SNOHOMISH — Two sassy candle companies on opposite sides of the country, with the same gimmick and very similar branding, have been doing battle in the courtroom.
Lacie Marsh-Carroll, founder of Malicious Women Co. in Snohomish, has grown her reputation since early 2017 by making soy-based candles labeled with witticisms both profane and relatable. The product that’s “Infused With Sass” has garnered a media rush, landing stories and shout-outs in local and national outlets, like NBC and BuzzFeed.
In an interview with a Herald reporter in 2018, Marsh-Carroll took pride in the uniqueness of her candles.
“If you want a love-peace-kindness-happiness candle, you can find that anywhere,” she said at the time. “Name a life situation and I’ll pull a candle out. Have a friend going through a divorce? I have a candle for that.”
Her competitor, Malicious Mermaid, sells candles with a striking resemblance, from the packaging and labeling, to the same exact scent names. They even use the same type of brown jar. Both companies primarily sell their products through the online stores Etsy and Amazon. A complaint filed on Oct. 30 in U.S. District Court in Florida identifies 118 alleged instances that Malicious Mermaid infringed on Marsh-Carroll’s trademarks.
It’s perhaps the first time such phrases have made their way into a federal lawsuit, and have been considered by a federal judge, like …
“Adulting, Infused with Insufficient Funds.”
“Freshly Signed Divorce Papers, Infused With Independence.”
“Beards, Ink & Muscles, Infused With Spontaneous Panty Dropping.”
One major difference, Marsh-Carroll claims in the lawsuit, is that Malicious Mermaid makes an inferior product. She ordered and tested the candles herself. The complaint alleges they were oversaturated with fragrance oil and, as a result, weren’t properly cured. The candle wax reportedly was soft, and could be indented with a light push of the finger.
“This is a fire hazard as the fragrance oil may ignite causing the candle jar to crack or explode,” the lawsuit says.
The products also weren’t properly packaged, and arrived with broken jars, Marsh-Carroll claimed.
Marsh-Carroll first discovered the alleged copycat on Etsy in October 2018. Little information is given of the owner. Just a name, “Suzy.” On a website, the owner of Malicious Mermaid described herself as a single mother with two girls, who started making candles to stave off depression. “My candles have evolved and gotten more complex, much like we do as we age,” the website says. “The older we get, the more we are just willing to say what we think.”
The Malicious Mermaid Etsy store would tag all of their listings with Marsh-Carroll’s business name and profile, perhaps in an attempt to make customers think the candles were originally made by the Snohomish-based company, the lawsuit alleges.
According to the complaint, customers have emailed Marsh-Carroll in bouts of confusion. The complaint argues the Florida company not only has siphoned customers from Malicious Women, but has harmed its reputation.
Court documents say Marsh-Carroll has spent in excess of $125,000 on marketing, advertising, and promoting the product in the past few years — insinuating that Malicious Mermaid has not.
For two years, she wrote, she couldn’t find the owner of Malicious Mermaid, who used a P.O. Box and didn’t have a business license. At first, Marsh-Carroll tried sending a cease-and-desist letter through a lawyer in January 2019, to an email address listed on the Etsy store, with no response.
That is, until this summer, when she hired a Florida law firm. The complaint names Rynn Carter Cox, AKA Suzanne Dennis, as the defendant. Court documents signed by Cox indicated she took ownership of Malicious Mermaid in 2019, after Dennis started it.
Marsh-Carroll shared her frustrations in a now-deleted Facebook post.
“It took over two years to find the Malicious Mermaid, who is literally stealing not only my candles but my back-story,” she wrote. “She stole my ‘why.’”
In early December, Marsh-Carroll traveled to Orlando, Florida, where she filed a preliminary injunction in an attempt to quickly stop Malicious Mermaid from operating.
U.S. District Court Judge Roy Dalton Jr. determined there wasn’t enough evidence of urgency and “irreparable harm,” from a legal perspective.
“But the Court cautions Defendant this is not necessarily a victory,” Dalton wrote. “While not reaching the merits, the Court notes the evidence of unfair competition seems strong, perhaps even overwhelming.”
If Marsh-Carroll ultimately wins the case, Cox could be on the hook for paying damages in lost profit and harmed reputation.
The case may not go to trial, however. Court records indicate that it was moved to mediation shortly before Christmas, signaling a settlement could be in sight.
On the Malicious Mermaid Etsy page, where the company also goes by SnarkyMermaid, the owner wrote on Dec. 21 that she is taking a brief break while she fulfills orders.
In her deleted Facebook post, Marsh-Carroll wrote that the defense attorney called both her and her product “vulgar and b—y.”
Recently, she came out with a new candle, with the scent “Proud to be ‘Vulgar & B—y.’”
It’s infused with “Threatened Masculinity.”
Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @zachariahtb.