The Nike-owned Converse brand yesterday "called foul” on 31 retailers and manufacturers including Walmart, Kmart, Skechers and H&M by filing 22 trademark infringement suits in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. As a Huffington Post hed puts it, Converse is suing “Basically Everyone In The World Over Knockoff Chucks.”
“For generations, the Chuck Taylor, universally known as the ‘Chuck,’ has captured the hearts and minds of millions of consumers, selling over a billion pairs globally during the past century,” Converse CEO Jim Calhoun said in a statement forwarded to the HP’s Alexander C. Kaufman. “We welcome fair competition, but we do not believe companies have the right to copy the Chuck’s trademarked look.”
Although Converse “is suing for monetary damages, its main priority is getting impostors off the shelves,” reports the New York Times’ Rachel Abrams, who broke the story.
“The goal really is to stop this action,” Calhoun told Abrams. “I think we’re quite fortunate here to be in the possession of what we would consider to be an American icon.”
This may be one of those rare occasions where “icon” is not overplayed.
“First came the athletes, then the greasers. Then came the nonconformists, the teenagers and finally the baby boomers,” Abrams writes in her lede. “The shoe manufacturer Converse has sold its brand of cool and whiff of rebellion to generations of Americans.”
Tell me ’bout it.
Before they were “Chucks,” they were “Cons” — at least in our neck of the Bronx woods. And we used to walk more than six miles round trip to an Army Navy store on Fordham Road — careful to avoid the fabled greasers (who we actually never saw) — to get them for $14 instead of the standard $16 or so. They came in two colors, white or black, and two styles, high-top or low-top.
“The Converse story began in 1908, when Marquis M. Converse created the Converse Rubber Company. By 1917, a rubber-soled, canvas sneaker, dubbed a high-top because of its ankle-high cut, became the forerunner of the legendary Converse All Star,” according to an account on the Retroland website. But, in a story that anyone who has ever pitched a product for a living should find inspiring, they didn’t really take off until Charles ‘Chuck’ Taylor, “a high school basketball all-star who never played without his All Stars on his feet” came along.
“After school, Chuck became a promotional salesman for Converse in 1921, helping to perfect the shoe for the perfect game. Chuck toured high school gyms, speaking with coaches and players, using their input to make the All Star the best basketball shoe in the world,” the Retroland account continues.
Taylor’s signature was placed on the ankle patch in 1923, and they were officially renamed for him in 1934. A billiion or so pairs after their inception, the ChucksConnection website not only has a history of the evolution of the brand, replete with photos of all the current choices, but also carries an article on “How To Write A Term Paper About Chucks.”
Surprisingly, “knockoffs hadn’t been prevalent in the past,” Bloomberg’s Edvard Pettersson reports, “but since 2008, the company has filed more than 180 cease-and-desist letters for alleged infringement of the shoes, according to a company statement.”
“Converse, which was bought by Nike in 2003, has also filed a separate lawsuit to the U.S. International Trade Commission(USITC), a federal agency with the authority to stop counterfeit shoes from entering the country,” reports Jack Linshi in Time. “Many shoe retailers manufacture their footwear outside the U.S., and a successful lawsuit with the USITC would be effective in preventing the sale of the allegedly copycat shoes.”
But Slate intern Laura Bradley writes that she spent “many years as a counterculture-obsessed teen, and when I purchased off-brand rubber-toed footwear with black stripes and flat laces, it was solely to supplement my one legitimate pair of worn-in, white canvas Chucks. In other words, I wanted more Converse, but could not afford the real thing, so I purchased an imitation.”
Her “non-lawyer's opinion, therefore,” is that Converse should prevail.
I feel for Bradley. The MSRP price for the retro Converse All Star Chuck '70 thatcame out last year is $85, I was mortified to learn. Forty or so years later, that Army Navy store I frequented is long gone, alas, but you don’t have to avoid the likes of the Baldies and the Ducky Boys to get a break on the price, however.