Fashion Law 101

by Anna Radke
Waiting for somebody to like it
Do you?

The twenty-first century has brought a new definition of fashion – fashion has achieved the status of a 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 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 they considered it more as a utility rather than art. Fortunately, at some point lawyers have noticed the importance of the niche and eventually fashion law was distinguished as a separate branch of law. Today it is a legal field that is comprised of intellectual property law, business law, labor law, real estate, international trade as well as civil rights.

How Did It All Start?

The emerging importance of the fashion industry forced lawyers to reevaluate their attorney-client relationship approach. As soon as designers 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 artists associate legal profession with something very traditional and hard to access. As creative minds, they are looking for some kind of deeper communication, for a lawyer who would understand their vision, instead of simply articulating a dry and often confusing legal strategy.

As companies started outsourcing and going overseas, there was a significant move in international trade in the fashion industry. Besides, Chinatown streets overflowing with accessories counterfeits contributed to the importance of fashion law. 2000s has been also time of ultra-skinny and very young models. They often work underage and this is why fashion started focusing on that sensitive topic. On September 17th, 2013 Susan Scafidi spoke during New York County Lawyers’ Association. She presented a guide to pending New York law on models under the age of 18. Furthermore, the tragedy that took place in Bangladesh on May 13th, 2012 moved the whole industry. It was a turning point for fashion manufactures. The problem of unbearable conditions in fashion factories inevitably needs to be solved, and it should be the responsibility of fashion lawyers.

Fashion Law in Academia

Susan Scafidi is one of the key figures in fashion legal world. She defined a new branch of law and offered the first course in fashion law at Fordham University School of Law. She was able to accomplish that thanks to her excellent education but she was lucky to live in an era that brought a new definition of fashion as well. Scafidi found a niche and successfully introduced it to a wider audience. In 2010, she founded Fordham University’s Fashion Law Institute, the first academic center in the world devoted to teaching the specialty. Currently, there are fashion law clinics at Cardozo School of Law, New York Univeristy School of Law as well as Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Spotting a Career: Fashion Lawyer

Fashion attorney is a versatile lawyer who possesses a strong legal knowledge in a variety of spheres. When thinking about specializing in fashion law, one should build a solid foundation in contracts, business law, property, labor law as well as intellectual property. Additionally, it is very useful to explore the industry, meet designers, creative directors and managers. After graduating from law school, there are primarily three options what to do 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 particular company. Last option is to work in a smaller boutique law firm that serves multiple fashion companies. Though, the best piece of advice I would give is that one should be passionate about fashion and law, focused on personal growth and willing for constant challenges.

photo via