Being a celebrity with a beauty brand is nothing special these days. Rihanna has Fenty, Selena Gomez has Rare, Kylie Jenner has Kylie Cosmetics—I mean, does every star really need to have their own lipstick or highlighter? Probably not, but that hasn’t stopped Hailey Bieber and Kim Kardashian from joining the competition. With the release of Rhode and SKKN By Kim, respectively, the two have managed to stand out from their peers, but not because of amazing formulas or vegan ingredients—instead, they’re each being sued by smaller businesses for trademark infringements. Let’s take a deep dive into each lawsuit so we can better understand what’s going on.
Rhode by Hailey Bieber
Hailey Bieber launched her skin care line, Rhode, on June 15, 2022. Just one week later, founders of luxury clothing brand RHODE, Purna Khatau and Phoebe Vickers, released a statement on their Instagram page explaining why they were filing a lawsuit.
“Hailey could choose any brand for her skin-care line,” it read. “We have only the brand name “RHODE” that we’ve built. That’s why we didn’t sell her our brand when she asked four years ago, and why we ask her now to change her skin-care line’s brand. Her using our brand is hurting our company, our employees, our customers, and our partners.”
The pair founded RHODE in 2014 and have since had garments carried by Net-a-Porter, gained media attention from Vogue, and even attracted celebrity fans like Beyoncé and Jamie Chung. The brand is projected to earn $14.5 million this year and $20 million in 2023 as they plan to expand beyond fashion in the future. Meanwhile, all five of Bieber’s debut products have sold out.
So, if both brands appear to be successful, what’s the problem?
The key to understanding this lawsuit is the fact that Hailey’s team was seemingly aware of the potential confusion the two brands would generate among consumers.
In less than a month, Bieber’s Rhode has amassed 473K Instagram followers (@rhode) compared to the fashion house’s 201K (@shoprhode). A simple Google search for “rhode” also places rhodeskin.com as the number one result.
According to The Fashion Law, RHODE argues that in November 2018 Bieber’s team “offered to buy Rhode’s trademark registration” after filing a trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a “stylized depiction of the word “Rhode” for use on apparel.”
However, they abandoned this trademark request in 2019. After which, Bieber’s team filed three intent-to-use applications: one for “Hailey Rhode” for use on clothing in 2019, one for a plain RHODE word mark in February 2020, and one for a stylized depiction of “Rhode” in December 2020 for use on skincare products, fragrances, etc. RHODE did not oppose any of these three applications, but did decline to sell their trademark registration in 2018.
Now, RHODE emphasizes that the attempted purchase demonstrates Bieber’s team clearly recognized “Rhode’s prior rights to the use of RHODE.”
In case you were wondering, Rhode is Hailey’s middle name. But, “the law on this is clear: you can’t create this kind of brand confusion just because you want to use your name,” said Lisa Simpson, an attorney for RHODE.
Bieber and her team have not publicly responded to the lawsuit, meaning only time will tell if she’ll have a change of heart.
SKKN by Kim Kardashian
We all know Kim Kardashian is no stranger to controversy.
This time, she’s being sued by Beauty Concepts, a small Black-owned business based in Brooklyn, which provides salon services under the name SKKN+.
Kardashian’s corporation, Kimsaprincess (I wish I made this up), “locked down” SKKN.com and @skkn social media handles in December 2020 and filed trademark applications for SKKN by Kim and SKKN on March 30, 2021 and July 9, 2021, respectively.
These actions prompted Beauty Concepts’ founder, Cyndie Lunsford, to send Kardashian a cease and desist letter.
In a release shared with US Weekly, Lunsford said, “I have painstakingly built my successful small business with my own sweat equity, hard work and research. It’s clear that I established my brand first. As a young black woman, my mission with SKKN+ is to provide quality skincare and curated full body experiences to enhance each client’s self-care regimen.”
Lunsford’s esthetician business has operated with the name SKKN+ since 2018, and she filed a trademark application on March 28, 2021—just two days before Kardashian applied for “SKKN by Kim.”
At the time the letter was sent, Kim’s lawyer, Michael G. Rhodes, told TMZ, “the question at hand is one of trademark law and we’ve not done anything deserving of legal action by her.”
Now, an official lawsuit has been filed alleging trademark infringement over the name.
According to TMZ’s review of the lawsuit, Lunsford is arguing that the brand SKKN is confusing to customers and Kardashian’s team ignored the requests made in the original cease and desist.
Rhodes (we know, *another* Rhode) responded to the lawsuit in a lengthy statement to TMZ, calling the lawsuit a “shakedown effort” and said it’s “less about the law of trademarks and more about trying to leverage a settlement by threatening to harm Ms. Kardashian’s name and reputation.”
One could argue her name and reputation have already been deservedly called into question time and time again, but we’ll return to that later.
Rhodes further defended his client, explaining that when they received the cease and desist letter, Beauty Concepts “was a one-person shop offering facials from a single Brooklyn location. The salon had no signage and was by appointment only. To our knowledge, Beauty Concepts sold no products under the SKKN+ name.”
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office also rejected Lunsford’s attempt to challenge Kardashian’s trademark application.
“Undaunted, Beauty Concepts then tried to make its business seem more than it was – it leased a new storefront, changed its website, etc,” said Rhodes. “Several times we reached out to Beauty Concepts, trying to find a sensible path to coexistence. We pointed out that running a small esthetician business in Brooklyn does not give it the right to shut down a global skin care line.”
SKKN+ unveiled its brand new storefront on May 3, 2022, with Lunsford writing on Instagram, “SKKN+ has truly evolved more than I ever envisioned… I want to express my gratitude towards my clients who have supported me from the very beginning, those that have been patrons of the business over the years, and all of our future clients. We cannot wait to serve you and I would not be in this position without you all!”
At this time, it still appears that no products are sold by Lunsford under the SKKN+ name.
Meanwhile, Kardashian’s SKKN by Kim has amassed a staggering 5.5 million Instagram followers, demonstrating the power she continues to hold over the masses, undeterred by her years-long run of cultural appropriation. It was only three years ago that Kardashian had to change the name of her shapewear brand from Kimono to SKIMS, and she’s repeatedly been called out for Blackfishing.
This time, Kardashian appears prepared to stand her ground, with Rhodes telling ET their team is looking forward to presenting their case in court.
For now, both lawsuits remain in the hands of the court, and we’ll be patiently waiting to hear the outcome.
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