Student-run retailers speak to Queen’s branding trademarking issues

Tricolour Outlet and Oil Thigh Designs limited by for-profit retailers

Image by: Curtis Heinzl
Shop Dressr hoodie at the ASUS Sidewalk Sale. 

Some students on campus are saying external retailers threaten aspects of student-run operations.

Trademarking and licensing of Queen’s brand identity is an important part of the retail process for campus retailers. For non-profit student retailers such as Tricolour Outlet and Oil Thigh Design (OTD), the brand standards are at the cornerstone of their operations.

“We have to get approval through the Trademark and Licensing office, which is about a two-week process. Once we submit the design to them, they have to ensure that the spacing with the lettering is correct, and that it’s not too skewed or too dramatic,” Phallon Melmer, Tricolour Outlet head manager, said in an interview with The Journal

An example of the back-and-forth work student-run retailers do with the licensing and trademark office is the classic rugby shirts sold at Tricolour Outlet. 

“Queen’s released a new crest. I think it was last year toward the end of last year. We had to redesign the logo shown on our rugbys […] It just came down to us having to change the colour of the crest and logo,” Melmer said. 

Cormac Doyle, managing director for OTD, said the process for trademarking takes time, but OTD and other student run have to work within the rules. 

“Queens has very strict trademarking guidelines. In previous years, they were a lot less strict with the approval process,” Doyle said in an interview with The Journal.

The sentiment was echoed by Melmer, who said the trademarking process was “learn as you go.” She said in her transition process she was told the trademarking process was shifting to become stricter.

“We can’t put Queen’s on a sweater with something that Queen’s doesn’t approve of. You can imagine how that impacts the creative process,” Doyle said. 

“We’ve got a lot of feedback that a lot of the designs on campus are kind of boring, they just say like Queen’s in some sort of different colour.” 

Portions of OTD’s profits are donated to charities, Doyle said. Donation margins can be impacted when sales margins decrease. 

Doyle said the issue isn’t Queen’s trademarking for retail merchandise, but the presence of non-Queen’s affiliated for-profit retail organizations—particularly companies that don’t adhere to Queen’s brand standards. 

“Retailers that do not go through the approval process have more interesting designs, and they’re far more competitive,” Doyle said. 

Merchandise is required to come from Queen’s approved suppliers, who, in some cases, tend to have higher prices. This is something external companies don’t have to go through, since they skirt the trademarking process, according to Doyle. 

A specific company of concern is Shop Dressr, who allegedly sold materials with Queen’s branding without going through the necessary trademarking steps. 

“Shop Dressr used Queen’s name and Queen’s trademarked slogans and logos. But they were not subject to any changes or input from the Queen’s administration,” Doyle said. 

“We think the approval process is important. It’s important that people can’t just put Queens next to any random slogan—I think that would hurt the Queen’s brand.”

Doyle said he felt Queen’s policed the student retailers who licensed their merchandize properly, very strictly, while off-campus retailers didn’t see the same kind of enforcement. 

Melmer added that for-profit companies can have significant variety in what they sell because they have more incentive to mass produce, whereas student retailers often focus on quality instead of strict quantity.

Both Melmer and Doyle believe student retailers are in the unique position to outreach to a unique demographic of customers. 

Sarah-Marie Doherty, the founder of Shop Dressr, said in a statement to The Journal she started operations of the company in 2019, with a sweater that said, “I Kissed a Gael & I liked it.”

“I was first contacted with a cease and desist from their team in August of 2020. I was operating under the principle that I was only writing Queens with no ‘s, was not writing university, and thus had not conflicted with any trademark laws,” Doherty said.

Doherty said the University eventually entered into a trademark agreement, which she used to approach other educational institutions in Canada. 

“Although many schools are not yet behind the mission, I have a great student network who is advocating for our brand on campuses across Canada.” 

Speaking to the specifics of Shop Dressr’s current trademarking relationship, Doherty said Shop Dressr hasn’t had a design approved since November 2020. 

“Queen’s University has very high specifications in the designs that they approve, in which either myself or other groups on campus can only write and design Queen’s University in so many ways, while still staying within the boundaries of what the licensing team will approve,” Doherty said. 

According to Doherty, Oct. 17 was the final day of Shop Dressr’s trademark agreement with Queen’s. Doherty said Shop Dressr will continue to operate in the university retail space at University of Toronto and Wilfrid Laurier University. 

In a statement to The Journal, the University said branded merchandise can only be created by licensed suppliers or retailers of the University. 

“Endorsed Queen’s student retailers, societies, and clubs as well as university faculties, schools, and departments who wish to sell branded merchandise must source their products through a licensed supplier,” the University said. 

Doyle has a message to students when they’re looking to shop in the retail space on campus.

“Think about where your money goes. Think about the impact you’re having on how far your dollar is going to go […] I think that’s what it comes down to: it’s consumers making a more informed decision.”


oil thigh designs, OTD, Shop Dressr, Trademark, Tricolour Outlet

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