Amazon is ramping up its efforts to tackle counterfeiting on its platform by aiming for the higher end of the fashion market. Today the e-commerce giant announced that it has jointly filed a lawsuit with Italian luxury brand Valentino against Buffalo, New York-based Kaitlyn Pan Group, LLC and New York resident Hao Pan for copying a famous Valentino shoe style -- the Garavani Rockstud, pictured above -- and subsequently selling those products on Amazon and Kaitlyn Pan's own site, "in violation of Amazon’s policies and Valentino’s intellectual property rights."
Amazon said that any proceeds that result from the suit will go straight to Valentino itself. We've asked how much the companies are seeking in damages and will update this post with more information as we get it. We are embedding the suit below the article.
Notably, this is the first time that Amazon has teamed up with a luxury brand to go after counterfeiters in the courts, although it has partnered with other brands in the past. As with those previous cases, it's important for Amazon to work with the brands to show it's a friend to legitimate commerce by working actively to stop illicit sales.
Alongside that, however, Amazon has been making huge efforts to raise its game in fashion, and so it's extremely important that it fights against the image that it's a fertile ground for selling and buying illegal knock-off items of famous brands.
Getting off on the right foot -- so to speak -- with Valentino is part of that. The Garavani Rockstud ("Garavani" comes from Valentino's full name, Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani) is one of Valentino's most iconic styles, with its metallic lines of studs making an appearance on a range of Valentino footwear, including sandals, heels and flats. They were first introduced in 2010 and Valentino has design patents on the style.
Kaitlyn Pan currently sells a number of models that riff on that basic concept. Typically, authentic Valentino Rockstud shoes retail for between $425 and $1,100, while the Pan versions sell for significantly less, around $100.
You can see where the problem lies.
While the shoes are not being sold as Valentino and do not use the Rockstud branding, they could easily be mistaken for them (and may have even been promoted using that keyword when they were still being sold on Amazon):
One thing that isn't really covered in the Amazon/Valentino suit, but you have to wonder about, is the role that others play in enabling the illicit sales of the items. In the case of Kaitlyn Pan, the site is powered by none other than Shopify, for example.
“The vast majority of sellers in our store are honest entrepreneurs but we do not hesitate to take aggressive action to protect customers, brands and our store from counterfeiters," said Dharmesh Mehta, vice president, Customer Trust and Partner Support, in a statement. "Amazon and Valentino are holding this company accountable in a court of law and we appreciate Valentino’s collaboration throughout this investigation."
Amazon said that it shut down Kaitlyn Pan’s seller account in September 2019, and it did not specify how many pairs of Pan's shoes were sold via Amazon before then. As of today, the Pan models are still being sold directly on Kaitlyn Pan Shoes.
And rather audaciously, despite getting forced out of Amazon's marketplace and being slapped with cease and desist orders from Valentino, Kaitlyn Pan has applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the style.
Valentino, like other expensive luxury brands, regularly gets copied and counterfeited, and that has been the case for decades. But arguably, the rise of e-commerce, where it can be harder to trace sellers and products have a higher chance of being disseminated more widely, has compounded that problem.
So the company has made a more concerted effort to fight back. In the past three years, it's worked with United States Customs and Border Protection to seize more than 2,000 counterfeit products and work on a surveillance system to detect counterfeit products on sale in the U.S. market, leading to the removal of more than 7,000 listings across multiple marketplaces, 360 websites and more than 1,000 social media accounts.
“The Maison Valentino is one of the main protagonists of International fashion and plays a major role in the luxury division by sustaining Made in Italy," Valentino said in a statement. "The brand represents in the global market, one of the Italian excellences in the execution of the industrial process in Italy and of the artisanal and handmade workmanship that are entirely produced in the historic Atelier of Piazza Mignanelli in Rome. We consider Made in Italy to be a fundamental value to be fully endorsed, respected and at the forefront of our business and creations. Valentino is an Italian brand operating globally and is a mirror of society. One of our core missions is to safeguard our brand and protect the Valentino Community by celebrating inclusivity and with creativity at the heart of everything we do. We feel this connection with Amazon will highlight the importance also in fashion for greater awareness, knowledge and understanding by shielding the brand online and its resources.”
Amazon's role in creating an avenue for counterfeit items to be sold has been a problematic one for the company for years. It has invested in building technology to tackle the problem: In 2019, it said that it had invested over $500 million and dedicated 8,000 employees to work on fraud and abuse (which includes IP infringement and counterfeit goods), and it works with law enforcement and collaborates with authorities to build cases against infringing companies and people.
Its critics continue to call out the company and its track record, saying it still has not done enough to address the issue -- which of course still results in sales, and thus revenues -- on its platform.
But Amazon argues that this is a misconception and overall its a net negative for the company to carry these goods.
"Counterfeit damages our brand, disrupts the integrity of our store, and challenges the trust we have worked hard to earn from customers," a spokesperson said. "Our customers are always protected by our A-to-z Guarantee, so when a bad actor doesn’t pay, Amazon covers the cost of returns, refunds, claims and other issues related to the sale of counterfeit goods."
We'll update this post as we learn more.