Khatu and Vickers' lawsuit argues that Bieber's brand presents a case of trademark infringement and unfair competition under federal and New York state law. The designers, who previously acquired trademark rights for Rhode on apparel and accessories, allege that Bieber's use of Rhode — her middle name — "threatens to trample a smaller senior user’s mark."
In fact, the elder Rhode's court filing points to instances in which Instagram users tagged the wrong Rhode, evidence of confusion among consumers.
"We didn't want to file this lawsuit, but we had to in order to protect our business," reads a statement from Khatu and Vickers, posted to their brand's Instagram account. "Hailey could choose any brand for her skin-care line. We have only the brand name 'RHODE' that we've built."
The statement, as well as the lawsuit, also alleges that Bieber attempted to purchase the Rhode trademark for clothing in 2018. Khatu and Vickers declined to sell.
"The law on this is clear: you can’t create this kind of brand confusion just because you want to use your name," Lisa Simpson, a lawyer for Rhode, said in a statement. "What Ms. Bieber is doing is harming a minority co-owned business that two women have painstakingly built into a growing global brand."
According to The Fashion Law, SKKN by Kim is currently facing opposition from Beauty Concepts LLC, a four-year-old skincare company that operates under the brand name SKKN+. In 2021, the Brooklyn-based entity began initiating opposition proceedings — currently pending — with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to prevent Kardashian from registering trademark applications for SKKN by Kim.
For consumers already sick of celebrity beauty brands, both cases add fuel to the fire — as Business of Fashion pointed out, celebrity brands often strike the public as "cheating." Fame affords a built-in audience, while companies such as Rhode and SKKN+ built their following organically.
To celebrity skeptics, lawsuits such as Rhode v. Rhode are basically David v. Goliath. We'll have to wait and see how things unfold in the courtroom, but in the court of public opinion, the underdog nearly always wins.