Tween retailer Girl Mania Inc has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Wet Seal Inc and Zutopia, accusing them of copying its store concept to provide "confusingly similar services to young girls."

The filing in the Santa Ana Federal Court alleges trade dress infringement, trademark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising, fraudulent business practices and misappropriation of trade secrets.

Wet Seal Inc president Susan O'Toole is also named as a defendant.

In a statement, Girl Mania says it anticipates damages in excess of $10 million, and seeks both a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to prevent Wet Seal and Zutopia from continuing their "unfair business practices."

Based in Montebello, CA, Girl Mania is the brainchild of Janine Gualderon, its president and CEO. In May 2000, Ms Gualderon came up with the idea to design a store that would provide girls ages 4-14 with the ultimate shopping and entertainment experience.

Wet Seal Inc acquired the Zutopia brand name from Gymboree Inc in 2001. Girl Mania said it began noticing changes to Zutopia stores after April 2002 when Susan O'Toole, who Girl Mania had hired to help implement its business plan, accepted a job as president of Zutopia.

According to Girl Mania, Zutopia changed its colours, floor design, window displays and cluster merchandising so that they were confusingly similar; copied its heart motif and distinctive interiors; and began offering party packages identical in detail to those of Girl Mania's down to the items in its party favour bags.

"It took a lot of hard work and effort to develop the Girl Mania concept," said Janine Gualderon, "and there is no publicly available information that contains Girl Mania's confidential and trade secret information.

"For any competitor, like Wet Seal, to acquire this information would take a serious investment of time and money to research customer service needs, and the shopping and entertainment habits of girls. This would be impossible for any company to accomplish in a short a period of time without inside information. Just two months after Susan O'Toole became president of Zutopia, their stores began incorporating our trade dress and trademarked designs."

Gualderon added: "In a nutshell, Susan O'Toole failed to honour her confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement with Girl Mania. She abused her fiduciary duty and our trust by misappropriating Girl Mania's trade secret information and sharing it with Wet Seal and Zutopia.

"We have filed this lawsuit to prevent Wet Seal and Zutopia from unfairly competing with us in the marketplace."