The Gap Inc. has unwittingly stepped right in the middle of a Lower East Side turf war. And if history has anything to teach the company, it may have met its match in a Clinton Street underdog with a knack for printing coveted T-shirts.
Local clothing designer Robert Lopez sued the Gap in Manhattan Federal Court Wednesday after finding out that Old Navy, one of its subsidiaries, has been selling a T-shirt with a nearly identical logo to one of his. In court papers, Lopez says he's been marketing garments emblazoned with "Lower East Side" and "LES NYC" since 1999, and registered his trademark with the state in 2007.
The Gap Goliath would be wise to take heed of this DIY David. In the last six months, Lopez, acting as his own lawyer, has successfully sued J. Crew, Aeropostale, and Payless Shoes for infringement. "I do not appreciate people trying to step on my feet," said Lopez, 35, who can count his employees on one hand. "I'm at a disadvantage when these big companies come in and benefit from my hard work. I should be the one that benefits from that. I have to protect my brand."
Lopez said that he could not reveal the settlements from the previous cases.
The indie T-shirt designer said that when he started out in the 1990s he wanted his logo to bring recognition to the neighborhood, which had not yet gentrified to the extent it has today.
"I've been through the different phases of the neighborhood—from it being dirty streets filled with drug dealers to it being filled with outdoor cafes. It’s a huge tourist attraction," he said. "It's something that I take pride in. I market this clothing to everyone."