Whips and chains may excite “Wild Thoughts” songstress Rihanna, but having her line of lingerie and other lifestyle apparel slapped with a $1.2 million fine by a California Superior Court for allegedly misleading consumers can’t please the businesswoman Rihanna Fenty in any way.
Last month, the Santa Monica City and Santa Clara District Attorney offices won a claim against the Barbados-born taste-making mom’s Savage x Fenty fashion startup, contending that the Southern California company did not clearly disclose automatic credit card charges to its VIP customers, in violation of California law.
The court agreed with the prosecutors and hit Savage x Fenty with a fine of $1.2 million, of which $1 million goes to civil penalties, $150,000 in restitution to victimized consumers and $50,000 to investigative costs. The TechStyle Fashion Group-owned company agreed to “undergo changes to its business model.”
“Consumer protection is one of our office’s highest priorities,” Santa Monica City Attorney Doug Sloan said. “In protecting consumers from unlawful automatic renewal charges, this case epitomizes that priority.”
In addition to the unwarranted VIP charges, prosecutors alleged that Savage x Fenty “did not get the proper consent or give proper notices for the automatic renewal charges, falsely advertised the ability to use store credit, and misled the public over the prices of its products, which include bras, underwear, sleepwear, and loungewear.”
Back in 2014, the retailer Justfab, which, like Savage x Fenty is a subsidiary of parent company TechStyle, was fined $1.8 million by a California court for similarly misleading customers about automatic fees by not expressing them “clearly and conspicuously,” in a case brought by Santa Clara and Santa Cruz County prosecutors.
Santa Monica Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades told Sourcing Journal that part of the reason for pursuing the $1.2 million fine against Savage x Fenty was to have a deterring effect on any future culprits. He would not confirm where this fine ranked in the history of his office.
“Civil penalties are based on a variety of factors, primarily the number and severity of the violations,” Rhoades responded via email. “And, yes, we certainly believe that the judgment and injunctions that CART has obtained over the past few years has had a deterrent effect, especially in California.”
CART is the California Automatic Renewal Task Force that was created specifically to go after businesses leveling customers with automatic charges that weren’t “clearly and conspicuously” made evident to consumers. It is comprised of resources from the prosecutors offices in the counties of Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara.
“CART became aware of numerous consumer complaints against Savage X Fenty,” Rhoades said. “Also, generally in our task force work, we get direct complaints from consumers to our various member agencies, we find complaints on review boards, and we can also receive complaints from competitors.”
When it comes to California law, burying automatic charges in fine print just doesn’t cut it.
“As stated in our lawsuit, [Savage x Fenty] allegedly failed to ‘clearly and conspicuously’ disclose the company’s automatic renewal plan in visual proximity to the payment button,” Rhoades said. “The Santa Monica office has over the years received numerous complaints about autorenewal practices and obtained related judgments and injunctions against several companies. Based on that previous experience, it was a very good fit for our office to become a founding member of CART.”
The Santa Clara office cooperated with the government’s investigation.
“[Savage x Fenty] made changes to its website, automatic renewal notices, and its store credit and advertising practices,” it said in a statement.
Rhoades said customers need to do their due diligence when they believe they have been the victim of insufficiently disclosed automatic charges.
“Consumers should review their credit and bank statements carefully each month,” Rhoades said. “If they find any unexpected charges, they should notify the company and their credit card company, and if needed their local city attorney’s office, district attorney’s office or state’s attorney general office.”
Fenty launched the Savage x Fenty line in 2018, selling more than 90 lines of lingerie, sleepwear and accessories.
“My vision for Savage X has always been inclusivity, has always been having women feel confident and expressing themselves through a little lace, a little corsetry, a little T-Shirt bra,” Fenty said of the brand, which earlier this year was reportedly considering a potentially $3 billion IPO.
Originally Savage x Fenty opened its first brick and mortar store on the Las Vegas Strip and later its second in Culver City, Calif. with other stores opening coast to coast. The brand, among the newcomers responsible for disrupting Victoria’s Secret‘s (VS) onetime stranglehold on the lingerie market, has staged its diverse and gender- and size-inclusive runway spectacle with Amazon Prime Video. VS, meanwhile, is considering bringing back the televised catwalk event it shelved a few years ago though a reboot will likely reflect its newly inclusive and progressive image.
Attempts to reach Savage x Fenty for comment were unsuccessful.