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Udo Ihem, CEO of Fifty Karats, alleges rip off of his designs

By Kristopher Fraser

Oct 6, 2020

The world of fashion copyright and trademark law continues to be a murky one. It’s very easy to trademark things like logos, but copyright is a much more complicated area as you can’t copyright most designs. Just imagine if people started trying to copyright black dresses. The lawsuits would be endless.

Fashion designer Udo Ihem, CEO of Fifty Karats, and Chris Lavish, global digital director of Fifty Karats, were shocked and dismayed when they found that the “Make Money Not Friends” slogan that gained popularity after being worn by faces like J’aime tout chez toi and Lavish himself at international fashion weeks, became the name for another fashion brand entirely based in Milan, Italy. Ihem alleges that the Make Money Not Friends Slogan was first popularized by him back in 2015 when he released his first highly sought-after piece with the slogan, and he has been knocked off by the Milan-based Make Money Not Friends brand.

Fifty Karats alleges slogan rip off by European brand Make Money Not Friends

A quick Instagram search shows that the Make Money Not Friends brand’s first Instagram posts dates back to 2017, 2 years well after Ihem released his first piece branded with the slogan. Ihem first put the quote on a black nylon bomber jacket, followed by a hoodie and T-shirt.

Ihem’s issues with Make Money Not Friends, whose products can currently be found on Yoox.com and Luisa Via Roma, date back to 2016. “I first noticed people copying my design as early as February 2016, then being sold on Amazon to a company starting an entire brand using my whole concept by 2017” Ihem said to FashionUnited. “I made it a habit to always screenshot counterfeit brands when I see them because it has been such a constant issue since I first released the jacket. My customers always keep me aware of the counterfeits they find and send me evidence.”

In a statement, Ihem also said that, “This is the issue with fashion vulture companies worldwide working to exile self-made brands by portraying themselves as the originators. Despite adversities, my experiences have taught me what it means to persevere and stay true to my brand. My ability to overcome obstacles and continue to do what's genuine will always remind me to do what's most naturally aligned with my brand.”

While Ihem hasn’t taken any legal action against the Milan-based Make Money Not Friends since he’s found out about them allegedly ripping off his designs, in July 2017, Ihem did attempt to secure the trademark for the slogan “Make Money Not Friends”. However, he was told it was “too broad a phrase” by the trademarking office and was ultimately denied.

Copyright laws usually don’t cover practical items like clothing, leading to an endless array of designers knocking off other designers’ styles. This is such a common practice that the Instagram account @diet_prada has dedicated an enormous portion of their feed to calling out designers ripping each other off. As for Ihem and Fifty Karats, he has realized when it comes to people ripping off his designs, there’s still very little he can do about it aside from calling out other designers.

FashionUnited has reached out to the Milan-based Make Money Not Friends for comment.

photos: courtesy of Fifty Karats