Admit it, how many of us covet Converse, that classic American sneaker with a studly sense of style? Teenagers across the country aspired to own a pair of stitched-canvas, thick-laced, rubber-sole shoes synonymous with the greasers of the 1950s, nonconformists of the 1960s and hipsters of the 1970s.
They were cool. They were black. They came in low- and high-top versions. And a white circular label branded them “Converse Chuck Taylor All Star.” What’s not to like?
Nothing. Which is why the nearly 100-year-old footwear company that has sold nostalgia to multiple generations has a lawsuit on its feet, errr, hands. Lawyers are accusing 31 plaintiffs – including Kmart and Walmart – of trademark infringement in 22 petitions filed in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“But while Converse, which has been owned by Nike since 2003, is suing for monetary damages, its main priority is getting impostors off the shelves,” according to an article in The New York Times. “To that end, the company is pursuing a separate complaint with the International Trade Commission, which has the power to stop any shoes considered to be counterfeit from entering the country.”
“The goal really is to stop this action,” Converse CEO Jim Calhoun told The Times. “I think we’re quite fortunate here to be in the possession of what we would consider to be an American icon.”
The American icon debuted in 1917 as a basketball shoe. Hoopster-of-the-era Chuck Taylor quickly endorsed the product and later joined Converse as its signature-lending spokesman.
Decades passed, and “Chucks,” as they were called, appeared on the hooves of actors John Travolta (in the movie Grease) and Sylvester Stallone (in the movie Rocky.)
“Every big star some time or somewhere has worn them in a movie because a lot of times they’re used to evoke an era,” Hal Peterson, who penned a book about the sneakers, told The Times. “That shoe is what’s used when they want to put you back in that particular era, but pretty much in every era people have been wearing them.”
When Nike purchased Converse, the American icon gained a renewed status that transcended the United States and started turning heads overseas. Such a burst in popularity led to knockoffs.
“Chuck Taylors, which are made of canvas, are among the most recognizable shoes around,” Tin Huddleston writes on Fortune.com. “They harken back to the days before high-tech footwear and hundred dollar sneakers.”
“Our decision to bring these lawsuits is grounded in the basic principle of fairness, our well-established right and responsibility to protect Converse’s intellectual property, and our commitment to prevent consumer confusion in the marketplace,” Fortune.com reported Calhoun as saying. “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. We welcome fair competition, but we do not believe companies have a right to copy the Chuck’s trademarked look.”