Fruit of the Loom, the giant apparel maker best known for ads featuring dancing men in fruit costumes, has filed a trademark infringement suit against a West Hollywood maker of fruit-festooned beach sandals and bustiers.
The suit, filed late last week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleges that Two Left Feet's "Fruit Flops" sandals and "Fruit Cups" bustiers are likely to cause confusion with Fruit of the Loom products. The suit demands that Two Left Feet stop using the word fruit in the names of its products.
Ken Girouard, founder and president of Two Left Feet, said he has hired an attorney and intends to defend himself against Fruit of the Loom's allegations. Girouard contends that there is no confusion between his trendy accessories and Fruit of the Loom's underwear and apparel because Girouard's expensive creations sell primarily in resort gift shops and upscale boutiques.
"I've worked too hard on this business. I'm going to fight them," said Girouard, a former Madison Avenue advertising executive whose job dried up a few years ago when his agency lost a major client. He founded Two Left Feet about two years ago and now has eight contract workers producing beach sandals, brassieres and beach bags--all decorated with artificial fruit.
"I don't feel like I'm infringing on their trademark by using the word fruit, " Girouard said. "I would like to see their books, so they can prove I'm hurting them financially."
Floyd Mandell, a Chicago attorney representing Bowling Green, Ky.-based Fruit of the Loom, said Girouard's ads were brought to Fruit of the Loom's attention a few months ago. He said Fruit of the Loom made several attempts to settle the matter out of court.
Mandell contends that Girouard first said he would consider settling out of court and would need about $1,000 to change his labels. "Then he retained a second set of attorneys, and the costs escalated to $200,000," Mandell said. "We felt that since his out-of-pocket costs had escalated 200 times in two weeks, it was not appropriate to discuss a settlement."
Mandell said Fruit of the Loom has filed various lawsuits for many years to protect its name and fruit trademark. He said Girouard's use of the word fruit constitutes a "dilution of the company's most important asset"--its name.
Mandell said Fruit of the Loom does not want to put Two Left Feet out of business.
"We don't have any problem with him describing his product as having fruit on it," said Mandell, adding that "our client has used the word fruit, standing alone, for years."
Girouard said the $1,000 figure he first gave Fruit of the Loom reflected only the cost of printing new labels.
He said his new attorney recomputed the out-of-pocket costs based on several factors, including the publicity generated for the products through numerous newspaper, magazine and television features. "I have worked for two years to build up my company to where it is, and I have equity in the name," said Girouard, who created the first pair of Fruit Flops by decorating a cheap pair of rubber sandals with plastic fruit and toys.
Today, the sandals retail for about $45 a pair. Based on their success, Girouard now manufactures the other products.
"When I was a kid, I got in trouble for using the f word," said Girouard. "Now I'm getting in trouble for using it again--but the f stands for fruit."