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TRADE WARS
Small Indian retailer locked in trademark fight with Gap
by Staff Writers
New Delhi (AFP) July 28, 2013


Asia A-listers take their seat on fashion front row
Paris, France (AFP) July 28, 2013 - Arriving at a Christian Dior fashion show in Paris surrounded by a gaggle of photographers and minders, Korean star Gianna Jun quickly eclipsed the already seated Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence.

One of the best known faces in Asia following a string of box office smashes, the actress is one of an elite group of bankable names attracting the attention of the fashion world.

Designers have long looked to Hollywood stars to help sell their collections -- but as the spending power of consumers in countries such as China and South Korea grows, it's now the turn of Asia's A-listers.

Taiwanese model and actress Lin Chi-ling was also in Paris for the couture shows where she was given the red carpet treatment at Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel show.

At a time when couture houses are increasingly winning new customers in countries from China to Singapore, Lagerfeld underscored the East's importance with a show contrasting the "crumbling" old world with a new world represented by a futuristic imaginary Asian city.

Raf Simons' multicultural show for Christian Dior, meanwhile, was also a clear pitch to customers in new markets.

The Belgian designer, who notably put models from all corners of the globe on the catwalk, said the collection showed Dior "not just being about Paris and France, but about the rest of the world" too.

Brian Buchwald, CEO of Bomoda, a website providing information for Chinese luxury goods consumers, said tapping into the wants and desires of Chinese shoppers was now the "overriding opportunity for western companies".

"The rising role of the Chinese consumer is driving their business," Buchwald told AFP from New York, adding that last year they were "responsible for 60 percent of all luxury goods purchases in Europe".

Such stark economic realities are the reason Paris fashion can expect to see many more Asian celebrities on its front rows in coming years.

One of the highest profile Asian stars is Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, who has attended Paris fashion shows as well as the Cannes film festival where she was photographed wearing Valentino, Elie Saab and Laurence Xu.

Known in the marketing world as a KOL (Key Opinion Leader), Buchwald says the star's appeal to designers and luxury goods companies comes from "her beauty, her sense of fashion and her ability to reach and move the Chinese consumer".

"She is a risk taker, she breaks the mould. She makes her own fashion choices and while many Chinese women may not be comfortable enough to wear what Fan Bingbing may wear, just the fact that she's out there making certain choices becomes very aspirational for them," he said.

According to Buchwald, the Chinese consumer is relatively new to the luxury market and as a consequence heavily influenced by celebrities.

"So if Fan Bingbing is a fashion icon in China, then Chinese women will buy what Fan Bingbing wears in a way that is much more qualitative than we see with western celebrities and western luxury consumers," he added.

And it's not just fashion and luxury goods using celebrities to harness Asian spending power.

In the world of film, the makers of "Iron Man 3" made sure their movie had maximum appeal to audiences in China by specially creating a role for Fan in the Chinese version.

"She wasn't necessarily essential to the film to the point where they could literally cut her out -- but they put her in to make the product more appealing to the Chinese consumer," Buchwald said.

"It was almost a naked drive for that Chinese consumer, basically saying 'we'll do what it takes'," he added.

An Indian recycling company which uses junk to create accessories is fighting a legal trademark suit launched by US clothing giant Gap Inc demanding that the firm change its name.

Green the Gap, an Indian company which runs three stores in the country, mainly sells accessories and home decor items made out of waste including beer cans, rubber tyres and fruit cartons.

Vimlendu Jha, founding owner of the firm, which also sells clothing for other brands, accused Gap in an interview last Friday of seeking to "bully" a small Indian company.

In March, the owners were slapped with a legal notice by Gap asking them to change their name and remove any reference to the company from their labels within 14 days.

A month later, the US retailer told the Indian firm it could keep its name for registration purposes but must remove any mention of Gap in their labelling and on their website, Jha said.

"Gap said our company is infringing upon their branding and that we are riding on their goodwill to create confusion in the minds of buyers," Jha told AFP.

"We were shocked and angered that a company of that size and stature and supposed respectability is getting threatened by a small business," he said.

The legal notice, a copy of which was seen by AFP, said Gap was "seriously concerned" about the adoption of its "well-known trademark" by the Indian entity.

K&S Partners, the law firm that issued the notice on behalf of Gap, was not immediately available for comment.

But Gap said it "does not comment on pending litigation" in response to an email query from AFP.

Jha added that Green the Gap's name was an environmental reference.

"We wanted to ask people is it possible to consume less and can we consume green? We upcycle trash which means we add value to junk by creating a new and useful product," he said, adding that the idea of competing with Gap was nowhere in their minds.

"For us 'gap' is a word in the English language that means void, absence. How can you monopolise a common English word?

"Next we will hear we can't use apple and orange in our lexicon. This is plain ridiculous."

He said the company was now in verbal negotiations with Gap to try to settle the dispute.

Jha launched Green the Gap five years ago as part of Swechha, an Indian advocacy group he set up to pursue environmental sustainability and proper pay for workers.

The name was inspired by a Swechha education scheme known as Bridge the Gap, said Jha.

Gap, which is the largest casual wear retailer in the United States with annual sales of over $15 billion, has some 3,000 outlets in 90 countries across the world. It also owns global brands such as Old Navy and Banana Republic.

Local media reports have said Gap plans to open stores in India some time next year, which would make it one of the biggest global brands to launch in the country.

India's government in the past few years has relaxed restrictions for international retailers to set up shop in the nation as it seeks more foreign investment.

India's trademark act stipulates that another company cannot sell products with an identical or confusingly similar label.

Jha said the US retailer's legal suit should ring alarm bells for the government.

"Opening up the market for larger players must not mean that smaller players are shut out," he said.

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TRADE WARS
Asia A-listers take their seat on fashion front row
Paris, France (AFP) July 28, 2013
Arriving at a Christian Dior fashion show in Paris surrounded by a gaggle of photographers and minders, Korean star Gianna Jun quickly eclipsed the already seated Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence. One of the best known faces in Asia following a string of box office smashes, the actress is one of an elite group of bankable names attracting the attention of the fashion world. Designers have ... read more


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