Welsh jeans maker draws Levi's ire

Sunday, May 4, 2003

LONDON -- The U.S. company that invented blue jeans and a distinctive cloth tab to go with them has accused a British clothing company of violating its 65-year-old trademark.

Levi Strauss & Co., the 150-year-old San Francisco maker of all things denim, has warned Wales-based Howies to stop selling jeans with a gray, cloth tab label bearing its brand name.

In a letter, Levis warned Howies that it might create "customer confusion," with its own red tab and that it might seek damages if the smaller company doesn't alter the design of its pants.

"For us it's very important," Levi's European spokesman, Cedric Jungpeter, said Friday. "We were the first company to use a tab on the back of our jeans. It's part of our history."

The small Welsh company, which has just five employees and annual sales of less than $500,000, feels it's being picked on by a giant with a global staff of 12,000 and sales of $4 billion.

"At first we thought it was a spoof from a mate," said David Hieatt, the founder of Howies. "Never in our wildest dreams did we think you could patent the location of a tab on a pair of jeans."

Hieatt said he has not yet decided what to do about the tab in the long term, but for now plans to put a patch over it that says "Do not remove for legal reasons."

Confusing consumers

In the letter sent last week, an attorney for Levi's said the smaller company's gray tab "is confusingly similar" to the Levi's tab, which has been a registered trademark since 1938.

Hieatt said consumers "would have to be color blind and illiterate" to confuse the two logos.

"It's quite flattering they think we're a threat," Hieatt said. "We're Cardigan Bay's third-largest clothing company. Yesterday we sold 10 pairs of jeans."

But Levi's says the legal issue is clear.

"The tab is registered under trademark laws," Jungpeter said. "We are the only company that can use a tab on the back pocket of our jeans."

Jungpeter said Levi's hoped to resolve the issue amicably but would take legal action if necessary.

Hieatt, a former London advertising executive, runs the 8-year-old firm with his wife in the small town of Cardigan on the west coast of Wales. Their clothes are sold by mail order and in skateboard and snowboard shops.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: