In February 2020, Ama Amo-Agyei was laid off from her job in recruitment. She used her new-found free time to create a treatment for her alopecia – an autoimmune disorder that causes your hair to come out – using ingredients inspired by her Ghanaian heritage, as well as ayurveda and herbal remedies.
She started dropping her haircare products on Instagram and, within a year, she hit seven figures in revenue. But, just as Ama was getting into the rhythm of owning a product business, she was hit with a cease-and-desist letter regarding the name of her brand (which she later changed to Plantmade). Here, she explains what happened.
• ‘The business that had the name was a dissolved business. So, we thought that it was fine. But, legally, it wasn't fine, because they were still operating, but they were operating as a sole trader.’
• ‘Even if you have a name that sounds nice and the Instagram handle is free, you should go on to the trademarking website in whatever country you're from. Look up the name in your category and see if there's anything similar. If there's nothing similar, you're good. But, if there's something in a category you want to expand into, you might as well try to come up with something more unique.’
• ‘If your products have unique names and you want that to be a part of the world-building of your brand, then protect them. Any catchphrases, if it's an invention or any new ways to apply or use the product, patent it or try to get it protected and registered in your name. Essentially, it gives you the power to make sure your unique selling point is protected.’
• ‘You can also trademark phrases, and even patterns. I've seen some of my peers who work in fashion challenging fast-fashion brands for creating similar prints. I would say that you should future-proof the trademark, as well. Some people might put a trademark in for only one specific category but, if you have any plans to go into any other categories, trademark your name in those as well. It'll cost more, as you have to pay per category, but then you'll have covered yourself for the future.’
• ‘But, ultimately, it was a saving grace. I discovered that there were quite a few brands with the same name in different areas – such as supplements, a space that I'm passionate about and would like to grow into one day. So, we were given a second chance to get it right. Now we've completely protected ourselves in the US, the UK and the whole of Europe.’
For our ‘25 big lessons from small business’ series, we scoured the world to find inspiring people to share the lessons they've learned from running their own companies. Click here to read the other stories.
This special feature was first published in Courier issue 45, February/March 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.