On the heels of a 15,000-mattress recall, Amazon has a new problem in its ongoing battle with counterfeiting and product misrepresentation from third-party sellers. Now, one of the largest cashmere trade associations alleges that the e-commerce giant and one of its vendors are being dishonest about the composition of the cashmere goods sold on the marketplace.
The Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute (CCMI), whose members include major cashmere fabric and garment manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the U.S and internationally, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in an effort to halt Amazon’s marketing and sale of certain cashmere garments. The brand named in the lawsuit is CS Accessories, Inc., which does business on the platform as City Scarf.
The CCMI alleges that the garments are being “falsely and deceptively” advertised and misrepresented as “100 percent cashmere” on the Amazon Fashion website, and that the items in question are also not made in Scotland, as City Scarf reports.
In the lawsuit filed on Thursday, the Boston-based association alleges that the garments are made entirely of a type of synthetic, petroleum-based acrylic that is cheaper, less warm and more flammable than cashmere, and contains chemicals that are not naturally present in the animal fiber.
“A consumer has the right to expect that garments offered by an established retailer like Amazon will not be materially mislabeled and misrepresented in this way,” said Fabio Garzena, president of CCMI. “And when it occurs, CCMI and its members, who make some of the finest cashmere products in the world, suffer real economic harm.”
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Amazon agreed to stop advertising both the origin and composition of the cashmere in 2019, the association said, but it claims that agreement was breached given the products’ increased sales volume. CCMI said it gave Amazon notice of the mislabeled cashmere twice, both once in 2019 and again in 2020, but the e-commerce giant still didn’t take action.
As such, the CCMI said Amazon’s actions have caused and are continuing to cause “irreparable harm” to both the institute and its individual members.
In an affidavit, Karl Spilhaus, the president emeritus of CCMI, called out the use of acrylic as particularly damaging to the reputation of the genuine cashmere that makers use in their products. He pointed out that CCMI member manufacturers in Scotland would see adverse impacts, including Johnstons of Elgin and Todd & Duncan.
The alleged acrylic garments include glued-on cloth labels affixed to them bearing the U.K. national flag, the “Union Jack,” the words “100 Percent Cashmere” in italics and underlined, the words “Made in Scotland” underneath, and “Dry Clean Or Hand Wash Cold” or “Dry Clean Or Handwash Cold” under that in smaller all-caps lettering.
Beyond the product pages themselves, videos showing the scarves worn by children and families also made claims that the cashmere was “100 percent pure,” the CCMI called out in the suit.
The CCMI came to the decision to sue after testing the product as part of its purchasing program, in which the institute recently purchased a total of 18 random samples from Amazon—four in Japan and 14 in the U.S.
The specific group of purported cashmere garments was comprised of scarves measured at approximately six foot-by-one foot, all having been represented and advertised by Amazon as “100 Percent Cashmere” and “Cashmere Made in Scotland.” The analysis from the company’s experts concluded that none of the 18 products was 100 percent cashmere.
After CCMI received a lab test report on one of the purported cashmere garments purchased in Japan, which showed that it was 100 percent acrylic, the association contacted Sakura Global Shop in Kochi City, Japan, which had shipped the items to them. The CCMI advised them that the garment was mislabeled, and to inquire where they had obtained it. In response, Sakura Global’s representative, Aya Yokota, informed CCMI that the company had purchased the garment from Amazon.com and stated:
“We understood that Amazon was strictly prohibited from selling any misrepresented products,” and “we deeply apologize for the inconvenience caused by the lack of awareness of the problem of mislabeling.”
This wasn’t the first time testing showed that the purported cashmere was instead acrylic. CCMI’s former U.S. representative, David Trumbull, purchased two garments from Amazon in February 2019 for testing. After tests showed that the cashmere was acrylic, Trumbull wrote Amazon a formal notice of the mislabeling demanding the products’ removal on March 25.
In a reply the next day, Amazon official Amy Belete agreed to prevent the sale of the items until they were properly labeled.
“I have updated our filters to prevent the sale of these scarves to customers until the fiber content is properly labeled,” she wrote. “Due to the size of our catalogue, please allow up to five business days for our filters to take effect.”
Although CCMI took no further action after the letter, and didn’t make any additional purchases, the association encountered the same issues in early 2020 when the purchasing program bought one more sample. In response, Amazon claimed that CCMI had no standing to challenge the mislabeling, yet again indicated it would address the problem but did not.
The suit comes after a similar legal challenge reached its conclusion, in which the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) mandated Resident Home, the parent of Nectar Sleep, and owner Ran Reske to pay a $753,000 settlement due to making false, misleading or unsupported advertising claims that its imported DreamCloud mattresses were made from 100 percent U.S.-made materials.
CCMI distributes information about issues relevant to the cashmere market, including sustainability, labeling integrity, sources of reliable product testing and the market monitoring activities that it uses to help ensure the integrity of the market and its products. As part of its mission, the institute aims to protect the interests of its members, and to provide services and information to retailers and other consumers of cashmere products.