Zara sues independent female-founded fashion brand House of Zana

“Zara has a history of suing small businesses, but I never thought it could happen to me”

A stable of female-founded brands spanning fashion to homeware have been sued by Zara. They ask, when will it stop? 

Nestled on a quiet high street in a sleepy town in County Durham is a black-fronted store with the words House Of Zana written across it in a cursive font.

Founded in 2019 by Amber Kotrri, the clothing boutique is an amalgam of consciously crafted wares, the sort you’d reach for to wear on holiday. Its clothes are colourful and patterned, all of them made in Albania, which is where Kotrri’s husband is from.

Early last year, once House Of Zana’s business was booming, Kotrri applied to trademark her brand’s name to ensure its future safety. Her business continued to boom until a letter arrived that threw her successful streak off course.  

“A month later, I received a letter from Zara’s lawyers that asked me to close down my business,” Kotrri tells Stylist. “It was a really intimidating, threatening letter that said if I did not close my store down in a certain timeframe, they would take legal action against me because of my trademark.”

Zara sues independent female-founded fashion brand House of Zana
Amber Kotrri, owner of House of Zana.

Zara, which is owned by Spanish conglomerate Inditex and has around 3,000 stores worldwide, had taken issue with Kotrri’s trademark application, arguing that the similarities between its moniker and the name of her boutique would “confuse” shoppers.  

“This isn’t my background, so the first time I read the letter, I thought, ‘Oh good lord, there’s no way I’m going to win against these people,’” Kotrri says.

Zara sues independent female-founded fashion brand House of Zana
House of Zana founder Amber Kotrri with the Albanian garment workers that make House of Zana's pieces.

Feeling isolated and confused by the complicated wording of the letter, Kotrri appealed to House Of Zana’s social media following to seek advice and support. “It was only when I started talking about it on my social media, saying that Zara is trying to take on an independent business, that I realised I’m not the only one,” she adds.

In 2020, Tara Sartoria opened as an online boutique specialising in silk clothing and accessories crafted by female artisans from around the world. Its founder, Thao Nguyen, received an exact copy of the letter sent to Kotrri, inferring that Tara Sartoria would cause “consumer confusion” and “trademark dilution” because of its supposed similarity to the name Zara. A petition started by Nguyen to fund her legal fees received over 6,000 signatures.  

Zara sues independent female-founded fashion brand House of Zana
Tara Nguyen, founder of Tara Sartoria, also received a letter challenging her trademark.

“We are named for Tara, the Buddhist goddess of compassion and protection, to honour the women whose lives we touch for the better,” Tara Sartoria’s website reads. “Tara, my English name, was born from a lotus, the flower you see in our name. Sartoria, Italian for a tailor’s shop, honors the handmade in our clothing.”

After an exhaustive year-long battle with Zara Home’s lawyers, Northern Irish ceramics brand Zara Ceramics, founded by Zara McLaughlin, was forced to rebrand entirely. It’s now known as Zara McLaughlin Studio.

“I have spent a year being completely stressed about it,” Kotrri explains. “If big brands like Zara keep trying to close down independent businesses like ours, then what is going to become of the British high street?”

At her hearing earlier this month, Kotrri represented herself against five lawyers who represented Zara. She was told that the verdict will take several months to be delivered, but described the legal process as “gruelling”. Zara’s lawyers requested that, should they be successful in their case against Kotrri, the business owner cover their legal fees for the case. 

Zara sues independent female-founded fashion brand House of Zana
Zara McLaughlin was forced to rebrand after Zara pursued her too.

“I have a sale on right now, I’m selling off so many pieces because I’m worried,” she says. “What if I suddenly get this huge bill to pay? I’ve got a young family to support and I might have to close my shop.”

The future for House Of Zana remains unclear, but Kotrri is adamant in her resolve. “We should all be supporting each other to grow and succeed, and for female-founded independent businesses to be taken on by such a huge brand is unfair and it’s not right. But I hope I come out of this the other side so that I can support the people that have supported me through this.”

In a statement, Zara said: “This is an early stage of this administrative trademark registration process where we see a similarity to and damage for our brand. At this stage, we are not ‘suing’ nor are we seeking compensation. We are also not trying to close her business down. We’d proposed and, in any case, are aiming to proactively find an amicable settlement from the very beginning and remain open to one now. We wish Ms Kotrri’s business every success and hope that we can resolve this situation amicably.”

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