Darlington boutique House of Zana wins brand court battle against high street giant Zara

House of Zana owner Amber Kotrri said she is relieved following a year-long court battle. Credit: NCJ Media

A small fashion company has won a tribunal against high-street giant Zara over claims it had an "identical brand".

Darlington-based boutique House of Zana was threatened with legal action from Inditex, the company which owns global fashion retailer.

One year on, a tribunal judge has now ruled House of Zana can keep its name.

Amber Kotrri, who owns the business, told ITV News Tyne Tees she was relieved and could finally move on.

"All the ideas I’ve got for the next season, the business growth that I have wanted to be able to do that’s been held back, I can finally do that," she said. "It's just an amazing feeling."

Ms Kotrri launched House of Zana online in 2018, and opened her first store in in the town a year later.

When the 28-year-old attempted to trademark the name House of Zana in December 2020, she received a notice of opposition two months later.

This was followed by a letter from lawyers representing Zara which said the brand was "conceptually identical" to theirs, and "confusingly similar" for customers.

The owners of Zara said customers would be confused by the similarity of the two brands. Credit: Amber Kotrri

The mum-of-three said she was urged to rename her business and remove all existing branding, but she refused to sign the agreement, stating there was "no risk of confusing us with Zara" and the change would "cause irreparable damage" to the business.

Ms Kotrri started the business while living with her husband in Albania, taking the name from the Albanian word for 'fairy'.

She said the name was "very meaningful" and posed "no commercial threat" to Zara.

The businesswoman said she was initially offended by the suggestion that her store could be confused with Zara.

"None of our values are the same, we support independent brands, everything is sustainable, we design everything in house, we make it ourselves, it’s a completely different business model, so there was no confusion at all," she added.

Ms Kotrri received an email last week telling her that she had won her case but said she was too nervous to open it.

"Your heart sinks, this is going to change my life and I don’t know which way," she said.

"So I didn’t open it, and it took me a couple of days to dare and then obviously I received the decision. It was just last week.

"You know that butterfly feeling you have, and it was literally like something had been lifted off my shoulders. That saying was actually so true, I just felt such a relief."

Amber Kotrri started her business House of Zana online in 2018, then opened her store in Darlington the following year. Credit: Women in Collaboration

In his ruling, the tribunal judge, Judge Matthew Williams, said: "I am satisfied that the differences between the marks ... are sufficient to rule out the likelihood of direct confusion on the part of the average consumer."

He added: "I accept that the choice of name is prompted by Ms Kotrri's Albanian heritage and the idea of clothes manufactured with the magical delicacy of fairies, and I find no cynical motive in the use of the name.

"Even for those who, based on their perception of the similar component, call to mind the word ZARA, I am not satisfied that the mental link would be more than fleeting."

Ms Kotrri said representatives of Zara more recently asked to settle the matter outside of court in return for more time to close down her business.

She said: "I was like well I’ve already done the court case now, I’m at the end, I’m not going to give up.

“I feel like that letter, even though it was very intimidating and threatening that I received about a month or so ago, I felt like the undertone was a last minute panic from them, which kind of gave me a bit more confidence. 

“It did scare me but it also made me think, well actually if they’re sending this now surely it’s because they know. I pushed it and I’m so glad that sense was seen."

Ms Kotrri said she was glad to have more time back after a year of legal correspondence and exchanging evidence but could not understand why the high-street giant considered her business a threat in the first place.

She said: "I’m not an expert at all in the field of law so it was just very stressful on an evening trying to get together responses to their lawyers who know all the correct words to use. It was quite mind boggling.

"The main thing is, it’s just taken so much time away from other things that I would have rather done.

"None of us are competition for them, they know that, I don’t know why they’re not just helping other smaller independent businesses to grow and smaller designers to get their foot in the market."

Ms Kotrri is now planning a trademark party next month, to celebrate winning the case.

A Zara spokesperson said: "While we do not wish comment on the judgment itself, we continue to wish Ms Kottri and her business success in the future."