What Happened: When you think of a “dad shoe,” what comes to mind? New Balance would bet you think of one of its chunky pairs of sneakers, which is, in part, why the shoe brand is suing Golden Goose for allegedly copying its famed 990 line.
In a lawsuit filed in Massachusetts, New Balance claims that luxury sneaker brand Golden Goose purposefully used elements from the New Balance 990 series to create its “Dad Star” shoe, launched in 2020. That includes a tone-on-tone gray colorway, chunky sole and the use of “dad sneaker” in its branding, with New Balance claiming in the suit that “the 990 is known to consumers as the ‘original’ dad shoe.”
On the one hand, Golden Goose shoes typically retail for upwards of $500 a pair, meaning the brand isn’t in direct competition with New Balance, whose 990v4 shoes retail for $185 a pair, for example. But not only is New Balance accustomed to protecting its popular designs through litigation, the blurring of lines between sportswear and luxury has pitted brands from each camp in direct competition, resulting in more lawsuits.
The Jing Take: As one of the world’s most popular sports brands, New Balance is often copied and is no stranger to taking other brands to court to protect its IP and designs. In 2020, the Boston-based company won a groundbreaking $1.5 million case against Chinese brand “New Barlun” (which phonetically even sounds like New Balance in Chinese) for copying its designs for nearly two decades. It was one of the first successful fashion copyright infringement lawsuits in China, and was hailed as a milestone as the country establishes more robust laws protecting IP.
In that case, a Shanghai court determined those New Barlun shoes were engaging in “unfair competition” by using a highly similar logo to New Balance’s and a similar use of the prominent “N” on its shoes, resulting in damage to New Balance’s goodwill and reputation. A mainland court again ruled in favor of the sports giant with $3.9 million awarded in damages against the Chinese copycats, the biggest ever trademark payout to a foreign brand in China.
In 2022, New Balance took American shoe brand Steve Madden to court, alleging the latter’s “Chasen” shoe was a blatant copy of its 327 model. The case is ongoing.
Typically, it’s the luxury labels suing lower-priced brands for copyright infringement, like Gucci’s long-running lawsuit against Guess over its “G” logo. But in the New Balance vs. Golden Goose and Adidas vs. Thom Browne cases, it’s the sportswear brand accusing the luxury brand of copying its wares.
Earlier this year, American designer Thom Browne successfully fended off a lawsuit from German athletic brand Adidas, which alleged that Browne’s use of four stripes on his tailored suits and sweaters represented a trademark infringement of Adidas’ well-known three stripes. A Manhattan jury ruled in Browne’s favor, deeming that the different price points of the two brands would make it difficult for customers to confuse the two. However, Adidas appealed the decision earlier this week.
Golden Goose’s pre-distressed luxury sneakers, which can cost as much as $800 a pair, are similarly distinct from New Balance’s more accessibly priced shoes.
But it’s not only that the “Dad Stars” are similar in design to New Balance’s 990s; it’s also that New Balance itself has come to be a player in luxury fashion circles in the same way that Adidas’ collaborations with the likes of Gucci have made it a player in the luxury space.
Today, the brand regularly collaborates with high-end designers like Miu Miu and Ganni, with limited-editions collaborations with the likes of Salehe Bembury making New Balance more than just a running shoe brand. It’s not only a shoe for the everyman dad anymore, but, like Golden Goose, for the person who spends close to four figures on a single pair of sneakers.
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.