It’s any small business owner’s worst nightmare: realizing that a larger, much more powerful company has stolen your intellectual property, and that fighting them will be an uphill battle at best. Designer Liz Seklir of the eco-friendly label LYS learned about a seemingly overt copy of her concept when her brother-in-law snapped photos of a new plus-size women’s clothing line inside KMart, also called LYS and bearing a near-identical logo.
While Seklir’s designs are top-quality garments made of natural, farmer-friendly and often organic textiles and low-impact dyes in New York City’s garment district, Kmart’s LYS (Love Your Style, Love Your Size) line consists of polyester machine-made clothes in China that sell for as little as $13.99 each. Reflecting their artisanal nature, Seklir’s designs are more expensive, starting at over $100.
Flip through Seklir’s LYS collections and Kmart’s wares, and there’s no question of the difference in quality; and while the aesthetics certainly vary, there are enough similarities between the two brands to cause confusion among customers. Before she learned of Kmart’s lookalike brand, Seklir received an email thanking her for a sequined top, though none of her designs bore sequins. At the time, she figured it was just a mistake.
It’s not hard to see how this brand confusion could influence how consumers view LYS. While Seklir’s garments (pictured below) are constructed to last a long time while having a low impact on the environment, Kmart’s LYS line is manufactured in the cheapest ways possible. Consumers’ perception of Kmart clothing and its level of quality and environmental responsibility could rub off on Seklir’s company.
But since Seklir didn’t have the $4,000 it would have cost to trademark her company name when she was first starting up in 2009, she’s in for a tough legal fight. The designer filed a lawsuit for trademark infringement against Kmart in March 2012, but the company has been very slow to respond, and continues to sell its LYS clothing online and in stores.
LYS isn’t the first eco label forced to deal with disheartening trademark issues against a big company. In 2011, sustainable label Feral Childe saw Forever21 blatantly copy one of its designs and sell it as its own. Feral Childe filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the company, joining a number of other designers who saw their designs stolen by the massive retailer, which uses veritable slave labor to sell its clothing dirt-cheap.
Whatever the outcome, Seklir continues to move forward, and plans to add online shopping to her website this spring. You can see her beautiful designs at LYSNewYork.com.