Fashion Law - Practice Overview
Fashion law (also known as apparel law) is an emerging legal specialty that encompasses the legal 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 issues run the gamut from licensing, merchandising, distribution and franchising agreements to intellectual property, employment and labor relation issues to safety, sustainability and consumer protection issues. Various aspects of corporate, real estate, tax and business law also come into play.
Fashion lawyers perform a broad range of duties from drafting and negotiating contracts; addressing and litigating trademark, copyright and other intellectual property issues; forming and dissolving business entities; advising on branding development and protection; and consulting on design protection, import-export, licensing and other issues.
Fashion law clients include designers, fashion houses, distributors, manufacturers, modeling agencies, retailers and photographers.
Although few and far between, education programs exclusively dedicated to fashion law are growing in number. In late 2010, Fordham Law School launched the world's first Fashion Law Institute which offers J.D. and LL.M. students the opportunity to study fashion-related legal issues and provides pro bono legal counseling for designers in need. Specialty courses include topics such as Fashion Law & Finance; Fashion Ethics, Sustainability & 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 open to degree and non-degree students. Other schools are launching curriculums 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. In August 2010, New York Senator Charles Schumer introduced the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Protection Act which aims to protect designs deemed to be "unique" and "original", and, if passed, will apply to apparel, footwear, and accessories.
How to Break In
Although it is growing, fashion law is a unique and rare specialty and 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.