Popular sportswear label Lorna Jane has been sued by Australia’s consumer watchdog for misleading customers over claims that its clothing line could protect against COVID-19.
The announcement comes amid a wider crackdown by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) against companies seeking to capitalise on the pandemic.
Between July and November 2020, Lorna Jane claimed its “Anti-Virus Activewear” was sprayed with a substance called “LJ Shield” that could supposedly eliminate and stop the spread of COVID-19, as well as other viruses.
The claims were marketed over a range of media including Instagram, Lorna Jane’s website and in-store, with phrases such as:
“Cure for the Spread of COVID-19? Lorna Jane Thinks So”
“With Lorna Jane Shield on our garments it meant that we were completely eliminating the possibility of spreading any deadly viruses.”
“LJ Shield – Protecting you with ANTI-VIRUS ACTIVEWEAR.”
While most of the advertisements were removed in July, clothing labels still contained similar claims until November.
“It is particularly concerning that allegedly misleading claims that Lorna Jane’s LJ Shield Activewear could eliminate the spread of COVID-19 were made at a time when there was fear about a second wave emerging in Australia, especially in Victoria …” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said in a statement.
The ACCC also alleges that Lorna Jane’s founder Lorna Jane Clarkson was personally involved in misleading consumers by advertising the claims via a video posted on the company’s Instagram account.
The watchdog also criticised the company’s claims that “LJ Shield” was scientifically tested and proven.
“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,” Court said.
“This year, the ACCC prioritised consumer and competition issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, and 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.
In July, Lorna Jane was already pinged by the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA), the regulatory body for medicines, to the tune of $39,960.
The TGA found Lorna Jane failed to register the products on a register for therapeutic goods and did not seek approval from the body to make medicinal claims when it was supposed to.
The latest proceedings by the ACCC have been launched in the Federal Court of Australia, and they will be seeking a declaration, penalties, injunctions, corrective notices, and an order for Lorna Jane to implement a compliance program.
The ACCC has pursued stringent fines against companies found guilty of significant breaches of Australian Consumer Law.
Last month, Australia’s largest telco Telstra agreed to a $50 million penalty after it was discovered that staff from five licensed stores were found to have engaged in “unconscionable conduct” when selling mobile contracts to Indigenous customers who could not afford or understand the plans.
Lorna Jane has 108 stores across Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.