CEO Dominique Lamb

The old adage, fake it till you make it, tends not to apply to those cheap wares that are undeniably similar to ones from some of the world’s biggest luxury brands.

British fashion house Burberry has this week lodged in New York a whopper lawsuit against Target for allegedly selling copycat Burberry wares, after it ignored a cease-and-desist letter last year.

Knockoffs are pretty much a given for the really big luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, as it’s all but impossible to get a handle on the oodles of offshore manufacturers sending oodles of cheap (and let’s face it, not great!) fakes around the world. And because there’s always a market of buyers.

But when it comes to the big players like Target (a little different from street stands aimed at passing tourists!), does this kind of counterfeiting warrant the exorbitant sums of cash needed to take them to court?

Some arguments focus on the fact that those buying goods in the Target price range would be unlikely to have the capacity to buy the real thing, so there’s no direct effect on the luxury brands’ retail sales.

But what about these brands’ star power? That rarity, exclusivity, and that sense of status and personal branding that people are really buying into, when they drop enough cash for a small car on a luxury handbag?

Particularly amid the current logo and monogram-mania, cheap knockoffs can do some serious damage to a brand’s reputation.

When a luxury monogram or logo that’s been around for decades is seen over and over again on torn and worn, poor quality handbags, it becomes associated with being cheap and common. Especially to the small percentage of buyers who can afford them. And that’s when it does have a direct effect on their retail sales.

The more of the product there is, the worse it gets, hence why having big retailers peddling copycat wares can be so dangerous.

It’s filed several lawsuits over the past few years for trademark infringement, including against JC Penney to T.K. Maxx (these were settled out of court), and is likely to have sent its fair share of successful cease-and-desist notices, where retailers have complied and pulled the allegedly offending products.

It’s now seeking an injunction barring Target from selling infringing products, such as scarves, sunglasses, luggage, stainless-steel water bottles it says have close imitations or are courterfeits of the Burberry check trademark.

The iconic fashion house is asking $2 million for each trademark counterfeited, plus legal costs, and it could become a very expensive case for Target if it loses.

Burberry has also made the valid point that given Target’s legitimate (and paid!) collaborations with designers to create limited-edition diffusion lines, there’s a risk consumers will be confused and assume this is the case with these products.

Its lawsuit says the misuse of the trademark check has “…diluted the distinctiveness of the famous Burberry Check Trademark.”

There’s a great lesson here from Burberry – whether it’s an almost century-old check pattern, or something far simpler, like the way a particular barista remembers everyone’s names and coffee orders (miraculous by the way), a retailer’s value lies squarely in the things that make them unique, special and memorable.

None of which can be created by copying what makes someone else special.

Find your own uniqueness, play to your own strengths, and embrace your own retail path!

Have a great week.

Dominique Lamb, CEO.