Meet Thom Browne, the stripe-obsessed designer who took on Adidas and won

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  • Thom Browne defeated Adidas in court this month over its right to use its four stripe design.

  • Adidas sought $7.8 million in damages, alleging consumers could easily confuse the two brands.

  • Over the years, Thom Browne has placed parallel stripe designs on sweaters, socks, and more.

American designer Thom Browne grew wider recognition among fashionistas this month after the high-end designer took on Adidas in court and won.

Adidas sued the fashion house in 2021, alleging that customers can confuse Thom Browne's four-stripe brand designs with Adidas' three stripes. The company also alleged that Thom Browne's designs infringe on the company's trademark on parallel stripes, which Adidas has used for over 70 years. Browne launched his clothing line in early 2000 and has since pumped out parallel stripe designs on everything from suits paired with pleated skirts and shorts to cashmere sweaters and socks over the years.

Adidas sought roughly $7.8 million in damages — equivalent to the amount Adidas believed it would have earned through a licensing agreement with Thom Browne and profits Thom Browne made off the parallel stripe designs.

In the end, Thom Browne's attorneys successfully argued that consumers don't confuse the two brands because Adidas is a sportswear company and Thom Browne is a luxury fashion house.

A single pair of striped socks from Thom Browne can retail for $120, while similar crew socks from Adidas cost around $16 for a three-pack. Browne pointedly entered Manhattan's Southern District Court on the opening day of the trial in a black shorts suit and high socks, one of which featured white stripes.

Fashion designer Thom Browne walking while wearing shorts suit and striped sock
Fashion Designer Thom Browne arrives at Manhattan Federal Court on January 03, 2023.Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

"Fighting this was important," Browne said in an interview with The New York Times after the verdict was read. He told the publication the decision was a "protection for creativity" against big companies. "When you create something, someone can't just come and take it away from you."

The court battle was a real David versus Goliath story. Thom Browne made $285 million in 2021 revenue compared to $23 billion for Adidas, according to the New York Times report.

The battle is likely not over between the two companies. Adidas said in a previous statement to Insider that it may appeal the decision.

"We are disappointed with the verdict and will continue to vigilantly enforce our intellectual property, including filing any appropriate appeals," an Adidas spokesman said.

A spokesperson for Thom Browne, Inc. told Insider it was pleased with the jury's decision that the company did not infringe on any of adidas' trademarks.

"We look forward to continuing to design and provide the creative products that have become the hallmark of the Thom Browne label.," the spokesperson added.

Thom Browne prepares a model backstage before the Thom Browne Womenswear Fall/Winter 2020/2021 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on March 01, 2020
Adidas sought roughly $7.8 million in damages from Thom Browne but lost in court earlier this month.Kristy Sparow/Getty Images

Who is Thom Browne?

Thom Browne's started his eponymous brand in 2001 with seed money he borrowed from his siblings, GQ reported.

The designer has styled celebrities like NBA star Lebron James, supermodel Gigi Hadid, and former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Browne opened his first store in New York City in 2003 with five made-to-measure grey suits. His company has since expanded to over 50 stores and also sells footwear, accessories like eyewear and neckties, and a fragrance, according to its site.

"The grey suit remains elemental to all he does, signifying a singular point-of-view and the commitment to exceptional quality in fabrics and tailoring," Thom Browne's website reads.

In 2007, after Adidas discovered how Thom Browne was using stripes, the label agreed to add a fourth stripe to its designs to avoid a legal battle. Browne recently told NPR his striped designs were influenced by his love of sports and the clothing athletes wore.

"I have always been inspired by sports. I grew up swimming, playing tennis, and come from a family of seven kids who - we all did sports," he said on NPR. "So the stripes really were inspired by varsity tennis sweaters and varsity pieces of clothing."

According to The New York Times, Adidas came calling again in 2018 about the striped designs. By then, Thom Browne was dressing sports teams like the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and European soccer club FC Barcelona for pregame appearances. Thom Browne had also expanded its activewear category with more sweatpants and hoodies.

Like many luxury brands, Thom Browne has expanded into more casual wear.Melodie Jeng/Getty Images

Both casual wear and sports are Adidas business' bread and butter. The company has not been shy about taking legal action against brands it believes are infringing on its three stripes trademark. In recent years, Adidas has challenged Puma, Payless, and Skechers over shoe designs.

Browne currently sits as Chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, succeeding Tom Ford. He took over the role this month on January 1. The trade association has previously awarded Browne its Menswear Designer of the Year award three times in 2006, 2013, and 2016. 

"I am very excited about taking on the chairmanship of the CFDA," Browne said in an October statement after the announcement. "I also feel that it is important to give back to an industry that has supported me so well over the last 20 years. I am so proud to be an American designer… there is so much happening in American design today that the world needs to really see and recognize and truly appreciate."

Read the original article on Business Insider