Gap ‘bullying’ small Indian retailer


Mon, Jul 29, 2013 - Page 15

An Indian recycling company which uses junk to create accessories is fighting a legal trademark suit launched by US clothing giant Gap demanding that the firm change its name.

Green the Gap, an Indian company which runs three stores in the country, mainly sells accessories and home decor items made out of waste including beer cans, rubber tires and fruit cartons.

Vimlendu Jha, founder of the firm, which also sells clothing for other brands, accused Gap in an interview on Friday of seeking to “bully” a small Indian company.

In March, the owners were slapped with a legal notice by Gap asking them to change their name and remove any reference to the company from their labels within 14 days.

A month later, the US retailer told the Indian firm it could keep its name for registration purposes, but must remove any mention of Gap in its labeling and on the Web site, Jha said.

“Gap said our company is infringing upon their branding and that we are riding on their goodwill to create confusion in the minds of buyers,” Jha said.

“We were shocked and angered that a company of that size and stature and supposed respectability is getting threatened by a small business,” he said.

Jha said that Green the Gap’s name was an environmental reference.

“We wanted to ask people is it possible to consume less and can we consume green? We upcycle trash, which means we add value to junk by creating a new and useful product,” he said.

He added that nowhere in their minds had they wanted to compete with Gap.

“For us ‘gap’ is a word in the English language that means void, absence. How can you monopolize a common English word?” he said. “Next we will hear we can’t use apple and orange in our lexicon. This is plain ridiculous.”

He said the company was now in verbal negotiations with Gap to try to settle the dispute.

Jha launched his firm five years ago as part of Swechha, an Indian advocacy group he set up to pursue environmental sustainability and proper pay for workers. The name was inspired by a Swechha education scheme known as Bridge the Gap, said Jha.

Gap, which is the largest casual wear retailer in the US with annual sales of more than US$15 billion, has about 3,000 outlets in 90 countries across the world. It also owns global brands such as Old Navy and Banana Republic.

Local media reports say Gap plans to open stores in India some time next year, which would make it one of the biggest global brands to launch in the country.

India’s government, in the past few years, has relaxed restrictions for international retailers as it seeks more foreign investment, but it stipulates that another company cannot sell products with an identical or similar label.

Jha said of the government: “Opening up the market for larger players must not mean that smaller players are shut out.”