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Fashion Giant Shein Sued For Stealing Weed Brand Cookies Sweatshirt Design

Photo illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty

The story is now so commonplace that it’s become a fashion cliché: Whether you’re an independent creator with an Etsy shop or an iconic brand employing a large team of creatives, at some point, you share a link to a item for sale on Shein. an email or DM or text. “Hello”, could read the message from a confused colleague or client. “Isn’t this your design?”

Cookies SF, a hugely popular clothing brand launched in 2011 by the co-founder of US billion dollar marijuana brand Cookies, filed a lawsuit against Shein on November 2 accusing the Chinese fast-fashion giant (the retailer generated $15.7 billion in 2021) of trademark infringement and counterfeiting. At issue is a sweatshirt that was at one point listed for sale on Shein’s website that Cookies SF says accurately reproduces its trademark Cookies Mark: the distinctive loop-shaped logo that appears on nearly all of its clothing.

Cookies co-founder Gilbert Milam Jr., better known by his rapper moniker Berner, was not available for comment.

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Cookies SF is just the latest in a long line of outraged companies accusing Shein of scamming, manufacturing and selling their original ideas at astonishing speed, but the counterfeit accusation goes beyond an accusation of trademark infringement or theft of Intellectual Property: While both trademark infringement and counterfeiting describe unauthorized use, a counterfeit is defined as “a spurious mark that is identical to or substantially indistinguishable from a registered trademark.”

In other words, trademark infringement may be unintentional, but counterfeiting is definitely misleading. Street wear brand Stüssy also sued Shein for counterfeiting in March.

According to the Wall Street JournalAs of 2020, Shein has been named a defendant in more than 50 US federal lawsuits accusing the company of trademark infringement or copyright infringement. High-profile plaintiffs include Levi Strauss and Ralph Lauren, the latter of whom accused Shein of selling items with a logo that looked “confusingly similar” to her classic polo player brand; Lesser-known creatives like Bailey Prado, who accused the retailer of ripping off her handmade crochet designs, say they too have been scammed.

“I was hoping to find a copy of just one of my designs,” from Shein, Prado told Dazed last year. “When I saw the entire collection and began to recognize each piece, knowing where they came from, it shocked me and didn’t feel like it was real. I was just in shock.”

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Maggie Stephenson, a freelance artist, sued Shein this summer for $100 million over an allegedly stolen design. Stephenson was not available for comment.

Whether you’re a small business owner or a multibillion-dollar brand, Shein’s sophisticated trend-tracking algorithm can find and target any design online that customers might respond to, analysts say.

Many disputes between designers and Shein have been settled over undisclosed amounts, and no infringement case against Shein has ever reached court.

“Our client is going to take this case to trial and force Shein to face a jury for the first time, and no amount can change that,” said attorney Jeff Gluck, an attorney with a reputation for representing a number of high-end clothing brands. street that now includes Cookies SF, he told The Daily Beast. The brand seeks “enforcement of its rights to the fullest extent possible, including, but not limited to, maximum damages for alleged willful misrepresentation,” Gluck said.

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“Shein’s notorious and well-documented business model relies on willful violations of the rights and interests of independent artists and designers,” the Cookies SF lawsuit states.

“Shein takes all claims of infringement seriously,” the retailer told The Daily Beast in a statement. “It is not our intention to infringe on anyone’s valid intellectual property and it is not our business model to do so. Shein suppliers must comply with company policy and certify that their products do not infringe the intellectual property of third parties. We continue to invest in and improve our product review process.”

“Cookies really don’t have much of a financial interest in taking a claim to trial,” Douglas Hand, a partner at Hand Baldachin & Associates and an adjunct professor of fashion law at New York University, told The Daily Beast.

“I say that because Cookies makes money selling weed, not selling hoodies,” Hand said. “They can promote their branded marijuana products through these hoodies, but Shein is arguably only helping in that regard, ironically, by appropriating the trademark. I give Cookies a lot of credit for bringing this claim, and I hope they pursue it to the end, but the business case may not be there if what Shein comes back with is a healthy settlement offer.”

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“I would expect Cookies to ask for and maybe get a six-figure settlement in connection with this dispute,” Hand said.

The dispute “is a little more complicated than the complaint would have you believe,” Susan Scafidi, academic director of Fordham University’s Fashion Law Institute, told The Daily Beast. “The Cookies trademark is not yet registered as a trademark because the application is pending and therefore the use would not technically be a counterfeit. They are getting a little ahead of themselves in their claims.”

Even if the Cookies dispute goes to trial, there is almost certainly no single lawsuit that could topple Shein or significantly change the company, Scafidi said.

“Shein is regularly accused of imitating designs, but what they have really imitated is an entire business model: the fast fashion business model of a couple of decades ago,” Scafidi said. “These demands are simply treated as the cost of doing business. It takes a long time to negotiate a license to use someone else’s work in advance, so she waits for the lawsuit and pays the final part. It is essentially an involuntary license.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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