Famous Founders Who Lost the Brands Named After Them

Manfred Thierry Mugler

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Daryl Kerrigan
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Losing Names

Many of the household brands you know were named after the visionaries who started them. What you may not know is that many of these founders have since lost the right to use their own trademark names to sell products or start a new venture. Take a closer look at some of them here, how they got started in their industries, and the journey that ultimately brought them to their name-brand demise.

Related: Iconic Companies Founded the Year You Were Born

Downey McDonald's
Wikimedia Commons

Richard and Maurice McDonald

Known for: The original McDonald’s restaurant

The McDonald brothers were born in rural New Hampshire in the early 1900s. After seeing their father struggle to support their family, the pair set out for California in hopes of becoming financially independent and finding success in the movie industry. After experiencing several setbacks, the brothers bought a small food stand in San Bernardino and named it: McDonald’s Barbeque. In 1961, an entrepreneur named Ray Kroc offered the brothers $2.7 million to buy out the name and rights to their restaurant. They agreed, and lost out on over $15 million a year had they kept even a 0.5% stake in the company.

Related: Fast Food Restaurants Then and Now

Bob Ross
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Bob Ross

Known for: Hosting “Joy of Painting” on PBS

Widely lauded as one of the most charismatic and quirky personalities of our time, Bob Ross hosted a successful television segment called the “Joy of Painting” for 11 years. During the segments, Ross would impart “soothing words of wisdom” while he instructed amateur painters on how to create captivating landscape pieces in 30-minute long episodes. 

After Ross passed away from Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1995, his business partners — Annette and Walt Kowalski — took over his estate and battled Ross' own family for control of his assets, reputation, and use of his name. Ross’ son Steven said his family has been embroiled in a legal nightmare for over a decade in trying to regain his father’s name. So far, their efforts have been unsuccessful, and the Kowalskis continue to retain sole ownership of Bob Ross Inc. The company, worth $10 million at the time of Ross’s death, is estimated to be worth much more today.

Kevin Johnson, Jack Dorsey, and Other High-Profile CEOs Who Left Their Companies

Calvin Klein
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Calvin Klein

Known for: Calvin Klein clothing 

Known as a reclusive and enigmatic individual, Calvin Klein founded his fashion brand alongside childhood friend Barry K. Schwartz in 1969. By 1971, the company had achieved a great deal of fame and success after introducing sportswear, classic blazers and the iconic CK underwear line. In December 2020, Klein sold the company to Phillips Van Heusen Corp (PVH) for an estimated $400 million in cash and $30 million in stock. As part of a 15-year contract agreement with PVH, Klein remained as the brand’s creative head until 2003 when he withdrew from the business.

John Schnatter
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John Schnatter

Known for: Papa John’s pizza franchise

John Schnatter, aka “Papa John,'' started the beloved pizza chain in 1984. After Forbes published a leaked audio file where Schnatter was heard using a racial slur during a conference call in 2018, the company’s board fired him, and has since attempted to distance themselves from the former CEO. Papa John’s stock subsequently fell by 11% and knocked an estimated $70 million off Schnatter's net worth. Schnatter has been vocal about being booted from the company he founded, and has vowed to “one day be back” at its helm. 

Kate Brosnahan Spade
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Kate Brosnahan Spade

Known for: Kate Spade and Frances Valentine brands

Known as one of the most successful luxury accessory designers, Kate Spade founded her eponymous company in 1993. She led and grew the brand into an acclaimed global line until 2006 when she sold the company and forfeited all rights to the Kate Spade name. In 2007, Spade launched another label called Frances Valentine named after her daughter. She died in 2018 at the age of 55 after years of battling depression. 

Paul Frank Monkey

Paul Frank Sunich

Known for: Julius the monkey cartoon and apparel

Since its inception in 1995, Paul Frank Industries has achieved over $100 million in sales thanks to its vibrant and iconic Julius the monkey merchandise. Late last year, however, the brand lost the allegiance of Paul Frank himself — the designer behind the brand’s quirky creations. In 2005, Frank was pushed out of his own brand after his business partners Heuser and Oswald voted to fire him and buy back his share of the company. Frank then sued to have the brand dissolved and returned as the brand’s creative director in 2016 after the company was sold to Saban Brands in 2010.

Wrap Dress
Wrap Dress by Bruce Monroe (CC BY-SA)

Diane Von Furstenberg

Known for: The DVF line and creating the iconic “wrap dress” 

After launching her eponymous label in 1970, Belgian native Diane Von Furstenberg cemented her status as one of the most successful fashion designers in the U.S. after her famous wrap dress became a defining symbol of empowerment and versatility amongst working women, topping over one million sales in two years. In 1983, Von Fursternerg sold her dress designs and cosmetics line to Puritan Fashions Corporation and Beecham Pharmaceuticals — effectively ending her control over the DVF name. 

Following a tenure spearheading a publishing company in 1997, Von Fursternbeg reacquired the licenses to the DVF line, and re-ignited interest in her brand by entering into a creative partnership with TV sales channel QVC. 

Joseph Abboud
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Joseph Abboud

Known for: J.A. fashion line sold at Men’s Wearhouse

In 2000, Abboud sold his menswear fashion line, J.A Apparel Corp, along with all the rights to his name, trademarks, logos, and service marks for $65.5 million. As a condition of the sale, a part of the agreement contained a “non-competition provision,” whereby Abboud agreed not to create any other brands that would collide with the J.A brand. In 2002, Abboud unsuccessfully sued RCS Media Group for the right to use his name in a new clothing line. 

Finally in 2004, Abboud was again granted the rights to his own name and is now the exclusive owner of the “Joseph Abboud” trademark and all commercial rights to his name.

Halston Dress
Halston Dress by Museum at FIT (CC BY-SA)

Roy Halston Frowick

Known for: Halston fashion line

A self-made fashion mogul, Halston was known for his extravagant lifestyle and has been called “the father of modern American fashion.” Born to a middle class family in Des Moines, Iowa, Halston founded his fashion line in 1969. The brand reached huge levels of success before the designer sold the brand to Norton Simon Industries in 1973. The company then made a deal with JCPenney in 1982 resulting in the labels’ death after consumers claimed the merger had “cheapened the brand.” Halston was fired two years later, and tried unsuccessfully to reclaim the rights to his name. 

Manfred Thierry Mugler
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Manfred Thierry Mugler

Known for: Designing clothes for celebrities such as Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Cardi B, Kim Kardashian, etc. 

Born in France, Mugler was known as being “timeless and ahead of his time,” designing gender fluid outfits that “reflected the heat and sexuality of the late 70s and early 80s.” In 2002, Mugler lost creative control of the label that bore his name to Nicola Formichetti and continued designing clothes under the name Manfred until his death on Jan. 24 of this year. Though Mugler claimed to have willingly retired from his business, a series of financial losses suggest the iconic designer was actually forced to step down.

Sigerson Morrison footwear

Kari Sigerson and Miranda Morrison

Known for: Sigerson Morrison footwear lines

Business partners Kari Sigerson and Miranda Morrison broke into the shoe industry in 1991, establishing the Sigerson Morrison footwear line and its lower-priced offshoot brand Belle Sigerson in 2004. After facing a series of financial setbacks, the pair sold the company to Marc Fisher in 2006 for $2.6 million. 

After the sale however, Sigerson and Morrison accused Fisher of breaching several of the contract’s clauses by claiming their designs were being used in other lines managed by Fisher, and that production had been moved from Italy to China against their will. Fisher responded by firing the designers in 2011, forcing the two out of the label they started. Sigerson and Morrison are also prohibited from using their names in other projects. 

Related: Where to Buy Shoes and Boots That Are Made in America

Famous Amos Cookies
Famous Amos Cookies by BrokenSphere (CC BY-SA)

Wally Amos Jr.

Known for: Famous Amos Cookies

Amos founded the cookie brand in 1975 and the brand went on to become one of the most successful franchises in food history. In an age of mass production, Amos set his sights in creating an upscale, craft-made cookie that had zero preservatives. A decade later, business was booming with over $10 million in sales, but Amos was struggling to keep up with the company’s rapid growth. In 1985, he sold a majority stake to Bass Brothers Enterprises for $1.1 million, effectively giving up full ownership of his brand.


By 1992, the new owners added “shelf-stabilizing ingredients,” and sold the company to President Baking Company for $61 million — more than 55 times what Wally Amos had sold his controlling stake for. 

Related: Walmart's Chocolate Chip Cookies Beat Top Brands in Taste Test

Martin Margiela White Dress and Coat
Martin Margiela White Dress and Coat by we-make-money-not-art (CC BY-SA)

Martin Margiela

Known for: Maison Martin Margiela brand 

The label’s eponymous founder and designer decided to step away from his brand in 2008 after revealing that he could “not cope anymore with the worldwide increasing pressure and the overgrowing demands of trade.” 

A native of Belgium, Margiela was known as an elusive personality who refused to be photographed or even take a bow after his fashion shows. In 2009, Margiela “disappeared” after launching his final show, and has not made any public appearances since then. 11 years later, Margiela released a documentary titled: “Martin Margiela: In His Own Words,” in which he reveals the story behind the brand he built, and the reasons why he left it all behind. 

Roland Mouret
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Roland Mouret

Known for: The Roland Mouret brand

Known for his figure-enhancing dresses, the French-born designer announced in 2005 that he had lost the ability to design under his own name after having a fallout with his business partners, Andre and Sharai Meyers, who owned 100% of the company. Since then, Mouret has been successful in buying back the rights to his brand, and revealed in 2010 that he would be launching his first stand alone store in London featuring new designs. 

Catherine Malandrino
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Catherine Malandrino

Known for: Catherine Maladrino brand for Nordstrom

After a lengthy legal battle and separation with her business partners, Catherine Malandrino lost the ability to use her own name to CM Brand Holdings LLC in 2011 after selling a 75% interest of her company due to “financial reasons.” The owners of Malandrino’s trademarks even went as far as to say in court documents that they could control the designer’s “likeness, being and persona.” In 2015, Maladrino sued her former business partner Elie Tahari for $15 million, claiming that he turned her high-end couture brand into a “bargain basement clothing line.”

Karen Millen
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Karen Millen

Known for: Karen Millen Fashions Limited fashion line

Millen started her clothing business, Karen Millen Fashions Limited, with her partner Kevin Stanford in 1983. Though widely successful, the Kent native decided to sell her stake in the business for £35 million to Icelandic consortium Baugur Group in 2004. The terms of the sale prevented Millen from using her own name in connection with any businesses or competition anywhere in the world, including the use of similar names, such as "KM" or "K Millen.” 

In 2016, Millen attempted to challenge the agreement after Baugur declared bankruptcy during the financial crisis in 2009. Millen claimed that she had lost a “significant amount of money” due to the investor’s collapse, and wanted to use her name for a new business venture in the U.S. The judge denied her request, stating that the use of Karen Millen, even in two different sectors, would cause confusion between the two brands and ruled in favor of the original agreement.

Jil Sander
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Jil Sander

Known for: Jil Sander clothing label

Sander first established her brand in Germany in 1971, and by the 1990s, the brand had become hugely popular throughout Europe. In 1999, Prada acquired 75% of the business for roughly £50 million. Less than a year later however, Sander decided to quit the organization due to creative differences with Patrizio Bertelli — the chief executive of Prada and husband of Miuccia Prada. In 2004, Sander joined the company again in a creative capacity but left shortly thereafter for the second time. 

Daryl Kerrigan
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Daryl Kerrigan

Known for: Daryl K stores and label

Known for her spunky 90s-style rock tees and low riding pants, Kerrigan sold her label to fashion conglomerate The Leiber Group in 2000 after several years of managing her maiden store in New York’s East Village. After over two years of negotiations, the designer was able to buy back the rights to her name and relaunched her Daryl K label featuring a capsule collection at Henri Bendel in October 2002.