona — though adidas no longer sponsors the club, it sees the move as Browne further stepping onto its sporty turf.
The lawsuit is pretty bizarre, however, because adidas and Browne aren't really competitors. adidas' affordable hoodies, sweatpants, workout gear, and sneakers are pretty distinct from Browne's in terms of make and market — would Browne really benefit from someone mistaking his expensive sportswear for adidas' garments? Sure, adidas has an occasional luxury inclination, but its output is significantly more affordable than Browne's goods, so it appears as though each company is angling for entirely different customers.
It's also worth reiterating that adidas is famously litigious, perhaps even more so than Nike. adidas has battled nearly every brand to even consider using a design that mildly recalls Three Stripe, from Skechers to J. Crew, though its capers haven't always been successful.
Still, adidas claims to have been "investigating" Browne's output since 2018, even opposing European trademarks filed by Browne to cover his striped branding and engaging in "fruitless" negotiations with Browne. In December 2020, adidas made similar efforts to prevent Browne from successfully filing a similar trademark in America, hence the new suit. adidas' goal with this effort — as quoted from the filing by The Fashion Law — is to procure monetary damages from Browne and prevent the designer from "distributing, marketing, or selling apparel and footwear using or bearing confusingly similar imitations of the adidas Three-Stripe Mark."
An adidas representative declined to comment to Highsnobiety on the ongoing case.
Highsnobiety also reached out to Thom Browne, but at time of writing the brand hasn't responded. Instead, Rodrigo Bazan, Browne's CEO, told WWD that adidas initially gave Browne permission to use its own pattern for at least 12 years.
"What is important to understand is that adidas gave its consent to Thom Browne over 10 years ago and in fact suggested that Thom add an additional stripe to reach four on the sleeves or the pants and that this would be OK by adidas," a Browne spokesman also told WWD. "From that point for over a decade adidas never said a word to Thom Browne. For adidas to claim it has lost value in its trademarks or that somehow they have lost sales ... is simply nonsense."