Trademark Attorney, Julie Tolek, and the Director of Marketing and Creative Services, Eyob Yohannes, discuss with Larry Allen, Entrepreneur and Founder of Touché By Je Suis, the importance of intellectual property in trademarking and branding.
Click here to learn more about Larry Allen’s Touché By Je Suis Instagram page.
Caldwell Chats is a fireside chat series centered around emerging trends and hot topics in innovation. We have the inside scoop and want to share it. Working alongside pioneering business leaders and cutting-edge machinery and methods, our team members are witness to the next generation of tech shaping the future. We regularly invite top executives from a variety of industries to pick their brain on the latest innovations and IP matters. Our mission is to inform, guide and inspire innovators through this series.
Eyob Yohannes: Hi and welcome to another edition of Caldwell Chats, the series where we like to highlight new and exciting innovation, awesome innovators, and, of course, intellectual property. My name is Eyob Yohannes and I’m the Director of Marketing and Creative Services here at Caldwell Intellectual Property Law. Let’s just get right into this, so today we have a couple of special guests to talk about branding start-ups: We have Larry Allen, Entrepreneur and Founder of the fashion brand, Touché By Je Suis, and we have our very own Trademark Attorney, Julie Tolek. Welcome you two, thank you for being here.
Larry Allen: Thank you for having us!
Julie Tolek: Thanks, excited!
Eyob Yohannes: Yeah I’m very excited to talk trademarks, fashion, and branding.
Julie Tolek: It’s all of our favorite things, my favorite things anyway.
Eyob Yohannes: Yes, my favorite things as well.
Larry Allen: My favorite things.
Eyob Yohannes: And you’re wearing one of your sweaters today actually, aren’t you, Larry?
Larry Allen: Yes I am.
Eyob Yohannes: That’s really great.
Eyob Yohannes: So I guess let’s start off with asking you Larry, tell us about how you decided to start your clothing line and how you can up with the name, Touché By Je Suis.
Larry Allen: So basically, for a long time, I’ve been wanting to get into fashion. So I started a hat brand that never really got off the ground, and a friend of mine, he had a clothing line, and it really took off, but he didn’t copyright his name, trademark the name. So that’s why, when I got into it, the first thing I did was to trademark it because there ain’t nothing worse than getting something off the ground and having it taken away from you after you put in all this hard hard work. So I came up with the name Touché, it was me and my son, and we were just talking about starting a clothing line – I said we should sell Touché T-shirts, Touché representing acknowledgment of a clever idea such and such. And By Je Suis, is a little bit more deeper in meaning because on some of the shirts it has X3:14 – that’s for Exodus 3:14- when Moses asks God, “Who do I tell them your name is?” And They said, “Tell them I am that I am”. And “Je Suis” translates to “I am” so everything is inspired by God, so that’s where the name comes from.
Eyob Yohannes: Really awesome story.
Julie Tolek: I love that.
Eyob Yohannes: In terms of starting your own company and in terms of starting your own company and fashion brand, how do you have the time? Do you also have a job, and if so, how do you find the time to do – like do you sleep? Is my question to you.
Larry Allen: So like last week I did like 63 hours so I’m used to long days and like, when you’re a technician, there’s no set time of work. You go somewhere, you don’t leave until the job is done. You don’t just say, “It’s 4 o’clock, I’m going home, I’ll see you tomorrow”. You have to get the job done. So therefore my my stamina for work is really long, and plus, I have kids and everything so this is nothing. Yeah I do get tired but, you know, I push through it; a cup of coffee, maybe a French roast, will get me through the day.
Eyob Yohannes: Yes, and ambition. I do see how that translates into your day job translate into having to put a lot of hours in, especially with the company just to start it.
Larry Allen: Yeah, it is a lot of hours, so I spend a lot of time thinking of designs and ideas and, you know, you want everything to be done right. You don’t just want to verse something in and it starts to collapse on you so that’s why it’s best to take your time and focus on your approach to things.
Eyob Yohannes: Very true and it seems like you’ve done a good job at that, judging from the clothing that I see right in front of me.
Julie Tolek: Yeah, and if I can jump in too, so this is one of the conversations that Larry and I had – speaking of doing everything right – was about the quality of the fabric that he’s using. He wants to make sure that, not only things are done right from a business perspective, but also from the tech specs of the product and what he’s putting out there, so when we were discussing quality of the fabric, it’s kind of like branding within branding because if you use the bad fabric – you know, I’m not gonna mention any specific names of fabrics and companies that use bad fabric – but we talked specifically about, you know, if you get a shirt that’s XYZ brand, you know it’s bad quality like, before you can get it, because of the brand is known for having poor quality shirts versus another brand, ABC brand, that’s known for having good quality shirts. So it’s kind of a double layer of branding to think about when selecting fabric that is going to represent his brand of his fashion. So, it’s not always just what we see on the outside, but there’s a lot of thought that goes into it that people don’t realize until they are doing it behind the scenes, like Larry’s doing.
Larry Allen: The best thing, to me, is that when you buy clothing, you should be comfortable in it – even if you’re not going out. Even if you just want to go sit in your living room and on your couch, you should be comfortable with what you’re wearing, so it should always be good to put on and everything.
Eyob Yohannes: And I love this concept of fabric, and the quality of the fabric, being an integral part of the brand for a fashion brand. In my previous experience, I found that to be true as well, so kudos to you for really taking the time to select fabrics and making sure that that quality is important. And, I guess, a question as well, what kind of brand is Touché By Je Suis? What’s the ethos of the brand? What kind of lifestyle are you trying to portray in your brand?
Larry Allen: We’ll I’m trying to portray an urban lifestyle and so you can be comfortable wherever you go. It’s basically going to be an every day wear – I do have another line but I’m not gonna mention it now, it’ll be a more high end that will come out in the future you know, it will complement Touché in a surprising way. You know, the lifestyle that I’m going with is a philosophy of always looking for excellence. Always being prepared to be at your best, no matter what the situation is
Eyob Yohannes: I love that. Also my questions is, and this is probably where we can bring trademarks into this, how has your intellectual property journey been, especially with trademarks throughout these stages of building your company? Did you think of trademarks early on? How did you learn the protecting the brand is important? I think you kind of mentioned that a little bit from a friend of yours in the past.
Julie Tolek: Learning from your friend’s mistakes, right? Like, at one point in your journey were you able to apply that?
Larry Allen: Yeah, well as soon as I saw him, because I still speak with him and I get advice from him, so as soon as that happened, there were a lot of things that I didn’t know from a legal point of view. So I’m like, “Hold on”, you know, I was surprised that people really take their time out to trademark things that they’re not gonna use, just to use it as a bargaining tool. They got people out there that do that, so when you do come across a name, like my cousin, he started an online clothing store, and I gave him an excellent name, and he wanted to use that name, and somebody owns it and they don’t sell anything. So I said, “Before I even get started let me make sure that it’s mine” so I can put my all into it.
Eyob Yohannes: That’s really interesting that you found someone that actually has trademarked that name, however, doesn’t sell anything. Julie, what are your thoughts on that?
Julie Tolek: It’s interesting – it is a good point – because one thing that differentiates trademarks from other types of intellectual property is the fact that, at some point, you do have to prove to the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) that you’re using the mark in commerce. But it does allow you to apply ahead of time with the intent to use that mark in the future so you do often find trademarks that have been filed for, and they might be in that pending application phase, or they’ve received approval but they haven’t submitted that evidence of use in commerce yet, so they aren’t officially registered yet, so they are in that, kind of, limbo period. And if they end up not submitting that evidence of use, then the trademark will not register and it will go abandoned, but during that time, that name is essentially blocked from anyone else using it or registering it because it is in the pending period, still, it’s still ahead of the line for anyone else that would want to try to use that. So it’s quite interesting and I have had clients that have gone back to look at marks of names that they wanted to use originally that were being held without showing use in commerce and, later on, they’ve gone abandoned because nobody ever filed that evidence of use and they’ve gone to reregister and take the name themselves. So, it’s always good to keep an eye on those, especially if it looks like no one‘s actually using them, because they could just be holding them to try and sell them, like Larry mentioned. Because eventually they do have to show use.
Larry Allen: Huh, I’m gonna have my cousin contact you about that, then.
Julie Tolek: Yeah, I work with clients that are in all points in the timeline of trademark registration, whether it’s at the beginning and they’re still brainstorming about brand names, or whether they’ve fallen into the situation that Larry was talking about where they’ve started marketing some thing with the name and then they’ve gone to try to register a trademark, only to find a trademark has already been registered. And I’ve worked with people who have registered their trademarks but maybe haven’t submitted the proper evidence of use, so now they have some trouble with the USPTO asking for more information. So, no matter where you are in the timeline, you still have to consider all of these things because you’re either going to need them in the future or you need them as you’re applying for your trademark.
Eyob Yohannes: Mhm, and Julie follow-up question to you, so, what happens if a client says, “I have his name for my company and I’ve been using it for X amount of years” and then unfortunately they find out that it’s already trademarked – what would happen in that instance?
Julie Tolek: That’s such a complicated answer and it depends on so many things – call me first, of course, I would say, in that case – but essentially, what I say to clients in this situation usually is there’s a balance, and every client’s risk tolerance and budget is different. So, if a business has been already out there marketing with a certain name and they’re well known for that name, then there is an emotional, as well as financial tie, to that name already, so that’s one thing to consider; what is it going to cost emotionally and financially to either rebrand or to, maybe, try to differentiate the brand in a way that’s different from the one that’s already registered – slightly? So at least, they can use the same name but put a different spin on it. How much is it going to cost? Again there’s that emotional cost, as well, because you know, brands are people’s babies, and I understand that and that’s why I take things personally for my clients in these situation because I have experienced that: when you can’t register some thing and you want to and you’ve poured your heart and soul into it. So, there are all these factors to consider when trying to determine:
There are a lot of things to think about in that case, so I was laughing when I was say, “Call me”, but really, since there are so many things to consider, you really have to work with a professional who knows trademarks and who can see all sides of this to kind of help you figure it out. In the end, it’s going to be the business owner’s decision because, only they can determine what financially and emotionally makes most sense to them, but we are here to guide in whatever direction makes sense.
Eyob Yohannes: Really interesting.
Larry Allen: Just want to backtrack to the question you asked me about the experience with intellectual property: it’s been great. It’s been easy from the beginning, I can always get in touch with them when I need to. It’s responsive to answer any questions that you may have.
Julie Tolek: Thank you.
Eyob Yohannes: And also, Larry for you, what has being a father taught you and how does that translate into you being a business owner? I know that you’re a parent of two children.
Larry Allen: It taught me patience. With kids, you have to be extremely patient and I do get their input on things – they wanna model the clothes and they like to see how it progresses and how it blossoms into reality. But the way it all happened was that – it’s just – my whole life I’ve been into fashion. I love beautiful things: art, colors, things of that nature. So one day I said, “I think I would be great at actually producing clothes”.
Eyob Yohannes: I did peek your Instagram page and I was wondering, for social media, how have you used social media for branding and also for sales? Has it been a good tool for you?
Larry Allen: It’s been good. It’s been an experience because, when I was younger, social media wasn’t out, so you have to learn how to navigate it in the right ways and figure out how it actually works. Like I know how it works on personal level, but how it works on a professional level, takes a little bit more getting used to.
Eyob Yohannes: Yeah, and Julie, question for you, how does social media play into branding and trademarks?
Julie Tolek: I mean, social media and branding, in general, I think the three of us here can attest that it’s huge. It can make-or-break a brand if it’s done carelessly – there are algorithms – I don’t know the technical nuances either behind the scenes of Instagram, for example, but I’ve heard people talk about the algorithm changes, and now, liking something with a heart is not enough. You have to save it – if you save it, it gives the business a higher boost in the algorithm than just saving it. Stuff like that is always changing, so in general, I would say the more you harness social media to get the word out there, the better. Because then, at least, no matter how the algorithm is changing, you know that you are still getting content out there about your product or your service. And from a trademark application perspective, sometimes we can use social media posts as part of the application and so that’s also something that to think about. It’s not helpful, necessarily, in every situation, but frequently we do use screenshots, especially of Instagram posts, especially if there’s a way to order, and there’s pricing information in the caption basically showing how the products are for sale. This can be really useful on Instagram, especially for trademark application purposes.
Eyob Yohannes: Really interesting.
Eyob Yohannes: Larry, just to wrap things up, what are your goals for the future of Touché By Je Suis?
Larry Allen: Well, I also want to backtrack for a split second, sorry about that. I used Fencing for my brand, and the way that came up was a few years ago, I remember there were talks of the Olympics coming to Boston and I said, “Well, what can I get my daughter into that’s into the it’s in the Olympics?” And I realized Fencing was in the Olympics and I said, “I think she’ll be great at that” and she’s always had a curiosity for Fencing, and I realized, she would be great at it, so I put her into it. And I use the Fencing theme as our symbol, it’s called “The Touché Fencer”. You haven’t seen it yet, but it will be out really soon.
Eyob Yohannes: Looking forward to it.
Larry Allen: And in the future of Touché, my dream is to actually have a store with the Touché banner going across it. In reality, I would love to just be able to have a professional painter in the store; you pick out the shirt and they can actually paint the logo on the shirt right there in the store for you.
Julie Tolek: That’s so cool.
Eyob Yohannes: I really look forward to attending your opening party, one day.
Julie Tolek: Yeah, hopefully we’re the first people to get invitations, I’ll remind you!
Larry Allen: You don’t have to remind me, I don’t forget anyone who’s there for me.
Eyob Yohannes: Last, question for you, Larry: do you have any advice for a future, aspiring black entrepreneurs or anyone who wants to start up a company?
Larry Allen: Yes, my advice for people would be: stay motivated and stay focused and take your time. Don’t lose your ambition. Some days, you’re going to feel like it’s a little harder than others, but go with your heart and always stay focused on your dreams and your goals. Like they say, “If you build it, they will come”.
Eyob Yohannes: Well said, thank you for those inspiring words, Larry. And thank you for taking the time to talk with us and thank you for everyone that’s here, listening. And last, but not least, tell us how we can reach out to your brand and see your brand, Touché?
Larry Allen: Well right now, I’m on Instagram and I’m on Instagram and I’m on Facebook. And on Instagram, because you can’t put the hyphen over the “e”, so it’s going to be spelled: touche.by.jesuis , and it’s the same for Facebook. I have a Touché phone line and a Touché email that you can reach me at – the information is on the Instagram page. Right now I’m also building a website, so that will come in the near future, too.
Julie Tolek: Can people order from you yet, Larry?
Larry Allen: Yes, they can order from me. If they go right on Instagram, they can order from me.
Julie Tolek: Okay, great.
Eyob Yohannes: Thank you so much, Larry, and thank you so much, Julie, for this series of Caldwell Chats. And we’ll be sure to put the Instagram information so you can also get your Touché By Je Suis sweater; I’ll probably be making a personal order, myself.
Larry Allen: Yeah T-shirts and sweat suits. I think when they see the sweat suits up there, they’ll probably fall in love with them. This one *points to the sweatshirt he’s wearing* is called “Elysium White” so we have unique colors. If you go on the Instagram page, you’ll see more details.
Eyob Yohannes: Great! Thank you again, you two, and thank you and until next time for Caldwell Chats. This is Eyob, and I am signing out. Great to see you guys and have a wonderful day.
Julie Tolek: Thank you!
Larry Allen: Thank you!
Eyob Yohannes: Bye!