What are the legal problems fashion designers deal with every day?
I thought about this question when I read a report yesterday from Refinery29 about how Fordham University now offers degrees in fashion law. The programs, Master’s of Law in Fashion Law and Master’s of Studies in Law, are geared toward a further understanding of intellectual property rights, model-designer agreements, and retail law. All of which are still obscure subjects given the broad line that separates law and fashion. “Designers get screwed over,” notes Susan Scafidi junior professor at Fordham who has pioneered these courses with the support of Diane Von Furstenberg and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).
People outside the fashion industry may be surprised to find that there is still a lack of legal support for fashion designers around the globe. But it’s very apparent now as Fordham’s courses are the first in the world and will be currently available to residents of the United States. Like in many other things, everyone else needs to catch up on this.
Here in the Philippines, a thriving ground for both established and emerging designers, only a few even know about laws. As fashion designers, who are also businessmen and women, they are forced to find their own balance between their two hats as both artist, expressing creative output, and as entrepreneurs, making a sellable label.
I served as legal counsel for a day when I asked six local designers about the problems they think our current laws are ignoring. Turns out, they had more than enough to say, and our legal system needs an overhaul that would challenge even Atty. Elle Woods.
Rajo Laurel: On How Fashion Business Needs Its Own Laws
“Generally the problem is how fashion business is lumped into business law. We should be able to go through the processes of designers with a fine-tooth comb to understand how to protect what you own, what you created, and what you can share. There is a lack of discussion among lawyers and designers in terms of how we conduct our business. In terms of creativity, it’s intangible, but in terms in business, you can already spot all the gaps where designers are not protected by the law when you let them explain to you their process. There needs to be more awareness among everyone[about] how to protect their works.”
Chris Diaz : On Government Fees
“A local dilemma is how a small fashion entrepreneur’s tax when putting up a dress shop is almost similar to [the taxes paid by a] bank. It’s huge.”
Esme Palaganas: On Local and International Stores
“I hope retail laws would be clearer especially when dealing with international stores. I hope someone can educate me whether the policies on [exporting and importing] used now are fair or not.”
Rik Rasos: On Copycats
“There should be a clear cut law with intellectual property rights. Our label focuses on a lot of original graphic designs and there have been a few incidents where our clothes are copied here and overseas but we can only go as far as to send a cease and desist order.”
Lulu Tan-Gan: On Original Styles
“In clothing, it’s very difficult to patent styles. Patent applies only if a product is exactly copied: material, style, finishing. If I am paid to design, I shouldn’t claim it as totally mine either. As a designer, you need to be competitive and max out on your concept through branding and sales.”
JC Buendia: On Having a Legal Fashion Council
“It’s hard to define what’s a copy or not. Such laws only exist in France where there’s a couture body that imposes strict rules. Couture elements are often taken to make salable ready-to-wear and that isn’t counted. Perhaps what is needed in the Philippines at present is a classification board. Much like the MTRCB, it can classify designers into categories most especially pertaining to quality, thus giving premium to those who do their homework.”
Art by Dorothy Guya