Counterfeit Toughees school shoes
Futura Footwear destroys consignment, promises more of the same
PINETOWN (SA) – Futura Footwear destroyed a 9 804 pair consignment of counterfeit Toughees school shoes in November, and said it expects to take action against a number of other companies – local manufacturers and importers – in 2012.
“This particular consignment was quite interesting for a number of reasons,” said Futura school shoe brand manager Dave Lloyd, “but it’s also symptomatic of a deeper malaise – most of which isn’t very interesting at all, just venal.”
He said the case also demonstrated how slow the process of fighting counterfeits could be. “And we want it to be understood that no matter how long it takes, or how expensive it is, we will take every copier to court, because we’re confident we will win, they will lose, and it will cost them much more than it costs us.”
In March 2011, the Department of Customs & Excise in Durban called Futura’s attorneys, DM Kisch, after inspecting a container and finding school shoes marked Toughees, imported by Segwa Business Enterprises cc in Alberton, and manufactured by Yangzhou Liren Industry Co Ltd, a company in Yangzhou, Jiangsu, whose website (www.military-boot-manufacturer.com) says it specialises in military footwear.
“They were copies of our premier Toughees Platinum range, with the SA Podiatry Association-approved Franki sole,” Lloyd said. “They’d been made on a different last, but they had our registered sole pattern, they had ‘Toughees’ embossed on the sock, and they had the word Platinum on the sole.
“The consignment was impounded by Customs – at the importer’s expense. Research showed that Segwa Business Enterprises was owned by Matseliso Victoria Tsoaela, who was also a member or director of Sogwa Manufacturing & Distribution and Roya Nguepi Joint Venture. She is or was also a member of a number of other companies which had been, or are being, deregistered.
“We met her in April, and she said she had been investigating a tender for school shoes from the Department of Education. She said she had paid R86 per pair landed, and had intended to sell them for R120 per pair.
“She professed naivety, and said she had not intended to use the Toughees brand. She said she had not seen a confirmation sample, and had instead only seen emailed photos which did not show the sock stamp or the word Platinum on the sole. The manufacturer sent email testimony that there had been ‘miscommunication’ between themselves and the importer, and that Ms Tsoaela had in fact told them not to use the Toughees name.
“After the April meeting, two policemen, who said they represented her, came to us with an offer to cover the Toughees sock label with a sticker, and to chemically erase the Platinum on the sole. We rejected the offer, because the sticker wouldn’t permanently hide an embossed stamp, and because the shoes still carried our registered sole design.
“We threatened her with both civil and criminal action in terms of Section 9 of the Counterfeit Goods Act.
“At that point, both she and her attorney stopped responding to our emails, faxes and phone calls. That opened the way for us to have the shoes seized in September, and transferred to a private storage facility – now at our expense – and we moved them to our own premises as soon as we could.
“We explained to Customs that we intended to destroy the footwear, which we did by guillotining them in half. This was a long process, taking over a month, and they inspected the destroyed footwear periodically.
“The reason we destroyed them, rather than donating them to a charity, was that the shoes were very shoddily made, and if any of them got onto the market in any way, they could reflect both on us and on the biggest customer of the Platinum range, Edcon. Our concern was to protect the brand.”
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