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Zara Targets Boutique in David vs. Goliath Dispute

A small British boutique shop could soon be the subject of legal action by Spanish fast-fashion giant Zara amid claims that its brand name is too similar and could confuse consumers.

Zara filed a Notice of Threatened Opposition against House of Zana, a luxury women’s wear manufacturer, designer and wholesaler to other independent boutiques throughout the U.K., claiming the brand’s name is “conceptually identical” with the fashion giant. In the U.K., this kind of notice aims to warn of plans to oppose a trademark application, and gives Zara three months to file its legal response.

House of Zana’s founder and owner Amber Kotrri received the notice from Zara when she tried to trademark the name House of Zana, followed by a letter from the multi-national conglomerate’s lawyers that argued the business was “confusingly similar” for the average customer. But Kottri is confident in her company’s chances in fighting the battle.

“I would like to say that as scary as this opposition seemed at first, I now feel much more confident and I’m so grateful for all the words of support from everyone,” Kottri told Sourcing Journal. “Not one person who has emailed, shared, signed our petition or commented on our Instagram has seen any similarities between House of Zana and Zara. I will be fighting this until the end.”

According to an Instagram post on Saturday, the boutique stated that Zara believes that “there’s risk our brand name ‘dilutes the distinctiveness and reputation of the Zara brand.’” As part of the notice, the Spanish retailer is asking House of Zana to remove all current branding and change its name.

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The post indicated that the smaller label isn’t planning to cave in and rebrand.

“We don’t believe anyone has or will confuse House of Zana with Zara,” the post said. “We have exerted all of our efforts into creating this unique brand, and having just struggled through the pandemic, the last thing we want to do is to be forced to change the brand, remove all labels that are sewn into our stock, change our social media names and shop front (which is what Zara is requesting). This would cause irreparable damage to our small and loved business.”

The fashion company, which specializes in items like handmade kimonos, jackets and dresses, has two stores in Darlington, England where it’s headquartered: one standalone concept store and another location in the town’s Teesside International Airport, which is shared with U.K.-based beauty brand Rejoy. The name ‘Zana’ means “fairy” in Albanian, an homage to the brand’s handmade production operation in Albania, where Mango also manufactures some product.

A handbag with the House of Zana logo.
A handbag with the House of Zana logo. House of Zana

“We have opposed the ‘House of Zana’ trademark application at this early stage because of its similarity to Zara’s brand name,” a spokesperson at Zara parent Inditex told Sourcing Journal. “We wish the business every success and we continue to make efforts to reach the business directly so we can resolve the situation amicably.”

The spokesperson clarified that the retailer was not suing House of Zana or seeking any financial compensation, and that the legal process was still in the early stages.

In a letter sent to Kottri, Zara said there is a risk “’consumers will misread, mishear, mispronounce and/or otherwise perceive House of Zana as Zara’ and that the brand name ‘dilutes the distinctiveness and reputation of the Zara brand.’”

A Zara store location, with of the company's logos at the top.
A Zara store location, with of the company’s logos at the top. Angelika Warmuth/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Kotrri first launched the fashion brand online in 2018, and opened her first concept store in Darlington a year later.

The final hearing to decide whether she can keep the name House of Zana is scheduled for May 24.

The brand’s Instagram request for viewers to sign a Change.org petition ahead of the court hearing garnered more than 2,900 signatures by Monday afternoon.

The post also brought attention to the fact that House of Zana isn’t the only small business Zara is going after for trademark infringement.

Tara Sartoria, a seller and manufacturer of traditional silk garments, received a similar notice to House of Zana. Zara has asked the online-only artisan fashion label to withdraw its U.S. and U.K. trademark applications, surrender its E.U. application, change the company trading name, stop using the “Tara” name and rebrand to a name “not confusingly similar” to Zara.

“It’s quite a frightening situation,” Thao “Tara” Nguyen wrote in a Feb. 25 company blog post. “We are but a small company, with only one full-time office employee. Zara is a massive corporate retailer with an entire legal outfit at their disposal. Our artisans are not employees themselves, but are independent tradeswomen who work on their own schedule and dictate their own price, which in our case [is] a fair market price for their products.”

Tara Sartoria's Skinny Scrunchies, with the brand logo included on the accompanying bag.
Tara Sartoria’s Skinny Scrunchies, with the brand logo included on the accompanying bag. Tara Sartoria

It’s notable that the Tara Sartoria brand is not sold in any stores, and is the brainchild of an entrepreneur, Nguyen, who emigrated from Vietnam to the U.S. Nguyen works directly with artisans in ancient silk villages in Vietnam and Indonesia, who handcraft the silk merchandise in limited quantities in an effort to follow sustainable practices including minimal packaging and zero fabric waste. Tara Sartoria products include silk scrunchies, nightwear, wrap dresses, men’s boxers and face masks.

The only other channel Tara Sartoria is currently sold its outside of its own e-commerce site is on Faire, the wholesale marketplace connecting retailers and brands.

Whether or not Zara’s claims are justified, the fast-fashion giant isn’t the only big name that has targeted small businesses to protect its own intellectual property rights. Recently, Just Succ It was on the receiving end of Nike’s displeasure after the footwear asked the Californian succulent seller to change its name on the basis that the phrasing was too similar to its well-known “Just Do It” slogan.

Nike, which is no stranger to trademark disputes like its lawsuit against StockX for selling virtual Nike shoes as part of its Vault NFTs release, filed an initial 30-day request to extend its time to oppose on Jan. 18 before officially sending a cease-and-desist letter to the plant purveyor just one week later.

“I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, I really don’t,” Galbreath told Sourcing Journal in February. “But I do know that I can handle this either way and that if there’s a way that what I’m going through can help other small business owners learn and make decisions that could potentially avoid something like this, then I’m obviously going to keep sharing.”

If anything, the Nike suit shows that trademark litigation doesn’t have to involve direct competition, or the threat of undercutting with a competing product. Just Succ It does not currently sell any apparel on its site. Galbreath said her succulent brand has only sold one T-shirt and face masks.

New Balance, meanwhile, successfully forced a smaller rival to rebrand after a lengthy dispute.