One of the biggest trending bags of 2017 happened to be Cult Gaia’s Ark bag.
The bag consisted of a delicate and crescent-shaped bamboo material that somewhat resembled a picnic basket.
And if the full aesthetic of the bag wasn’t enough, the price mark definitely was, retailing at initially less than $100.
The bag was also featured in high-end publications like:
- Harper’s Bazaar
And with a growing waiting list of 1,800+ people long, it came as no surprise that other brands would attempt making knockoffs versions of their own.
Amazon took a stab at creating their own version of the bag, as well as Red Dress Boutique and Perennial Chic.
But it was Steve Madden’s version that seemed nearly identical to the original model from Cult Gaia.
In February, Cult Gaia claimed the Steve Madden’s version — the BShipper, $68 — was a direct copy of the Ark and threaten to sue for infringement.
But then, Steve Madden decided to turn around and sue Cult Gaia.
Steve Madden argued that by attempting to gain exclusive rights to the bag’s design, Cult Gaia was treating the bag as an original.
Steve Madden’s lawyers argued, the Ark bag “slavishly copies the traditional Japanese bamboo picnic bag design” of the 1940s.
The dispute between Cult Gaia and Steve Madden touches on much bigger and therefore, much more complicated issues regarding appropriation and trademarking in fashion.
In fashion, contemporary brands have a tendency to touch on past styles, which act as an influence, allowing them to create pieces that are essentially vintage-inspired collections.
These pieces then are hoped to become trendy.
But when a look becomes exceedingly popular and simultaneously associated with one brand, the creator can file for a trademark.
And in this case, that’s exactly what Cult Gaia tried to do.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office rejected the trademark, noting the Ark bag “an iteration or appropriation of a style of bag from the Japanese culture.”
But in terms of the design, the Trademark Office said, “is a classic shape and style of carrying bag for personal use.” (The company has additional time to present its case.)
Cult Gaia’s founder, Jasmin Larian, claims her inspiration came from Japanese bamboo bags.
In 2016, Larian tells Who What Wear Australia:
“I used to collect them.”
But she still may have a case for a trademark.
Susan Scafidi, the founder of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University, was the first to report on this lawsuit and notes:
“trademarks consist of words or symbols that indicate source — in fashion, things like the designer’s name on the label, the Nike swoosh or Adidas’s three stripes.”
So theoretically, the shape of the bag can also serve as a trademark, and this especially true if shoppers are associating the shape with a specific brand.
Scafidi says Larian is “trying to register the shape of the Ark bag as a trademark, arguing that, like the Hermès Birkin, US customers immediately associate that style with her and Cult Gaia.”
So, in February, Cult Gaia’s lawyer at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp sent a letter to Steve Madden stating that if the company did not cease and desist all advertising and selling of its version of the Japanese basket bag, Cult Gaia would “file a lawsuit seeking any and all available legal and equitable remedies, including injunctive relief, monetary damages, restitution, and attorneys’ fees.”
In the suit, Cult Gaia has also listed other demands.
This isn’t the first time Steve Madden has been accused of imitating other brands.
In the past, Steve Madden has been accused by:
But this is a first for Steve Madden to respond by suing the company they may have copied.
The fight clearly isn’t over as Scafidi says Larian “could still bag a trademark on the Ark design and hit Steve Madden over the head with it, but she’ll have to get past the U.S.P.T.O. first.”