Lígia Carvalho Abreu (2016)

Pé de Chumbo Fall/Winter Collection 2016-2017 Photos by Ugo Camera/Portugal Fashion

 

On March 2016 at Portugal Fashion Week, designer Alexandra Oliveira presented a marvellous collection from her label Pé de Chumbo for the fall/winter collection of 2016/17. Located in Guimarães, this young Portuguese label meticulously mixes woven and knitted fabrics to create unique and exclusive garments. Traditional techniques are used to transform raw materials into coats, dresses, skirts, tops and trousers. They are “designed and constructed one by one, thread by thread”[i] so as to achieve a beautiful and cohesive collection in which thick strands of wool, fine transparent lace effect and colour contrast define the creative identity of the label.

Although the cut of the designs is not original, the way in which the fabrics are developed by using traditional techniques, a mixture of weaving and knitting, gives a different texture and unique appearance to the designs. By looking at those pieces it is easy to detect the manual effort and the hard work employed in manufacturing each piece of clothing.

 It is in this combination of handmaking and traditional techniques along with the search for new textures and application solutions that I find the high aesthetic and commercial value of Pé de Chumbo. As a consequence, Pé de Chumbo has potential to become a distinctive trademark, not identical to any existing trademark, which can be associated to unique and special goods.

However, as Pé de Chumbo’s designs start to gain more attention from consumers and social media they will become more vulnerable to be copied by others. Copycats are a threat to the value of a trademark. And, as a young creative label which is not protected, for now, by a powerful economic group, it will be more difficult for Pé de Chumbo to build a strong trademark.

The value of a trademark is related to the association between the trader and its goods. In other words, consumers can identify, by the trademark object – a sign (word, symbol or phrase) – the products of a brand and distinguish them from the products of other brands. In some cases, trademark protection can be extended to the features of a product, such as textures, colour combinations, shape and other features that compose the overall visual appearance of a garment, which can be associated, by consumers to a specific trader. This form of intellectual property is named trade dress and is also related to a source identification criterion between product features and a particular trade or brand. A brand relies on this type of source identification for non-functional product features[ii] by consumers, as well as their ability to distinguish its features to those of other brands, in order to build the reputation and distinctive character of the trademark. 

The distinctive features of Pé de Chumbo are the textures. They give a distinctive appearance to the garments.

Nevertheless, it takes time for product features to acquire distinctiveness. It depends on the marketing effort of the brand or designer in order to make known and sell its product for its visual appearance, hence, the ability of consumers to associate those special features to the brand or designer.  In an age where consumers are still dominated by a globalised marketing of trends and tastes commissioned by strong economic groups, young emergent designers or small brands have to make an extremely strong effort to compete with those powerful fashion business actors and attract the attention of reference social media. Most of them are not able to make significant marketing investments alone.

Moreover, in general, the Courts evaluated distinctiveness of product features through consumers’ surveys about the product (in particular their quality and specificities such as colours, shape, how it is constructed, size, among others), the amount of sales, how long the product feature has been used, or how and where it is advertised. Hence, the consumers’ opinion is relevant in judicial cases with regards to the commercial practices that mislead them, for example in the cases of those who copy and the recognition of trade dress rights.

Pé de Chumbo’s textures are unique features which in medium term will be associated to this brand by the consumers when they see a design with those textures. However, this type of source identification depends on the amount of investment in marketing that the brand is able to do. Without the support of an economic group, it is extremely important that independent designers and brands have effective support from associations that help promote young and emergent talented designers.[iii] 

 

[i] Pé de Chumbo’s Press Realese, Portugal Fashion Week, 2016. http://www.pedechumbo.pt/

[ii]  A non-functional feature of a garment was not conceived for the primary purpose of having aesthetic appeal or for being useful (for example, the use of bright colours only for safety reasons. In Re Howard S. Leight and Associates Inc., 39 U.S.P.Q.2d 1058, 1060 (T.T.A.B. 1996)). It must not prevent others from fair competition. Trademark or trade dress, as all the intellectual property rights, are constitutionally recognised if they do not offend others rights and do not prevent fair competition. Thus, trade dress protects product features if consumers associate those features to its source (a particular trader/brand). This must be the primary purpose of the product features.  

[iii] In Portugal, the Portuguese National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE) and the association of Moda Lisboa, among others, have been responsible for promoting young and emergent talented designers.  Pé de Chumbo was present for the first time at the 38th edition of Portugal Fashion week (Porto, March 2016). This event is organised by ANJE. Portugal Fashion http://www.portugalfashion.com/pt/