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Hansen: Shame on companies that rip off Laguna name

April 04, 2013|By David Hansen
  • Laguna Beach Jean Company's headquarters in L.A.
Laguna Beach Jean Company's headquarters in L.A. (DAVID HANSEN )

Far from the blue waters of Laguna Beach, there is a graffiti-stained warehouse in historic South-Central Los Angeles that calls itself the Laguna Beach Jean Co.

It sits between a heavily fortified check-cashing business and a dollar discount store in an area that remains one of the most violent and crime-ridden in L.A.

So what does Laguna Beach and the Laguna Beach Jean Co. actually have in common?

Absolutely nothing.

It is simply a business strategy to capitalize on the Laguna Beach brand by an Irvine couple, Christine and Steve Kim, who also own Coyote Hills Golf Course in Fullerton.

There is no Laguna Beach Jean Co. manufacturing plant in Laguna — no headquarters, regional office or storefront.

The closest connection you can find are the jeans themselves, sold in at least one boutique in Laguna for about $150 a pair.

The Kims, who live in the Shady Canyon gated community of Irvine, did not respond to requests for comment, but they freely admit on their company's Facebook page that the business was "inspired" by Orange County though based in L.A.

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A receptionist at the L.A. warehouse said the company does not have any operations in Laguna, and according to city records, the company has never had a Laguna Beach business license.

"We're a brand new denim/clothing company based in L.A., but our clothing is 'O.C.' inspired!" says the company's Facebook page. "We manufacture denim, shirts, tees, hoodies and jackets for men and women. Our jeans are the backbone of our company. Each style is named after an Orange County beach. The beach epitomizes the laid-back, cool 'sun, surf and sand' culture of SoCal."

It's clear that Laguna Beach has a valuable brand. Even before the MTV reality series, the city was known around the world as a premier destination.

Cities, however, cannot trademark their name. Anyone can start a business anywhere in the world and say they are "Laguna Beach Posers," if that's what they want.

The question is, is it the right thing to do?

The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce says no. President-elect Larry Nokes, who is also an attorney in town, does not endorse this type of virtual carpetbagging. Outsiders are using the name yet depriving the city of any real tax revenue.

"I would hope that companies that incorporate the city of Laguna Beach into their brand would have some connection with the town," he said. "That would only make sense. And I think that would be the sentiment of the chamber."

Blurring the branding lines is not new in business. Seemingly "American" brands like Levi jeans, Converse shoes and countless others outsource their manufacturing operations to China, Latin America, Haiti and other locations that have cheaper labor.

But in this case, where it is so local, the issue boils down to authenticity and pride of ownership. This couple is too local not to have at least some part of their business in Laguna Beach — a retail store, design studio, sales office, anything.

Can you imagine the awkwardness at social parties when someone asks the requisite, "What do you do?"

I own Laguna Beach Jean Co.

Really? Wow, what part of Laguna are you in?

Oh, our business is not in Laguna Beach. We are just using the name.

I see ….

Call me old fashioned, but that outfit is too modern for my tastes.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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