The consumer watchdog is taking Australian activewear brand Lorna Jane to court for trying to sell clothes they said could protect against coronavirus.
The company came under fire in July, after it claimed on its website that its “anti-virus activewear” prevented and protected against infectious diseases.
“LJ Shield breaks through the membrane shell of any toxic diseases, bacteria or germs that come into contact with it, not only killing that microbe but preventing it from multiplying into anymore,” its website stated at the time.
The company was subsequently fined almost $40,000 in July by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for making these claims.
Now, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is taking the private company to the Federal Court over alleged false or misleading claims.
Its commissioner, Sarah Court, said the company’s claims were particularly troublesome as they came at a time when Victoria was starting to grapple with a second wave of COVID-19.
“We allege that the statements made by Lorna Jane gave the impression that the COVID-19 claims were based on scientific or technological evidence when this was not the case,” she said in a statement.
“We are particularly concerned about this because consumers often trust well-known brands and assume that their marketing claims are backed up by solid evidence.”
The ACCC said Lorna Jane advertised the activewear over a wide range of media including Instagram, its website and in stores, including statements such as: “Cure for the Spread of COVID-19? Lorna Jane Thinks So.”
Other lines included: “With Lorna Jane Shield on our garments it meant that we were completely eliminating the possibility of spreading any deadly viruses”.
Its action also claims that while most of the claims were removed earlier in the year, Lorna Jane continued to represent on clothes tags until as late as November that garments permanently protected the wearers against pathogens.
It is also alleges that the company’s namesake and its chief executive, Lorna Jane Clarkson, was knowingly concerned in the alleged conduct.
ACCC focusing on dodgy pandemic claims
The company was founded in 1990 and today has 108 stores in Australia, as well as a number of international stores, including in the USA and New Zealand.
In a statement, the company said it would defend itself in Court.
“We have assisted the Commission in its investigations to date and are extremely disappointed that the Commissioner has decided to start court action,” it said in a statement.
“We will be defending ourselves in the Federal Court against the Commission’s allegations.
“As the proceedings are now before the court, neither the company nor Ms Clarkson will be making any further comment at this stage.”
Doctors from medical associations also criticised the company in July over its virus claims.
At the time, RACGP president Dr Harry Nespolon described the marketing as a cynical ploy to exploit pandemic fears.
“If you spray their product onto any fabric and expect that it will act as a ‘shield of protection’ for you by breaking through the ‘membrane shell of any toxic diseases’ I have some bad news for you – this will not happen,” he said in July.
“The only thing that will be ‘terminated’ by the ‘shield particles’ is the money in your bank account.
“I suspect (the company) is cynically trying to exploit fears concerning the COVID-19 pandemic to sell clothes.”
The ACCC’s Ms Court said the charges come as the watchdog continues to focus on claims made during the pandemic.
“We will continue to look closely at allegations relating to companies seeking to take advantage of the crisis by engaging in illegal conduct to enhance their commercial position or harm consumers,” she said.