April Walker of Walker Wear has been dressing hip hop since the early 1990s. Now she fights for her intellectual property in a lawsuit against several mainstream fashion brands. Photo credit courtesy of Walker Wear's lookbook

Creative looting. April Walker files a lawsuit against Off-White, Saks Fifth Avenue and Farfetch

3 mins read

You know what they say—imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. On the contrary, Hip-Hop fashion veteran April Walker was not impressed when she learned her designs were straight jacked. 

Infringement is not a word you want to hear, whether you are on the receiving or giving end of it. Recently, fashion designer April Walker discovered she was fashion poached when she discovered the unauthorized use of her trademark and designs by Virgil Abloh’s high end fashion brand, Off-White.

“I’m taking a stand for myself . . . but I’m also taking a stand for independent designers and Black and Brown creatives,” said Walker. 

In June, the fashionista sent a cease and desist letter to Off-White denim to stop selling clothing with her logo on it. She even went as far as to send letters to retailers Saks Fifth Avenue and Farfetch—who sell Abloh’s merchandise. 

However to no avail, both Off-White and Saks Fifth Avenue refused Walker’s request to discontinue the selling of merchandise with her company logo on it. Ultimately, she filed a trademark infringement and dilution complaint in a New York federal court against Abloh on August 20.

. . . .

A pioneer in hip hop heritage fashion design, Walker launched her brand Walker Wear in 1993. Ever since, her brand is considered a huge Hip-Hop fashion staple ever since. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, she first used her signature “WW” logo in August 1993 then used it in commerce in May 1994. 

The ambassador of style maintains that Off-White used a double-W logo like hers, which made it appear as her line.  In the complaint, Walker argues that Off-White violated N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 349, which prohibits misleading acts or practices in business, trade or commerce.

Yet, Abloh, the chief executive officer of the Milan-based, Off-White, seems unfazed about the idea of swagger-jacking proprietary ideas.

Abloh expressed in an interview with Vogue Magazine that gone are the days of developing design ideas from scratch. “My goal is to highlight things—that’s why I collaborate a lot, that’s why I reference a lot, and that’s what makes my body of work what it is,” asserted Abloh.

While Abloh explains his creative process of using others’ ideas as collaborations, Walker claimed that more designers have also accused him of taking liberties on their style without their consent.

To date, the CEO has not released a statement in response to Walker’s lawsuit. Similarly his twitter feed has been quiet as of late. Still and all, many would argue that “there’s a thin line between being inspired or sampling or jacking,” stated Sway in the Morning co-host Heather B.

Oftentimes, buyers go into and ask stores for samples to use as “inspiration” for the next fashion forward look according to fashion designer and founder of Sustainable Fashion Week, Bridgette Artise. Buyers often fail to follow up with designers. 

“Us newbies, emerging and indie designers, have all been ripped off by the big conglomerates for decades,” recounted Artise.

Method Man actor and member of legendary hip-hop group, Wu-Tang Clan wears Walker Wear in the fashion brand’s lookbook. Courtesy photo from Walker Wear

Time is up?

In Walker’s suit, she points out how big name fashion brands count on independent designers not having the money to haul them to court. “I know it’s expensive standing up to those big boys,” expressed Walker. 

Currently, she is seeking monetary damages and injunctive relief. The fashion designer also highlighted that she would like to see a fund created for independent designers that would pay for legal proceedings in the future.

“We’ve encountered countless violations, but the future must be brighter than its pillaging past,” said Walker. Intellectual property theft is widespread and things like this happen more often than not. According to Walker, it is a common practice for large fashion houses to steal designs and regurgitate it back to the same community it was stolen from. But with a sizable price tag. 

Perhaps a time will come when large scale designers will think twice before pilfering the ideas of any fashioner. But for now, the litigation continues.

Journalist established in 2001, inspired by transformative leads.

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