Thursday, August 11, 2011
U.S. federal judge has stepped on Christian Louboutin SA's red-soled shoes.
In a ruling Wednesday, Judge Victor Marrero denied the fashion house's request to halt sales of similar shoes made by Yves Saint Laurent, saying Louboutin would not likely prove its use of the color deserved legal trademark protection.
The issue may pale against the sea of red flowing in the markets lately, but it is big business for Louboutin, which has long colored the bottoms of its shoes to make them stand out.
The company won a trademark for red soles from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2008 and filed suit against PPR SA's YSL in federal court in Manhattan earlier this year, alleging some of its competitor's shoes featured soles in shades of red that were uncomfortably close to its own. Judge Marrero wasn't swayed.
"Because in the fashion industry color serves ornamental and aesthetic functions vital to robust competition, the court finds that Louboutin is unlikely to be able to prove that its red outsole brand is entitled to trademark protection," the judge wrote in his opinion.
Louboutin didn't respond to requests for comment. David Bernstein, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton who is representing YSL in the case, said the company is gratified by the court's decision. "No designer should ever be allowed to monopolize a color," he said.
Color is regularly trademarked in industrial uses—for instance, pink fiberglass insulation—where its only use is typically to distinguish a product. It gets trickier in matters of fashion, where color actually serves a fundamental purpose.
Complex uses of color like Burberry's plaid and Louis Vuitton's monogram have been trademarked, as have Tiffany's signature blue boxes. Levi Strauss & Co. has filed hundreds of suits against competitors it alleged infringed on its trademarked stitching and tag that decorate the back pockets of its Levi's jeans.
But Louboutin's claim breaks new ground, says Susan Scafidi, academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School, who said she hopes the case goes to trial. The dispute is "the most interesting case in fashion intellectual property that has come down in the past couple of years," she says. "I really want an answer."
The judge delivered his views with flair of his own, invoking Whitman ("A lawyer said, What is the red on the outsole of a woman's shoe?) and asking readers to visualize "industrial models sashaying down the runways in displays of the designs and shades of the season's collections of wall insulation."
He even sketched out an imaginary suit between Picasso and Monet. His conclusion: "Color constitutes a critical attribute of the goods." In other words, it can't be trademarked.
But the order didn't settle the broader issue. The judge ordered the parties to show up in court next week to argue why he shouldn't just cancel Louboutin's trademark outright.
Some in the industry say the recent development just raises more nettlesome questions for designers trying to have some measure of protection for things they consider fashion signatures.
"Clearly, the [United States Patent and Trademark Office] took an unprecedented decision when it agreed to register the color as a mark," Steven Kolb, chief executive of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, wrote in an email. "The issue is who has authority to decide this … the USPTO or the courts?"—Christina Passariello contributed to this article.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Le Neubourg, France
Linen has become a high-end staple on the designer-clothing racks. This year has seen Stella McCartney's blue silk/linen blazer for $2,145, a denim-like cotton/linen Valentino dress for $2,290, and a nouveau trench coat from Derek Lam for $1,450. Lanvin is selling brides a wedding gown made of cotton and linen for just under $6,000.
Yet these thousand-dollar linens have humble roots. Two-thirds of the world's linen originates in a narrow belt of farmland that stretches from northern France to the Netherlands. Mixed in among wheat, sugar-beet and corn crops are 200,000 acres of flax fields. "It's the muddy part of fashion," says Bertrand Coulier, head of Le Neubourg farmers' cooperative in Normandy, which begins the process of turning flax into fabric.
The savoir-faire in the region has helped elevate linen to a high-fashion fabric. Linen, the garb Egyptian mummies wore to their tombs, has long been synonymous with wrinkly weekend wear. Now, a more modern linen—woven into a jersey, blended with Spandex, or vintage-looking in its raw state—has become an environmentally friendly alternative to the old standards of cotton and wool. The latest linen blends are less wrinkly, less transparent and more versatile.
"Linen is like a rare wool," says Eric Vanfleteren, who runs La Linière Saint-Martin, comparing the niche fabric to alpaca or cashmere. La Linière Saint-Martin, also in Normandy, combs and grooms linen fibers to prepare them for weaving. (He also supplies short linen fibers that are used in U.S. dollar bills.) Céline's influential designer, Phoebe Philo, has used linen in several collections since taking over the label three years ago. Linen made it into the fall haute couture runway show of French designer Maxime Simoens last month.
Fashion brands are telling consumers more about the origins of their clothes. Linen, because it comes from such a limited region, is able to ride this movement. It is often marketed in the U.S. as "Belgian linen." Earlier this year, Japanese fashion brand Uniqlo sold a linen line in that was identified as grown in France. Serge Bensimon, founder of the French casual-wear brand Bensimon famous for its linen canvas sneakers, recently visited the northern French linen fields. Linen makers also tout the facts that all parts of the flax plant are used, including the edible seeds, and that linen doesn't require chemicals in its basic production.
Recent volatility in cotton prices has closed a historical gap with linen prices. Cotton prices more than doubled in the past year, hitting a high of $2.30 a pound in March, according to the National Cotton Council of America, though last month they returned to last year's level of around $1 per pound. Le Neubourg, one of France's biggest linen cooperatives, sold linen at $1.27 a pound on average last year.
Unlike cotton, linen isn't traded on a commodities market. Its price depends merely on the supply from a more or less bountiful harvest and the demand from linen spinners. Last year, at the Normandy cooperative, one hectare's worth of linen—enough to make 4,000 shirts—sold for 2,500 euros (about $3,550). Yet to produce one pound of linen requires twice the land and twice the manpower cost of cotton.
"It takes up 15% of my fields and 50% of my worries," says farmer Pascal Prevost. "We're like wine makers who put their souls in the bottle."
Flax is a high-maintenance fiber—one reason its production is so limited around the world. Each summer, about three months after sowing, the slender stems grow waist-high and a blue flower blooms on each plant. When the plants dry out and turn golden in the sun, the flax is ready for harvest. There's a sound that also tells farmers when flax is ripe for picking: The linseeds inside each dried pod make a hushed rattle when the wind whips up. Large machines pluck the plants from the soil, unearthing even the roots, which contain linen fibers.
"The quality of the linen starts in the fields," says Jean-Baptiste Voisin, a farmer and president of the Le Neubourg cooperative.
The maturing of harvested flax is what makes the process so specific to northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Farmers let the rows of plucked flax lie in the sun and rain for several weeks. The alternation of sun and rain in this European coastal climate propagates a fungus that grows on the flax stems, rotting them to help separate the linen fibers from their husk. In warmer countries such as Egypt, this step—called retting—can be done in water, but it results in polluted water.
The dried flax is rolled into large bundles and delivered to the cooperative in Le Neubourg. The cooperative belongs to the 350 farmers who deliver their flax for scutching, when machines extract the linen fibers. The flax goes into one end of the long machine looking like hay and emerges as long strings of raw linen.
Mr. Voisin grabs a handful of linen fibers and squeezes it. "When it wrinkles, it's because it's rich in oil, a sign of good quality," he says, opening his fist to show the creases. At the end of the scutching line, the cooperative uses five criteria to measure quality: oiliness, color, strength, fineness and homogeneity. The longest fibers can measure three feet.
Since China began building linen-weaving companies 20 years ago, the bulk of linen fibers have headed east to be turned into various textiles. The Le Neubourg cooperative has teamed up with two other nearby cooperatives to sell fibers to weaving companies, giving them greater bargaining power. Together, the three cooperatives account for 30% of the world production of linen fibers. Chinese companies buy 80% of their supply.
Yet the cooperative keeps the finest tresses for European weavers, Mr. Voisin says. The European spinners—Safilin and Linificio, based in France and Italy, respectively—sell much of their fabrics to high-end fashion.
"This will go into a postal bag," Mr. Voisin says, handling two different bunches of linen strands, "and this will go to Cerruti," the high-end Italian weaver.
Write to Christina Passariello at email@example.com
Monday, August 1, 2011
GREENPEACEUndercover investigation reveals suppliers of top clothing brands polluting China’s rivers
Undercover investigation reveals suppliers of top clothing brands polluting China’s rivers
Press release - 2011-07-13
Beijing — Greenpeace released new evidence showing that the suppliers of major clothing brands, including sportswear giants Adidas, Nike and Li Ning, are polluting rivers part of the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas in China. Greenpeace’s Dirty Laundry report, researched and investigated over a one-year period, reveals that hazardous chemicals with hormone-disrupting properties have been found in wastewater samples from two factory complexes that supply these and other global fashion brands.
“Our tests of the wastewater found toxic chemicals that have no place in our natural environment,” stated Greenpeace Toxics Campaigner Li Yifang. “As the world’s factory, China is the production base for many global and domestic fashion brands. Now we have scientific evidence confirming that hazardous chemicals are being released into China’s rivers to make clothes worn by people around the globe.”
Youngor Textiles Factory - Ningbo, China
Youngor Textiles Factory, in Yinzhou District, Ningbo. Situated on the Yangtze River Delta. Youngor is a major textiles and apparel brand in China. © Qiu Bo / Greenpeace
Greenpeace is challenging the clothing brands named in the report to eliminate the use and discharge of hazardous chemicals from their supply chain and products. “We are calling on trendsetting brands that have major influence on their supply chains, such as Adidas, Nike and Li Ning, to take the lead,” Li stated. “These brands have the ability and responsibility to work with their suppliers to provide products that do not irrevocably damage the environment and public health.”
Laboratory testing found a cocktail of hazardous chemicals, including nonylphenols – a subset of alkylphenols – and perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), in wastewater samples from the Youngor Textile Complex on the Yangtze River Delta and Well Dyeing Factory on the Pearl River Delta.
Alkylphenols and PFCs have hormone-disrupting properties and can be hazardous even at low levels. They are persistent in the environment, can move up through the food chain, and can travel great distances via air and water currents. Because of this, alkylphenols and some PFCs are restricted by the EU and international conventions. Nevertheless, they are still widely used by the textiles industry in developing countries such as China, where they have yet to be restricted.
“Currently many of the highlighted brands take a ‘not in my product’ approach towards hazardous chemicals, only restricting some of them in their final products. This is unacceptable," stated Li. "Such policies essentially give suppliers the green light to discharge hazardous wastewater as long as the chemicals are not found in the products. We are asking brands to take a more comprehensive approach and eliminate all hazardous chemicals throughout their supply chain to ensure that they do not end up in China’s rivers or the products themselves.”
Greenpeace’s report comes at a time when an estimated 70% of China’s rivers and lakes are polluted. To mark the launch of a global campaign that aims to push clothing brands and their suppliers to achieve “zero hazardous discharge”, Greenpeace activists today put up banners with the campaign slogan “Detox” on the main entrances of Adidas’ and Nike’s flagship stores in Beijing.