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Did Valentino Steal Trade Secrets?

A New York-based textile embroidery and garment manufacturer is suing Valentino for copyright infringement and trade secret misappropriation amid claims that the Italian luxury brand is passing off the supplier’s designs as its own.

Mrinalini, Inc., which has maintained a working relationship with Valentino for more than 15 years, is seeking monetary and injunctive relief stemming from the accusations. The plaintiff claims in the suit that Valentino has “illegally enriched themselves at Mrinalini’s expense” through unauthorized use of Mrinalini’s copyrighted fabrics and trade secret manufacturing techniques.

“There have been many occasions where Valentino used and sold Mrinalini’s fabric designs that were wholly original to Mrinalini with no input from Valentino. This has happened from the earliest days of the relationship up to the present,” the 30-page complaint alleges. “Valentino has even taken complete, original dresses and other garments from Mrinalini, and has shown them publicly on fashion runways, falsely passing them off as if they were created by Valentino.”

“In other words, Mrinalini’s work was good enough to present on a runway as if it came from an internationally famous fashion designer, and yet Valentino gave Mrinalini no credit, no recognition and no compensation,” the suit said.

As a result of the allegations, the manufacturer said in the suit that Valentino has earned profits “well into the tens of millions of dollars, if not higher.”

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One of the copyrighted patterns described in the Mrinalini lawsuit as "Flowers."
One of the copyrighted patterns described in the Mrinalini lawsuit as “Flowers.” Mrinalini, Inc.
Mrinalini alleges that Valentino copied the expression without permission within clothing and accessories like the ones shown here.
Mrinalini alleges that Valentino copied the design without permission in clothing and accessories like the ones shown here. Valentino

Trade secrets are a central part of the lawsuit, particularly surrounding a sewing technique Mrinalini called Intarsia. The technique joins several pieces of fabric into a rich and textured whole, and includes processes like hand and machine stitching and intensive manual labor.

The manufacturer said in the suit that it created Intarsia on its own as early as 2013, and showed the concept to Valentino. From there, Mrinalini alleges that the brand changed many of its commercial and runway offerings to include the technique, with the textile firm entering a contract to manufacture for Valentino soon after.

As part of this relationship, Mrinalini would present Valentino with its own completely original designs and techniques, with the understanding and agreement that the European firm would pay for such designs and techniques if it used them. Additionally, the luxury brand would invite Mrinalini to present specific fabric designs and swatches based on suggestions of varying specificity—often on paper in the form of sketches or collages. If Valentino used any such specific fabric designs from Mrinalini, it would pay the New York manufacturer for them.

But the suit alleges that the fashion house largely known for its couture collections and high-end handbags didn’t adhere to these terms. Valentino employees also shared Mrinalini’s proprietary techniques with other suppliers—including the manufacturer’s competitors—apparently in an unscrupulous effort to source garment-making to the cheapest supplier, Mrinalini claims.

In one case, Mrinalini alleges that Valentino induced another one of its suppliers, Shevie, to hire people who were initially trained in the Intarsia stitching technique. One of Shevie’s hires had previously worked for Mrinalini for five years, with the plaintiff alleging that the supplier demanded that he taught them the technique. Upon the employee’s decision to return to the manufacturer, the plaintiff said Shevie “impeded him with threats,” before making his return. But Shevie still learned “important details” of Intarsia’s trade secrets, Mrinalini said.

“Only a few trusted workers, subject to confidentiality obligations, know the technique on a need-to-know basis,” the suit alleges. “Though the technique is used to make clothing that is sold widely around the world, skilled artisans cannot learn anything about the technique from inspecting clothing made with the technique. In fact, Valentino itself had tried to learn the technique, but could not do so until it used improper and dishonest methods.”

Alongside eight counts of copyright infringement and one count of trade secret misappropriation, Mrinalini is also suing for unjust enrichment, breach of contract, conversion and unfair competition.

Beyond the counts listed, the firm also made claims that the luxury brand treated Mrinalini employees with “disrespect” and “contempt.” Mrinalini even accused Valentino’s employees of “irregular and unprofessional practices” including, but not limited to, demanding expensive gifts and sexual favors in exchange for business.

As part of the suit, filed in a federal court in the Southern District of New York, the plaintiff requested that the court order Valentino to return its profits for its wrongdoings, and institute an injunction against further wrongful activity, including further trade secret misappropriation, copying and unfair competition.

Additionally, Mrinalini asked that the defendant destroy any remaining inventory of wrongful goods, and for Valentino to provide all other relief including costs, damages, attorney fees, enhanced damages, and all other relief deemed appropriate by the court.

Another copyrighted pattern listed in the lawsuit, which Mrinalini calls "Wave."
Another copyrighted pattern listed in the lawsuit, which Mrinalini calls “Wave.” Mrinalini, Inc.

Again, Mrinalini alleges that Valentino copied the "Wave" expression without permission within clothing and accessories.
Again, Mrinalini alleges that Valentino copied the “Wave” expression without permission within clothing and accessories. Valentino

Valentino didn’t respond to a request for comment, and has not issued a statement or rebuttal to Mrinalini’s claims.

Copyright infringement is a fairly common complaint in fashion industry as intellectual property concerns run rampant. But trade secret cases can be difficult to prove, especially for smaller firms challenging fashion powerhouses. In particular, it can be difficult to convince a jury that a trade secret exists, that it has been stolen, and that any alleged misappropriation has caused the business harm.

That’s not to say niche manufacturers don’t have a fighting chance in fighting IP infringement. L.A.-based fabric manufacturer and designer Unicolors saw this firsthand after winning a lengthy copyright battle against H&M in the U.S. Supreme Court after an appellate court initially ruled against the firm. Californian skate and surf brand Stussy is hoping to follow suit in a recent trademark infringement lawsuit filed against the Chinese e-commerce fast fashion giant Shein. Stussy alleges that Shein made “false or misleading descriptions and representations” through products on its site, using the brand’s signature graffiti-style marking to entice and confuse shoppers.