It’s not uncommon to see Off-White™ in the dock over claims of copyright infringement, but now the shoe is on the other foot as the brand sues a streetwear-inspired California ice cream chain.
As per The Fashion Law, the Virgil Abloh-helmed brand claims Afters Ice Cream merch and store decor are “confusingly similar” to Off-White™’s graphics and multi-diagonal stripe mark. “The Off-White brand has been recognized for its distinctive graphic and logo-heavy apparel designs, including a unique design mark comprised of alternating parallel diagonal lines, which has been used on or in connection with Off-White products since at least as early as 2013,” reads the complaint, which was filed in a California federal court last Tuesday.
It continues that “retail fixtures, signage, [and] interior décor” is intended to “confuse consumers into believing that [its] products are Off-White products and/or that [it or its] business is affiliated with Off-White.”
While there can be no denying the similarities between Afters’ merch and Off-White™’s, there is a dollop of irony to the story given the latter has been accused of stealing designs on more than one occasion. Indeed, Abloh has never hidden his “cheat codes,” including the “three percent approach,” which theorizes a design can be considered new if the original is changed by three percent. Opening it up even wider, brands putting a spin on bigger company logos has long been a part of streetwear’s DNA.
Afters’ “Off-Diet” T-shirts aren’t very good, but it might be surprising to some that a brand such as Off-White™ would challenge what is a relatively harmless endeavor. It’s long been rumored that the design language in question was directly lifted by Abloh from Glasgow Airport’s logo — designed by Margaret Calvert in the 1960s — which also featured stripes on vehicles, forklift trucks, and flight ladders. In 2018, Norwegian sportswear brand Helly Hansen leveled a suit against Off-White™ for copyright infringement of its striped logo, claiming it initially began using it more than 40 years before. Most recently, Abloh made headlines after clashing with Belgian designer Walter Van Beirendock, who claimed Louis Vuitton’s SS21 collection copied one of his — an accusation that was strongly refuted.
That said, with Afters’ business continuing to grow each year (including a healthy following of over 500,000 users on Instagram), it is also understandable that the New Guards Group-owned Off-White™ would want to nip such imitations in the bud. Off-White™ is not the only streetwear brand that Afters has tweaked, having also riffed on the likes of Anti Anti Social Club (Anti Anti Diet Club *winces*) and Fear of God (Fear of Diet *grimace*). Still, terrible banter aside, all hope may not be lost for the company, as the original report points out there is a chance it may be excused on the basis of parody. Parody is defined legally as “a simple form of entertainment conveyed by juxtaposing the irreverent representation of [a] trademark with the idealized image created by the mark’s owner.” The fact the merch is not a copy-and-paste type job and has been altered means that that could prove to be a successful argument.
It is said that Off-White™ is seeking “an award of [Afters’] profits, and damages in an amount to be proven at trial for willful trademark infringement of [its] federally registered Off-White marks” as well as “injunctive relief to bar Afters from continuing to engage in such allegedly infringing conduct.” Stay tuned for updates in the meantime.