Although the thought of being our very own version of Elle Woods at Osgoode is merely a fun fantasy for some of us, fashion law is sort of, kind of, a thing.
On November 9, 2020, the Osgoode Fashion Law Society (OFLS) hosted its annual Fashion Law Panel (virtually, of course). The panelists consisted of a range of industry experts, including the founder of the OFLS and recent graduate of Osgoode, Alessia Monastero. At this panel, attendees gained insight on what fashion law entails, how to get involved with it, and where it is predicted to go in the future.
Often, the OFLS is asked what fashion law is. It is quite difficult to provide a succinct answer to this question because, as Ashlee Froese of boutique branding law firm Froese Law explained, the practice of fashion law is relatively new, especially in Canada. It is also a niche area of law. But because it is a growing field of law, based on the types of work that the panelists shared, it seems to include a lot. Legal work related to fashion can involve litigating trademark infringement, advising foreign fashion houses how to enter the Canadian market, guiding small brands in growing their business, and, recently, regulating the use of brands by influencers on social media. As such, fashion law does not fit into a single neat box. Instead, it involves legal issues within the fashion industry that find their solutions through the intersection with other related legal fields, such as entertainment, business, ecommerce, technology, privacy, and intellectual property.
In order to actually work in fashion law, the panelists cautioned attendees to be as marketable as possible and to be open to all opportunities. In other words, law students with an interest in fashion law should not limit themselves to this field too quickly. Especially given how new and niche fashion law is, as information technology and intellectual property lawyer Hashim Ghazi stated, it is important to first understand all aspects of the subject. This means learning about trademarks, copyright, counterfeiting, business, and other areas that impact fashion. By taking this broad approach, one can really understand whether fashion law may be their calling. However, there are immediate ways to stay up-to-date with the fashion industry and get involved. For example, Alessia runs an Instagram account @fashionbrandinglaw that provides daily updates on the latest in fashion, business, and law. Similarly, Osgoode students can reach out to the OFLS to become a general member and get involved in any club events.
As for where fashion law is set to go in the future, all of the panelists made reference to fashion and the web. As Hashim pointed out, as brands have begun to limit their brick and mortar presence (no thanks to the pandemic) and shifted to online stores, the biggest question becomes how to create that in-person experience, online? Perhaps we will see a rise in the use of artificial intelligence by brands to help visualize what styles will look like on different people, Hashim suggested. But in doing so, how do these brands ensure the privacy of their online buyers? Similarly, how can brands protect against the infringement of their designs by fast fashion online stores and ensure that buyers come back? Well, as social media influencer marketing increases, Canadian and American attorney and founder of the Fashion Law Boutique Bogdan Enica pointed towards one option used more frequently by brands, which involves filing trademark applications for hashtags.
When it comes to this ongoing trend where fashion, technology, and the law come together, we are already starting to see brands digitize their collections. For instance, the Telfar brand which prides itself on inclusivity and often sells out of their infamous handbags in milliseconds, provides online access to their collections throughout the years. Similarly, Louis Vuitton recently hosted a live stream for their Spring 2021 fashion show wherein the brand offered immersive coverage through their use of 360-degree cameras and green screens. Although the latter example was mainly incited by the pandemic, perhaps it is the start of the new normal for the fashion industry. While this move towards a virtual reality allows more viewers to immerse themselves in fashion from the comfort of their own homes, we can expect legal issues to arise ranging from the copyright protection of songs used to entertainment contracts with broadcasting networks, just to name a few.
Eloise Somera is an IPilogue Editor and a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.