FTC Advisory opinion #1

Section 5, Federal Trade Commission Act.

(1) Any use of the word "chamois" in conjunction with a product not made from (a) the skin of the Alpine antelope or (b) sheepskin fleshers which have been oil-tanned after removal of the grain layer is unlawful and a deceptive act or practice in commerce.

The commission was requested to express an opinion concerning the legality of describing unsplit sheepskin as "Chamois-like Sheepskin" or "Chamois-type Sheepskin" on the basis, it is claimed, that the product looks and feels like chamois leather, and possesses the same qualities as the genuine product.

This problem has been before the Commission in different forms on several occasions. In each instance the Commission has taken the position that it will prohibit the branding or labeling of leather products as "Chamois," "Chamois Type" or "Chamois Like" unless such products are made (a) from the skin of the Alpine antelope, commonly known and referred to as Chamois, or (b) from sheepskin fleshers which have been oiled-tanned after removal of the grain layer.

The word "chamois" has its origin in the common name of a small goatlike Alpine antelope whose skin was made into a soft, pliable leather used in the manufacture of glove, and for polishing such articles as glass, jewelry, fine metals and wood. It possessed the additional feature of absorbing water readily and returning, when dry, to its original state of softness and pliability. The animal became virtually extinct for commercial purposes about 1890 and since that time the word acquired a secondary meaning after being widely used commercially to designate certain leathers produced from split sheepskin fleshers.

The necessity for splitting sheepskin is to remove the impervious grain layer so as to make the underside more receptive to tanning. Since the two layers do no stretch uniformly and will eventually rip and crumble. In any event, irrespective of the relative merits of the many processes which may be employed to produce the leather, the fact remains that the grain layer must be separated from the sheepskin flesher in order that an acceptable chamois will result. This requirement the requesting party’s product does not fulfill.

The claim that the subject product is equal in all respects to genuine chamois is not true, since the grain layer has not been removed. The genuine product has become firmly established in industry and elsewhere as herein defined, and such product is what the public is entitled to get when it purchases chamois even though the choice may be dictated by caprice or fashion, or perhaps by ignorance. The fact that the product is equal or will serve substantially the same purpose is wholly immaterial. F.T.C. vs. Algoma Lumber Co., 291 U.S. 67, 68, 78. To the same effect see Benton Announcements, Inc. vs F.T.C., 130 F.2d 254.

The question posed herein is whether the word chamois might be a permissible designation for the subject product if qualifying terms as "like" or "type" were added. Use of the word in any manner is a representation that the product is that which has traditionally been sold as chamois and so accepted by the public after years of buying experience. Although the ordinary purchaser may not know how chamois is made, he is entitled to believe that the particular product sold under that name is in fact a chamois as it is understood in the industry, and such implication cannot be offset by qualifying words. After reading both, an ordinary consumer would still not know the truth about the product without resort to specialized information. In other words, the capacity and tendency to deceive through any other application of the word chamois would continue to exist.

The requesting party was advised that the definition of chamois has been firmly established in law, in industry, and in the public’s mind to mean nothing less than those leather products made from the skin of the Alpine antelope or from the fleshers of sheepskin which have been oil-tanned after removal of the grain layer and that any other use of the word. whether or not modified by qualifying language, to describe leather made by other or incomplete processes would serve only to dilute its accepted meaning and would not be in the general public interest. Consequently, to label the subject product in the manner contemplated world be a deceptive practice and subject the requesting party to a charge of violation of Section 5, Federal Trade Commission Act.