For a company with a long history of making bad decisions, The North Face Apparel Corp has decided for it’s next trick to slap a Missouri teenager with a the cease and desist request. 18-year old Jimmy Winkelmann and his company The South Butt LLC received the Aug. 14 letter at his St. Louis-area home.
Jordan LaVine, a lawyer for The North Face, wrote that the companies' logos are similar enough to possibly cause "consumer confusion as to the source, sponsorship or affiliation of particular problems and services that could dilute or tarnish the distinctive quality of the famous and distinctive TNFAC marks."
If there is anyone guilty of tarnishing the distinctive quality of the “famous and distinctive TNFAC marks,” they need only to look within their own organization because it isn’t Little Jimmy Winkelmann from down the God Damn street.
"I was like, 'How did they even find me?'" Winkelmann said. "It was ridiculous."
While the reputation of North Face products has remained sound, internal decision-making has frequently been called into question. At one point the company, prior to the acquisition by VF Corporation in 2000 attempted to manufacture it’s own products, this lead to a large inventory of finished goods, which gave North Face another bright idea to opened outlet stores to sell lower-priced products in an effort to dispose of obsolete materials.
The product reputation of North Face was based on a high-end, or expensive, association with the inherent product quality. The lower-priced products confused or missed the intended consumers and did not help the company's overall image.
Winkelmann said that the idea of The South Butt was born from frustration with his classmates' sheep-like following of a popular clothing line and came up with his own parody apparel and now faces a lawsuit for trademark infringement.
The term "South Butt" started as a joke, he said, and "then it just, like, escalated."
The North Face wants its customers to take a hike -- as long as they're packed with its products. However, if North Face truly believes that it’s customers can’t tell the difference between North Face Outerwear and South Butts silk-screened t-shirts, then what are they saying about their customers? -
The 18-year-old college student said local media coverage of the blossoming legal battle has dramatically increased sales of The South Butt T-shirts, fleece jackets and shorts, so much so that his entire inventory sold out this week within 24 hours.
The North Face has also taken issue with Winkelmann's online video for his business in which he instructs customers to "Never Stop Relaxing," which LaVine said is a direct rip-off of TNFAC's tagline, "Never Stop Exploring."
Not only has The North Face requested that Winkelmann cease sales, production and promotion of his product, but it has also asked him to drop his trademark application for The South Butt LLC and its logo. Winkelmann's attorney Albert Watkins, who plays squash with his client's father and traded his services for a really good bottle of burgundy, responded to LaVine with a Sept. 10 letter in which he not only declined the company's request but told it that The South Butt should be considered flattery.
"I am compelled to respectfully disagree with the posture or assertion that 'The South Butt' would in any way give rise to confusion on the part of any person," Watkins wrote.
LaVine directed a request for comments to The North Face Apparel Corp.'s communications office. A representative there could not be reached for comment. In the past year, he estimated that he has pocketed about $2,000, which has gone toward his education at the University of Missouri, where he is studying biomedical engineering with a business minor.
Although some major companies have backed down with the mere threat of a lawsuit, Winkelmann said he won’t be one of them. When the corporate Barbarians are at the gate, you can either run or stand your ground. It’s not surprising that Winkelmann has chosen the latter.