Will the real Converse All Star please stand up? First popularized as iconic basketball sneakers and inextricably linked to counterculture figures and the high-schoolers who imitate them, the Chuck Taylor All Star is one of the world’s most famous sneakers. It’s no surprise that imitators have cropped up over the years, and now Converse is trying to knock imposters off the racks with a lawsuit against 31 companies including Walmart, Skechers, and Kmart.
The New York Times reports that Converse is accusing the companies of trademark infringement and seeking monetary damages; Converse is also pursuing a complaint with the International Trade Commission to bar look-alike counterfeits from entering the country.
The design infringements include one or two black stripes and, probably most importantly, the rubber cap above the toe, which have led the company to write more than 160 cease-and-desist letters, according to the Times, which also stresses how difficult trademark infringement cases can be in the fashion world—functional designs can’t be protected, and the attributes in question must be directly linked to the company in consumers’ minds.
In short, Converse needs to prove that when people see the black stripes on the soles and the rubber toe cap, they actually think “Converse.”
I have no legal degree, admittedly, but I did spend many years as a counterculture-obsessed teen, and when I purchased off-brand rubber-toed footwear with black stripes and flat laces, it was solely to supplement my one legitimate pair of worn-in, white canvas Chucks. In other words, I wanted more Converse, but could not afford the real thing, so I purchased an imitation.
My nonlawyer’s opinion, therefore, is that the imitation evident in, say, the Faded Glory Women’s Canvas Lace to Toe available at Walmart or in Skechers’ Bobs Lo-Topia is borderline undeniable. The smoking gun? I found both of those shoes by searching the sites for the word “Converse.”