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Fashion Law: What Exactly Is It?

Imagine a world without clothing, shoes, accessories, and handbags. Not only do these fashionable items satisfy our everyday needs throughout the seasons, but these materials also help keep us feeling comfortable and confident. Fashion signifies unity and recognition and has been a powerful way of exercising our First Amendment rights. If you are one of those individuals who believes they are not influenced by fashion in some way, shape, or form, think again. Fashion has expanded tremendously within the past few years, and it shows no signs of stopping.

Today, fashion is a billion dollar industry. According to ReportLinker, women's clothing is expected to exceed $621 billion dollars globally in 2014. Additionally, as said by the FashionReporter, the United States employed four million people in both the apparel and footwear industries in 2012. Like everything else in the world, fashion designers, fashion houses, distributors, manufacturers, modeling agencies, retailers, and fashion media outlets need attorneys. There is nothing more appealing to a designer or another fashion related work group than hiring an attorney who shares their passion for fashion and design and an understanding of the fashion industry as a whole.

Fashion law focuses on numerous areas of the law. Some of those areas of the law include:

Contract Law: From employment contracts and modeling contracts to contracts used for licensing, contract law plays a large role in the fashion industry. Licensing is the process in which a licensor, the brand or designer, offers rights to its trademark to a licensee, a company that will then produce and distribute a new product. More brands and designers are licensing rights to their trademark as they expand their clothing brand to include things like make up, sunglasses, and perfumes.

Criminal Law: Criminal law in the fashion industry pertains to any illegal act punishable by state or federal law. The illegal act that most individuals are familiar with in the fashion industry is the act of selling counterfeit products most commonly associated with Canal Street in New York City. Counterfeit goods are being distributed both online and in person. Counterfeit distributors use an inexpensive substitute material and the "knock-off" trademark of a luxury brand to replace the high quality material used by luxury brands to sell their products at a much lower price. Consequences of selling trademark counterfeit goods in the state of New York can be viewed in the New York State Penal Code § 165.70 to § 165.74.

Environmental and Animal Law: With eco-friendly clothing trending, environmental law is heavily influencing the designers' choice of materials that they are using to create their products. Along with the trend in eco-friendly clothing, states are passing laws to restrict certain animal skins and furs from being used in the production of fashion goods in attempt to preserve wildlife. See my article, "Slither into Snakeskin," for more information on California's law regulating the use of snakeskin, specifically python skin, and the future restriction of crocodile and alligator skin in 2015.

Employment and Labor Law: As I previously mentioned above, the fashion industry is responsible for employing millions of individuals. Fashion employment law regulates these jobs and their workers. Furthermore, fashion brands and licensees hire out individuals who then put labor into creating these exquisite pieces for the designers’ collections. Ongoing issues in the fashion industry surround the wages of workers employed in other countries and the environment where they work.

Intellectual Property Law: Intellectual property may be one of the most important areas of law pertaining to the fashion industry because the signature signs, designs, and marks of brands are protected under this law. Intellectual property contains three main areas of protection for works of authorship, inventions, and marks. These include the areas of trademark, copyright, and patent.

International Trade Law: The Federal Trade Commission is responsible for rules and regulations regarding labels and disclaimers on clothing. In addition to label laws, there are laws regarding the regulation of trade permits and tariffs on the textiles and products being imported and exported. According to the Office of Textiles and Apparel, textile and apparel imports totaled "5,493 million square meter equivalents (MSME)" of cotton, wool, man-made fiber, silk blends, and non-cotton vegetable fiber textile and apparel products in August of 2014.

Property Law: While intellectual property plays a major role in fashion law, property law does too. An issue that may be most recognizable to those within the fashion industry is NYC's Special Garment Center District zoning regulation. The city is currently trying to rezone Manhattan's Garment District. Much of the Garment District that was once a home devoted to garment production has become the new home to many commercial businesses, forcing these garment producers no other choice but to leave. In response to these issues, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) has assembled the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative (FMI), a non-profit trade association, to help supply technology, equipment, and other opportunities that may be critical to maintaining the city's fashion industry within the Garment District. Click here to learn more.

**Please Note: The image used was painted and photographed by Greta Hogan.

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