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West Virginia dinnerware maker sues firms selling Chinese products

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The last major manufacturer of dinnerware in the United States claimed in a federal lawsuit filed on Monday that companies in Arkansas and Illinois are undercutting its business by selling foreign-made knockoffs.

The Homer Laughlin China Co. of Newell, W.Va., claimed that Hanna's Candle Co. of Fayetteville, Ark., and The Bazaar Inc. of River Grove, Ill., are selling Carnaval dinnerware made in China that mimics Homer Laughlin's Fiesta dinnerware.

Charles Gibbons, one of Homer Laughlin's attorneys, said those are two outlets the company knows of, and it anticipates adding others to the intellectual property lawsuit. The lawsuit claims the Carnaval dishes and packaging are designed to mislead customers, he said.

“People are going to think that they're getting a Homer Laughlin product when, in fact, they're getting a cheap Chinese knockoff,” he said.

Tony Ligenza, chief financial officer of The Bazaar, said his company sells to other wholesalers and retailers rather than to the general public and that Hanna's Candle Co. will defend both companies in the lawsuit. Burt Hanna, CEO and founder of Hanna's Candle Co., couldn't be reached for comment.

Founded in 1871, Homer Laughlin China specializes in retail and commercial cooking and dinnerware and is best known for its colorful Fiesta line. It employs more than 1,000 workers and has annual sales of about $100 million.

Its Fiesta dinnerware is so popular that tourists flock year-round to the outlet store at the Ohio River town plant. Some of them sleep outside for days before a sale at its outlet store.

Fiesta is known for its signature colors and has been a collectible for decades.

Homer Laughlin China has two sides to its operations. Half of the company serves the retail market, with Fiesta as the focus and retailers such as Macy's, Kohl's, Dillard's and Boscov's selling the products. The other half produces dinnerware for hotels and restaurants. Commercial users include Cheesecake Factory, Applebee's and Resorts Unlimited.

The Fiesta line of dinner and salad plates, soup bowls, cups and saucers debuted in stores in 1936.

A new color is released each year. Fifteen are available, including peacock, tangerine and marigold, introduced in 2011 in honor of the line's 75th anniversary. There have been 43 colors in all. A color that experiences lower sales is retired each year, making it even more valuable to collectors. Flamingo was introduced in 2012, and lapis will be available for purchase this summer. The most popular color is scarlet.

In 2010, the company acquired Hall China Inc. of East Liverpool, a merger that added the ability to produce large mixing bowls and platters in addition to handling backlogs.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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