Hollister vs. Hollister: Trendy clothes-maker battles scrappy farm town

My cousin's 16-year-old daughter is crazy for Hollister, a brand of casual "surf-style" clothes. To this New Hampshire teen, the shorts and hoodies she covets summon up a kind of laid-back, sun-kissed lifestyle (complete with laid-back, sun-kissed boys), that she can only dream of. I had to laugh. The first thing I thought of when I learned about this trend was the small, dusty farming town of Hollister, Calif., which is nowhere near the beach, and where the lifestyle is decidedly more cowboy than surfer.

But then I learned that, more likely, the name might have been taken from a legendary surf spot known as Hollister Ranch, a private stretch of unspoiled beach between Santa Barbara and the mid-coast.

So it was sort of surprising to hear that the makers of Hollister are threatening to sue merchants in the actual town of Hollister if they sell merchandise bearing their town's name.

Preppy clothier Abercrombie & Fitch own the brand, and have already sent a letter threatening action against a clothing line based in Hollister because it had the audacity to put the name of the town on their labels. The owner says she was just trying to give a shout out to the town her headquarters is located in, but she backed down anyway. No small business wants to go up against a giant.Hollister locals, of course, say them's fightin' words, and many merchants are ignoring the threat. The schools aren't about to stop making sweatshirts that bear the name of their town, either. The town's city attorney says no one can own the copyright of a place, and a Stanford law professor who specializes in copyright law agrees with her. The scrappy citizens of Hollister are ready for a fight. It's garnered a lot of publicity for the town, anyway.

Hollister the brand was launched in 2000. Hollister the town was incorporated in 1872. Abercrombie & Fitch says it pulled the name Hollister out of thin air, and used it to build up a fictional California beach town to help sell its line of surf-clothes. It currently has more than 500 retail stores spread across the United States, selling clothes that are hugely popular with teens, (especially teens who don't have access to California beaches).

Ironically, residents of the ultra-elite (and gated) enclave of Hollister Ranch don't allow the hoi-polloi on their beach, so local surfers launch boats from nearby Gaviota pier and surf from off-shore, which California law permits. So the "surfing lifestyle" of Hollister Ranch is somewhat less laid-back and rather more subversive than the clothing line's fictional Hollister, Calif. would probably be comfortable with.

But the ultimate insult came when Abercrombie & Fitch refused an invitation to open an outlet store in Hollister. The lower-end demographics of the place didn't add up, it said. That's short sighted and snobby. Since the brand became popular, thousands of tourists have rolled into town, mistakenly expecting to find Hollister (the brand) paydirt. They'll probably have to make due with a tourist T-shirt bearing the name Hollister, Calif. instead.
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