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‘This Is Not a Skate Shoe’: Why Vans Is Suing Over ‘Transformational’ Sneaker

MSCHF, the controversy-prone art collective whose “Satan Shoes” last year sparked a high-profile legal battle with Nike, is back in court.

This time it’s VF Corp.’s Vans suing the Brooklyn-based provocateur. The subject of the skate brand’s ire is MSCHF’s upcoming Wavy Baby, an impractical-looking shoe that resembles a funhouse-mirror take on Vans’ classic Old Skool sneaker.

Filed Thursday in a New York federal court, Vans’ complaint alleges trademark infringement, false designation of origin, unfair competition and trademark dilution. The lawsuit comes days before the Wavy Baby’s Monday release date.

In its complaint, Vans argued MSCHF and its collaborator Tyga “shamelessly marketed” the warped sneaker in a direct attempt to confuse consumers, “siphon sales” and damage Vans’ intellectual property rights. Though the Wavy Baby shoe is arguably one of the more visually distinctive shoes out there, Vans still contends that it “blatantly and unmistakably” incorporates its trademarks and trade dress.

MSCHF's Wavy Baby is the target of a trademark infringement lawsuit from Vans, which claims the shoes resemble its own Old Skool sneakers
MSCHF’s Wavy Baby is the target of a trademark infringement lawsuit from Vans, which claims the shoes resemble its own Old Skool sneakers. MSCHF

In fact, the skate brand argued that the shoe imitates every aspect of its Old Skool trade dress—the rubberized sidewall of a consistent height, the three-tiered/grooved design around the uppermost portion of the sidewall, the textured toe box outer around the front, the visible stitching and “the relative placement and proportion of elements.”  Vans asserted that the Wavy Baby’s wavy side stripe was “confusingly similar.”

“Wavy Baby is the platonic ideal of a skate shoe, warped to [expletive],” MSCHF wrote in its response to Vans’ lawsuit Thursday. “Sneaker companies are in a constant cycle of riffing on each other. Standard shoe industry practice is: steal a sole, steal an upper, change a symbol. What a boring use of cultural material. Wavy Baby is a complete distortion of an entire object that is itself a symbol.”

Beyond the design of the shoes themselves, Vans targeted the various ways in which MSCHF seems to directly associate the Wavy Baby with Vans. The “Wavy” logo, for example, extends a line from the end of “W” over the rest of the word, similar to the “V” in the “Vans” logo. The graphic appears on the MSCHF Sneakers website, as well as directly on the shoes themselves.

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Vans' lawsuit includes a side-by-side comparison of its own logo and the Wavy logo
Vans’ lawsuit includes a side-by-side comparison of its own logo and the Wavy logo. Vans

“Worse yet,” the complaint added, the registered trademark symbol appears directly next to the “Wavy” text, suggesting it is federally registered. MSCHF Product Studio Inc. has filed to protect six trademarks, none of them for the word “Wavy.” Vans, for its part, sells a shoe called the “Wayvee.” It filed to trademark the word in September.

Vans also took issue with the shoe box the Wavy Baby comes in, claiming that it violates its own shoe box trade dress. Both feature red and brown coloring, with their respective logo printed in diagonal rows on the box sides.

Finally, the brand argued that MSCHF had attempted to “suggest an association with” Vans by using “skate” and “retro” imagery. Campaign imagery on the MSCHF Sneakers website shows multiple individuals wearing the shoe while on a skateboard. The product description, however, states “this is not a skate shoe” and “ceci n’est pas une chaussure de skate,” the French translation of the same phrase.

The shoes include a warning on the outsole that says "by placing your foot in this shoe, you agree to waive any claims against MSCHF for any injury, death, or damages arising from having your foot in this shoe. By placing your foot in the shoe, you also agree to assume all risk of injury arising from having your foot in this shoe.”
The shoes include a warning on the outsole that says “by placing your foot in this shoe, you agree to waive any claims against MSCHF for any injury, death, or damages arising from having your foot in this shoe. By placing your foot in the shoe, you also agree to assume all risk of injury arising from having your foot in this shoe.” MSCHF

MSCHF claims that Vans tried to preemptively settle with it ahead of the drop. “As recently as 24 hours ago,” it asked for, “among other things,” half the profits and four pairs of shoes themselves, MSCHF said. The firm also claimed that Vans said it was willing to meet about “future collaborations.” It then included an abbreviation commonly known to mean “laughing my [expletive] off.”

“Turns out that they were shaking our hand at the same time they were stabbing us in the back,” MSCHF wrote.

As it did when it was defending its Satan Shoes last year, MSCHF once again framed its footwear as art. “Fundamentally, artists play with culture,” it said. Sampling, it added, is a “core act” of creative expression and a “constant iterative process” across the fashion industry.

“Vans is a hidebound institution hiding behind its past heritage as a ‘creative youth brand,’” MSCHF continued. “In 50 years of sneaker releases, never have any of their shoes gotten this much attention pre-release. The Wavy Baby is transformational above and beyond anything Vans would ever attempt.”

The shoe follows last month’s Tap3—a tape-covered sneaker that MSCHF called a “winking riff on the image of an Air Force 1”—as the second release from the firm’s fledgling spinoff project, MSCHF Sneakers.

Like the Satan Shoe, now retroactively positioned as MSCHF Sneakers’ second release, the Wavy Baby quietly appeared first in a music video—Tyga and Doja Cat’s “Freaky Deaky.” It has received more than 28 million views on YouTube since its late February debut.

MSCHF is not the only brand fighting a trademark infringement complaint from Vans. The skate brand also sued Walmart in November, identifying more than 20 “blatant knockoff versions of Vans shoes” and alleging trademark infringement, unfair competition and false designation of origin.

A federal court judge issued a preliminary injunction earlier this month on more than two dozen Walmart sneakers—Vans added more styles to its complaint after its initial filing—ruling that Vans was “likely to suffer irreparable harm absent injunctive relief.”