When Cult Gaia started making a name for itself in earnest in 2017, it had one item to thank above any other: its "Ark" bag, which found a way into the hands of seemingly every Instagram influencer in the game and even celebrities like Rihanna and Beyoncé.
It's understandable, then, that when other brands began showcasing similar styles in their own web stores, Cult Gaia's founder Jasmin Larian was not pleased. She made her displeasure known by filing suit against a little-known brand called Joia in January, then came after one of the biggest companies selling "Ark" bag lookalikes, Steve Madden, in February in this year with a cease-and-desist letter.
It's not the first time that Steve Madden has been sued for allegedly copying other brand's designs, as everyone from Stella McCartney to Balenciaga have come after him in court in the past (and Steve Madden himself told Fashionista at one point that he was surprised he hadn't faced even more lawsuits). But that didn't mean Steve Madden the company was going to take Cult Gaia's letter lying down. Instead, it turned around filed a lawsuit of its own in March.
In the suit, Madden claimed that Cult Gaia couldn't seek legal protection for its bag since the design "slavishly copies" vintage Japanese picnic bags from the '40s — in other words, claiming it was never Cult Gaia's design in the first place. The suit went further to essentially ask the court to make it impossible for Larian to ever sue Steve Madden for its own iteration of the bag by declaring that she doesn't own the rights to the design, and asked that Cult Gaia be made to pay for the cost of Steve Madden's legal fees.
But on Tuesday this week, Larian proved that she has no intention of backing down. Instead, she upped the ante by asking to be awarded more than $15 million in damages "sustained as a result of Steve Madden's infringement and unfair competition," according to the filing. The filing goes on to describe Madden's actions as "gross, wanton, willful and malicious conduct" and asks that Madden be made to pay for Cult Gaia's legal fees and that it turn over any profits made from its "Ark" lookalike to Cult Gaia.
So whose side will the law take? It's hard to say at this point, but considering that Cult Gaia has asked that the case be tried by a jury, it looks like the whole thing may get even messier before it gets cleaned up.