An Overview of Fashion Law
Fashion law, also known as apparel law, is an emerging legal specialty that encompasses the issues surrounding the life of a garment, from conception to brand protection.
Fashion lawyers advise clients on legal issues facing the fashion, textile, apparel, luxury, footwear, jewelry, and cosmetics industries. These run the gamut from licensing, merchandising, distribution and franchising agreements to intellectual property, employment, and labor relation issues. They include safety, sustainability and consumer protection issues, and various aspects of corporate, real estate, tax, and business law also come into play.
Responsibilities and Duties of a Fashion Lawyer
Fashion lawyers perform a broad range of duties from drafting and negotiating contracts to addressing and litigating trademark, copyright, and other intellectual property issues. They are in charge of forming and dissolving business entities, advising on branding development and protection. Fashion lawyers also consult on design protection, import-export, licensing and other issues.
Fashion law clients include designers, fashion houses, distributors, manufacturers, modeling agencies, retailers, and photographers.
Although they're admittedly few and far between, education programs exclusively dedicated to fashion law do exist and are growing in number. Fordham Law School launched the world's first Fashion Law Institute in late 2010, which offers J.D. and LL.M. students the opportunity to study fashion-related legal issues. It also provides pro bono legal counseling for designers in need. Specialty courses include topics such as Fashion Law and Finance; Fashion Ethics, Sustainability, and Development; Fashion Retail Law, and the Fashion Law Practicum.
The institute also offers public seminar series for design and legal professionals, as well as a Summer intensive course that's open to both degree and non-degree students. Other schools are launching curriculum and coursework in the area of fashion law.
Why Fashion Law is Growing
Fashion law is an emerging area of law that is just beginning to be recognized as a distinct practice specialty. The Internet age has exacerbated many of the legal issues that designers and fashion companies encounter, fueling the necessity for fashion-specific legal advice and protection. For example, design piracy and copycat litigation have grown in recent years, prompting new legislation that provides legal protection for fashion designs. New York Senator Charles Schumer introduced the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Protection Act in August 2010 which aims to protect designs that are deemed to be "unique" and "original." If eventually passed, it will apply to apparel, footwear, and accessories, but it's effectively been on a back burner with the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet since 2011.
How to Break In
Although it is growing, fashion law is a unique and rare specialty, and very few law firms specialize in this area. Taking courses in fashion law, intellectual property, business and finance, international trade, government regulation, and consumer culture can provide a foundation that may boost your chances of employment in this specialty.
Volunteering to assist in providing pro bono legal services to the fashion community is another way to gain contacts and related experience. Alternatively, you can intern with a law firm that specializes in fashion law or works with fashion clients.
Networking, getting to know the players in the fashion law area – it's a small circle – and finding a mentor can also help you break into the field of fashion law.