Fashion Law 101

The twenty-first century has redefined fashion – fashion has achieved a status of an over trillion dollar global industry. Consumers around the world wear the same brands; more and more people are able to name the key designers; haute couture designs are moving exhibitions of craft. Fashion is not only about apparel anymore; it is a complex phenomenon that refers to disciplines such as art, sociology, business and law. However, despite the economic and cultural growth of fashion, the legal profession has been rather reluctant to treat fashion law seriously, as it considers it more a utility rather than art. Fortunately, at some point lawyers have noticed the importance of the niche. Today fashion law is a field that is comprised of areas including but not limited to intellectual property law, commercial law, labor and employment law, real estate as well as international trade.

How Did It All Start?

In fact, fashion and law became correlated already during the ancient times, when people created statutes regarding luxury goods consumption that were developed in the following centuries as leges sumptuariae. Furthermore, copying and imitation are inherent problems the fashion industry has been facing since its beginnings.

However, the emerging importance of the fashion industry forced lawyers to reevaluate their attorney-client relationship approach. As soon as artists realized that they are facing some difficulties while introducing or expanding their brands, they started seeking for advice and adequate representation. As it turned out, it was not that easy to find. Most creative minds associate the legal profession with something very traditional and hard to access. Generally, they are not willing to hire an attorney until they really need one. Artists are looking for some kind of deeper communication; for a lawyer who would understand their vision, instead of simply outlining a rather boring and confusing legal strategy.

Moreover, there are numerous issues the fashion industry have been struggling with: sweatshops (i.e. Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh); the use of hazardous substances in the textile industry (check out Greenpeace’s Detox campaign); streets full of counterfeit products (think Canal Street in New York); hiring underweight and underage models (which Susan Scafidi addressed during New York County Lawyers’ Association in 2013); or intellectual property infringement (unauthorized use of trademarks, copyright, patents), among others.

So What Do You Have to Do Solve the Above Problems?

Career of a fashion attorney is versatile. Nevertheless, a lawyer who wants to deliver solutions to the creative industry needs to possess a strong, fundamental legal knowledge.  Moreover, he or she should understand the business. A fashion lawyer should research the industry by meeting designers, managers, illustrators etc.

There is no single career path for an attorney who would like to start climbing the career ladder in fashion law. Some big law firms offer departments with expertise in fashion law. Moreover, one can become an in-house general counsel and focus on legal problems of one brand. Another option is to work in a smaller boutique law firm or start own business, and advise multiple fashion clients. It is also recommended to specialize in a particular area of law. A fashion attorney is generally not able to be an expert on everything.

I hope I provided you with a brief overview of fashion law. In the next few weeks, my goal is to find out what specifically you would like to learn about this exciting field.

Can’t wait to read your comments!

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