HYANNIS — After eight years operating her eco-friendly boutique on South Street, Amanda Converse had built up a loyal following of customers who came to her store, Shift Eco-Boutique, looking for ethically and sustainably made clothes and accessories.
But a rebranding campaign by an upscale Boston-based women’s clothier has thrown her company’s name recognition into disarray and pushed Converse to the brink of legal action to defend her territory.
Converse, a Falmouth native, said the renaming of stores in Mashpee and Chatham once called Resort but now dubbed SHIFT has caused confusion for her customers and infringes on her established brand. She said she has documented 20 instances since the April renaming of her customers contacting the SHIFT stores thinking they were reaching her Shift Eco-Boutique.
“In addition to being disrespectful to an established business to come into an area and create confusion, it can be harmful to my brand,” Converse said.
The Resort stores in Mashpee and Chatham are owned by In the Pink Inc., a Boston-based retailer that, at one point, owned 11 women’s apparel shops on the Cape and Islands and in Boston. The company branded itself as a Lilly Pulitzer Signature Store, but all the In the Pink locations except for the Nantucket, Mashpee and Chatham locations now called SHIFT were sold last week to Lilly Pulitzer, according to an Instagram post by the company’s founder, Gordon Russell.
A representative from In the Pink declined to comment for this story.
The word shift refers to a style of dress that is short and sleeveless with straight lines. It was popularized by Lily Pulitzer in the 1960s, but the style has been around since the 1920s. The SHIFT website notes the stores are “named after the classic dress that started it all.”
In addition to the Resort locations on the Cape, In the Pink operated a women’s boutique on Nantucket named SHIFT that opened about a year after Converse started Shift Eco-Boutique. Converse said the island location was never a problem because of its distance from Hyannis, but with similarly named stores now just miles from her South Street storefront it’s a more pressing problem.
“The name has meant so much to me and this community,” she said. “I’ve worked hard to establish the brand and have it seen in a positive light. Any threat to that is not OK.”
Converse said she learned about the SHIFT stores April 17; nine days later, she registered Shift Eco-Boutique as a trademark with the state and noted in the filing that she has been using the name since 2009. She said her attorney, Barnstable lawyer Eugene Curry, has sent cease-and-desist letters to In the Pink with no response. If there’s no action by them before summer’s end, Converse said she’ll file a lawsuit.
“I hope that they come to their senses,” she said.
Converse isn’t the only retailer in recent memory to face a trademark battle from an off-Cape brand. Cape Cloth, a Dennis company, faced an objection from Italian sportswear maker Diadora over the design of its logo, which is an angular, stylized representation of the Cape. Diadora claimed the logo was too close to its left-facing chevron angled upward that tapers off to a thin point and would be confusing to customers.
The case was eventually settled with undisclosed terms, and Cape Cloth has continued to use its logo.
Cape Cloth owner Sean Fitzpatrick said the experience of fighting off a larger, off-Cape company was a “massive” issue for him.
“I didn’t want to seem petty, and I tried to downplay it to my customer base, but behind the scenes it was a really big deal,” he said. “Starting anything, especially a business, is hard on its own. Just to survive in the free market is difficult. When someone who has deeper pockets affects what you’re doing, it’s really difficult.”
Much as Fitzpatrick did, Converse, who is the daughter of Cape Cod Times sports writer Geoff Converse, is rallying locals to her defense. Multiple comments In the Pink’s social media channels have come to Shift Eco-Boutique’s defense, and a GoFundMe has raised $2,300 toward her pending legal expenses.
“The only thing you can do is remain positive and reach out to the people around you, especially those in the Cape Cod business community,” Fitzpatrick said. “Amanda has been somebody who is a huge advocate for local businesses, entrepreneurship and community involvement. Hopefully that karma will come back to her on that front.”
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