These days, it seems like owning a beauty brand is a requirement for every celebrity. And while beauty fans continue to complain about the near-daily launch of these brands, they have stirred up quite a bit of drama in the beauty industry.
Hailey Bieber, model, wife to Justin Bieber, and member of the famous Baldwin family, recently joined the craze and started her own skincare brand, Rhode. The line, which launched last week, features five hydration-focused products that range in price from $16 to $29 and is currently only available via a waitlist.
Rhode, whose name comes from Hailey’s middle name, has been big news in the beauty world since its announcement as its launch has come during a wave of celebrity-owned brands, including Kim Kardashian’s new skincare brand SKKN by Kim.
But just days after Rhode’s launch, the brand is already being caught up in a lawsuit. On June 21, RHODE, a Los Angeles-based fashion brand, announced that they were suing Bieber for trademark infringement. The brand, which was co-founded in 2014 by Phoebe Vickers and Purna Knatau, claims that Bieber knowingly and wrongfully used the name which they had already trademarked.
In a statement posted on the fashion brand’s Instagram account, the duo alleged that Bieber offered to buy the brand in the past in order to obtain the name but that the owners refused to sell. “Hailey could choose any brand for her skincare line. We have only the brand name ‘RHODE’ that we’ve built. That’s why we didn’t sell her our brand when she asked four years ago, and why we ask her now to change her skincare line’s brand. Her using our brand is hurting our company, our employees, our customers, and our partners,” they said.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO, in cases involving trademark infringement, the lawsuit’s filer “must prove that it owns a valid mark, that it has priority (its rights in the mark(s) are "senior" to the defendant's) [meaning that the brand filing the suit used the name first regardless of who filed for the trademark first], and that the defendant's mark is likely to cause confusion in the minds of consumers about the source or sponsorship of the goods or services offered under the parties' marks.”
[Editor’s note: For ease of reading, clothing “RHODE” is formatted in all caps. Bieber’s “Rhode” is formatted as a proper noun.]
Between March 2017 and April 2021, RHODE filed six trademark applications for products, including women’s and men’s clothing, handbags, bath products, and accessories. Bieber’s LLCs have filed for four trademarks that are still currently live in the last three years under both the names Rhode and Hailey Rhode. Under Rhode, she has filed to use the name to potentially sell clothing, footwear, handbags, and bath products, all of which are covered in RHODE’s trademark application.
The Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure, produced by the USPTO, states that “In assessing the relatedness of the goods and/or services, the more similar the marks at issue, the less similar the goods or services need to be to support a finding of likelihood of confusion.” So by using such similar brands, it matters less that clothing and beauty are two different categories under trademark law.
But after the lawsuit’s announcement, another wrinkle entered the situation. Rhodes Skincare, a UK-based skincare brand that was founded by sisters Penny and Annabel Rhodes in 2004, experienced a significant hit to their business after Bieber announced her similarly-named line. On the day that Rhode launched its website, Rhodes Skincare saw a massive amount of orders and, soon after, a massive amount of cancellations after customers began to realize that they purchased from the incorrect brand, which saw a 94% increase in website visits the day of Rhode’s launch. This hurt the sisters’ brand as they had to stop all shipments to the US for two days to revise their return policy due to the influx of returns.
Accusations of trademark infringement and brand confusion are certainly not new in the beauty industry. A similar incident has been talked about recently involving SKKN by Kim, the latest beauty venture by the middle Kardashian sister that launched this week. She has been accused of creating confusion for beauty consumers because of the similarities between the brand’s name, SKN by LH, Lori Harvey’s skincare brand that was launched in October 2021, and SKKN+, a beauty salon founded by Cyndie Lunsford in 2018. Social media users have already pointed out the similarities, but the legality behind the name’s use is incredibly complicated due to the slight differences in the names and trademark filings.
No matter how the lawsuit against Bieber shakes out, beauty fans will certainly be watching as brand name and design similarity become a bigger issue in the community.