By Ann Ford and Ashley Green (Washington, DC)
The fashion industry is a trillion-dollar global industry with hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually in the United States alone. The scope of this industry ranges from large fashion design houses to smaller design shops to international retailers to local boutiques. Fashion touches many cities, occupations and sectors of the economy. Yet despite fashion’s economic reach, the intersection of fashion and the law is an area that has historically been overlooked in US law school curricula.
Indeed, it can be said that fashion has never been afforded the same level of intellectual property protection as other creative works in the US. While an original pattern on a dress and accompanying jewelry may be protectable under copyright law, the structure of the fashion item itself is generally not protectable. Other legal issues intersect with the fashion world as well. These include international trade concerns around tariffs for textiles, civil rights and health initiatives for models, financing of business startups for designers, and copyright concerns around the appropriation of popular art and expression.
In an effort to help lawyers and fashion industry professionals alike navigate this complicated landscape, some law schools now offer programs geared toward fashion law. Schools in New York and California, to name a few, now offer various courses centered on legal issues in the fashion industry. More law schools are starting to offer at least one course on pressing fashion issues, in addition to hosting workshops and panels where experienced lawyers in the industry can offer insight into the fashion world. Recognizing the impact the fashion industry has on the economy, these programs aim to give students access to industry insiders and insight into the pertinent facets of the law. From lessons on protecting brands and designs, to tips on managing the online retail market and advice on the international trade of textiles, these programs cover the full gamut of legal issues that fashion professionals may encounter in the market.
Given the artistic and economic impact fashion has on the economy, these fashion law programs are a great starting point for students, lawyers, and industry professionals to learn the business of fashion.