Underwear with ski area maps starting to get hot | AspenTimes.com
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Underwear with ski area maps starting to get hot

If you thought Aspen was taking it in the shorts this winter, you’re exactly right.

While boxer shorts featuring ski area trail maps are flying out the doors of shops in Vail, Park City and even Snowmass, sales have been stymied in Aspen.

A trademark and licensing snafu have stopped an Aurora, Colo.-based company called Silk Trails from selling the Aspen Mountain boxers.

“Vail is the number one seller. Park City is probably number two. Aspen was right up there,” said company founder and owner Renee Zacher Himel.

She started her company in 1995, after the idea of placing the trail map on silk scarves hit her while riding a chairlift at Vail. She later expanded into silk ties and silk and cotton boxers, which have become her top-selling product.

The boxers appeal to tourists and locals because they are a unique way for a person to – let’s say, display – support for their favorite ski resort.

“They crack up because they have the trail map on their underwear,” said Himel. About 100 of the most popular boxers are sold per week.

Shortly after the Aspen Mountain boxers were introduced in 1997, Himel got a call from a company called Aspen Licensing International of West Palm Beach, Fla.

The company has a trademark on the name Aspen. Anyone who wants to sell products in numerous categories, from clothing to automobiles, using the name must secure a licensing agreement from the Florida company.

Himel said she quit manufacturing Aspen Mountain boxers and sold out her inventory in 1999 because of difficulties dealing with Aspen Licensing.

Robert Maltz, chairman of Aspen Licensing, said there really shouldn’t be any difficulties.

“They can sell Aspen boxers. They just have to pay us royalties,” Maltz said.

His company acquired the Aspen trademark in 1984 by buying a company that had established licensing rights in several categories of products. The name was first trademarked in 1949 for a clothing line. The rights to the name passed through a couple of companies before Maltz’s group acquired it.

While it may now seem strange that a town name can be trademarked, Maltz said his company’s claim to the Aspen name is grandfathered – “they cannot take away what’s already done.”

Companies can incorporate using the Aspen name, so everyone from the Aspen Chamber Resort Association to Aspen Plumbing and Heating can safely use the integral part of their monikers. And Aspen Licensing International even loosened up restrictions it could have enforced.

In 1984, the company negotiated a deal with the Aspen Skiing Co. ownership group, then headed by Marvin Davis. Maltz said he and his colleagues agreed to allow products with the Aspen name to be sold within 30 miles of Aspen without requiring a special licensing agreement.

“It wasn’t our intention to close mom-and-pop stores,” said Maltz. “The whole purpose is not to hurt anyone, especially in Aspen.”

But when someone outside of that 30-mile boundary attempts a sale – watch out.

“Use the name Aspen and I guess Bob Maltz will eventually call you,” said Aspen Skiing Co. attorney Dave Bellack.

Indeed he will. Maltz recently took enforcement action against a West Coast company that was selling an Aspen clog. His company has the licensing rights on footwear using the name Aspen.

Companies pushing Aspen products have two options, stop or pay royalties. Maltz said his firm calculates the royalties they require by looking at a company’s sales. The fee is “something reasonable, nothing to hurt them.”

He wouldn’t say how lucrative it is to own the Aspen name, but he noted, “Everybody knows Aspen.”

Himel of Silk Trails didn’t want to discuss specifics of her negotiations with Aspen Licensing. She hopes that an agreement can be reached to allow sales of her Aspen Mountain boxers again during the 2001-02 season.

If not she’s got plenty to do. Her company sells boxers with trail maps from 10 ski areas this season, and expansion is likely next season. (B-Jammin is the exclusive outlet for the Snowmass boxer.)

In addition she’s secured rights to special boxers for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

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