For Women in Law

A few months ago I attended a summit for legal practitioners and we were posed the following question: “If you weren’t a property/corporate attorney, what other area of law would you specialize in?” My immediate response was “fashion law”.

It’s not really something I have ever thought about. My response was inspired by my love for fashion and knowing that the law holds sway over every industry, including the dynamic world of fashion and creativity. So after the summit I set out to do some research about what fashion law entails and during my research I stumbled across Sumaiya De’mar’ profile. I was excited and intrigued!

Sumaiya is a fashion lawyer, Advocate and director/ founder of SA Fashion Law – a company that offers legal services tailored to the challenges of creative businesses or individuals; including the drafting of contracts, intellectual property protection, dealing with infringements.

So naturally, I had to interview her!

Sumaiya’s main passion lies in safeguarding the creative expressions of designers and brands through intellectual property protection, promoting ethical and sustainable practices within the industry, and staying at the forefront of technological innovations.

Below is our interview with this phenomenal #womaninlaw.

FWIL:
What are some of your main passions and why are they important to you?

SD:

What are some of your main passions and why are they important to you?

I am dedicated to educating and empowering individuals in the fashion world, aiding fashion entrepreneurs in business development, and assisting my clients when legal disputes arise. My main passion lies in safeguarding the creative expressions of designers and brands through intellectual property protection, promoting ethical and sustainable practices within the industry, and staying at the forefront of technological innovations. These passions are vital to me as they enable me to contribute positively to an industry that significantly influences culture and society, ensuring it evolves responsibly, ethically, and legally.

FWIL:

How did you decide to specialize in fashion law, and what drew you to this unique field?

SD:

I love the language of law and its intricacies, and I’ve always loved fashion. At university, I chose the elective modules of Intellectual Property Law (Trademarks, Copyrights, Patents and Design Rights), as well as the Law of Competition and Media Law, knowing that it would prove invaluable for the objectives I wanted to achieve.

Whilst studying and working in the legal field, I wanted to explore my creative side and get into the fashion industry to gain experiential knowledge that would be beneficial in my fashion law career, so I spent many years working in the fashion industry undertaking various roles but always ‘keeping my hand in’ law, through contracts, compliance, etc. thus reaching and exceeding my 10,000 hours of contract drafting over a period of 20 years.

While working at the Cape Town Fashion Council 8 years ago, I recognized the gap in the market, as a lot of fashion designers and entrepreneurs would come to me for help with legal issues. That is when I launched SA Fashion Law, to assist them with their legal concerns.

FWIL:

Can you share some examples of interesting or challenging cases you’ve worked on in the fashion industry?

SD:

Trademark Infringement:

  • Case: A high-end fashion brand discovers that a fast-fashion retailer is selling counterfeit versions of their iconic handbags.
  • Challenge: Defending the brand’s trademark rights against the infringing party, involving investigation and analysis, which may lead to legal action.

Copyright Disputes:

  • Case: A fashion designer is accused of copying a unique design and fabric pattern from another designer’s collection.
  • Challenge: Analyzing the originality of the design, determining if copyright infringement occurred, and filing a Cease and Desist Notice prior to a lawsuit.

FWIL:

What legal issues are most common in the fashion world, and how do you help your clients navigate them?

SD:

In the fashion industry, there is a spectrum of common legal issues, including the protection of intellectual property rights such as trademarks, copyrights, and patents, combating counterfeiting and knockoff products, resolving contractual disputes across supplier, manufacturing, retail, and influencer agreements, ensuring compliance with labour laws and regulations, guiding brands through complex regulatory landscapes, managing fashion show and event agreements, handling consumer protection and product liability concerns, and addressing privacy and data security issues. We provide legal support by advising on legal matters, drafting contracts, IP protection and initiating legal proceedings, when necessary, all while staying attuned to the evolving legal and regulatory landscape of the fashion world.

FWIL:

In a predominantly male-dominated industry, what advice would you give to aspiring female lawyers looking to make a mark in fashion law?

SD:

To aspiring female lawyers aiming to excel in the male-dominated realm of law, my advice is to arm themselves with robust legal knowledge and specialized expertise while actively building a supportive professional network. Seek guidance from experienced mentors, cultivate confidence, and stay well-informed about industry developments. Embrace technology, advocate for diversity and inclusion, and create a strong online presence. Be open to calculated risks, maintain a healthy work-life balance, and remember that perseverance and resilience are your allies in breaking barriers and making a lasting impact on the fashion law landscape, contributing not only to your own success but also to the empowerment of other women in the field.

FWIL:

How do you balance the creative and business aspects of the fashion industry with the legal aspects in your practice?

SD:

One has to, for example, examine the creative aspects of a design. The work itself may fall under copyright law, the branding may fall under trademark law, etc.

Also, the entire lifecycle of a garment must be taken into account, e.g., Supplier Agreements, Manufacturing Contracts, Non-Disclosure Agreements, Employment Contracts, Consignment Agreements, etc.

Another example could be a beautifully designed website, must be balanced with the relevant website Terms and Conditions and Policies.

FWIL:

Fashion is known for its fast pace and constant innovation. How do you stay up to date with the ever-evolving legal landscape in the fashion world?

SD:

Staying up to date with the rapidly evolving legal landscape in the fashion industry is paramount.

To ensure that I provide the best service to my clients, I make lifelong learning a cornerstone of my practice. This entails regularly attending conferences, seminars, and workshops dedicated to fashion and law and various other areas.

The course I completed most recently is an Inside LVMH Certificate, in order to gain further insight into the luxury business model.

In an industry renowned for its fast pace and constant innovation, this commitment to ongoing education is essential to providing effective legal support to my clients and adapting to the ever-changing dynamics of the fashion world.

FWIL:

Could you share some insights into the intellectual property issues that arise in fashion, such as trademark and copyright protection?

SD:

In the world of fashion, intellectual property (IP) issues, particularly trademark and copyright protection, are crucial.

Trademarks play a vital role in safeguarding brand identities, from logos and brand names to distinctive product identifiers, ensuring that consumers can distinguish between genuine and counterfeit goods.

Copyright protection is equally important, as it covers the original creative elements of fashion designs, such as fabric patterns, garment designs, and artistic expressions in fashion collections.

Navigating these issues involves conducting comprehensive trademark searches to secure and enforce brand trademarks, as well as assessing the originality of designs to determine copyright protection eligibility.

We also engage in policing against counterfeits, negotiating licensing agreements, and supporting clients in IP infringements, all aimed at preserving the unique and valuable aspects of a brand’s identity and creations in the competitive fashion landscape.

FWIL:

What are some of the key legal considerations for fashion entrepreneurs looking to start their own brands or businesses?

SD:

Fashion entrepreneurs venturing into their own brands or businesses should prioritize key legal considerations.

Firstly, selecting an appropriate legal structure, such as a private company, sole proprietorship, or partnership, should align with South African business laws and taxation requirements.

Fashion entrepreneurs should also have carefully drafted contracts in accordance with South African law when dealing with suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and employees, specifying terms and obligations to mitigate potential disputes.

Intellectual property protection remains crucial, encompassing trademark registration through the South African Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) for brand name and logo protection.

Compliance with South Africa’s consumer protection, labelling regulations, and labour laws is also imperative.

Entrepreneurs should also take into account that legal considerations vary from country to country.

While international agreements like the Berne Convention provide some consistency in intellectual property protection, it’s crucial to understand that South African laws, regulations, and business practices may differ significantly from those in other nations.

Consequently, it’s not advisable to simply copy contracts or legal documents from the internet, as they may not align with South African legal requirements and norms.

To ensure a solid legal foundation, entrepreneurs should engage with experienced legal professionals who can provide tailored guidance and assist in drafting contracts and agreements that are compliant with local laws, culture, and business practices. This approach will help them navigate the complexities of the South African legal landscape effectively and avoid potential legal pitfalls.

FWIL:

How do you handle international legal matters in the fashion industry, considering the global nature of the business?

SD:

Handling international legal matters in the fashion industry, given its global reach, involves a multifaceted approach. Firstly, it’s essential to have a deep understanding of international treaties and agreements related to intellectual property and trade to navigate cross-border issues effectively.

Collaborating with a network of legal experts in various jurisdictions is crucial, allowing for expert insights into local regulations and practices.

In contractual dealings, we draft agreements that account for the complexities of international business, including currency exchange, shipping, and dispute resolution mechanisms like arbitration or mediation.

FWIL:

In your experience, what qualities or skills are essential for a successful fashion lawyer, particularly for women in this field?

SD:

In my experience, successful fashion lawyers, particularly for women in this field, should possess a unique blend of qualities and skills. First and foremost is a deep understanding of both the legal intricacies and the dynamic nature of the fashion industry, encompassing intellectual property, contracts, regulatory compliance, and international law.

Adaptability and a keen eye for detail are essential in an industry characterized by rapid change and an emphasis on aesthetics. Confidence and assertiveness are equally important, as they help women in this field support their clients and themselves in a historically male-dominated industry. Lastly, a commitment to lifelong learning and staying updated on industry trends and legal developments is crucial for continued success in the ever-evolving world of fashion law.

FWIL:

Can you discuss any advocacy or pro bono work you have been involved in that relates to fashion law or women’s rights within the industry?

SD:

I am passionate about pro bono work, not just related to fashion law but also to women’s rights.

At SA Fashion Law, we collaborate with a non-profit organization called Fashion Revolution, dedicated to empowering the fashion industry by offering support and resources.

Our pro bono work also involves providing guidance on intellectual property rights to emerging female designers, assisting women-owned fashion start-ups with contract negotiations, and advocating for fair labour practices and gender equality within the industry.

FWIL:

Are there any notable female fashion designers or entrepreneurs whose legal matters you have been privileged to assist with? If so, can you share any insights?

SD:

In the field of fashion law, we often work with a diverse range of clients, including both well-known and emerging fashion designers and entrepreneurs. The insights gained from such collaborations often revolve around protecting intellectual property, negotiating contracts, ensuring compliance with regulations, and addressing various legal challenges unique to their businesses. Each client’s journey is distinct, but the overarching goal is to provide tailored legal solutions that support their creative visions and business aspirations within the fashion industry.

FWIL:

As a woman in law in a niche field, have you faced any unique challenges or opportunities in your career that you would like to highlight?

SD:

As a woman in law, particularly within a niche field like fashion law, I’ve experienced both challenges and opportunities. Challenges include addressing gender bias, harassment, and stereotypes in a historically male-dominated industry and advocating for equal opportunities and recognition.

However, these challenges also provided opportunities for breaking barriers and inspiring positive change. Women in law, including fashion law, bring diverse perspectives, empathy, and problem-solving skills to the table, which can lead to innovative legal solutions.

Embracing these challenges and opportunities has led to a rewarding and impactful career in the world of fashion law.

FWIL:

What trends or changes do you foresee in the intersection of fashion and law, especially concerning gender equality and representation?

SD:

There are several trends and changes on the horizon, particularly concerning gender equality and representation. Firstly, we can expect increased focus on diversity and inclusivity, with fashion brands recognizing the importance of gender equality not only within their organizations but also in their marketing and product offerings. This may lead to more gender-neutral and gender-inclusive fashion lines.

Legal frameworks related to workplace harassment and discrimination are likely to evolve, providing better protection and support for women in the fashion industry.

Additionally, as the fashion industry continues to grapple with sustainability challenges, we may see legal developments addressing environmental and ethical concerns, with women-led initiatives advocating for eco-conscious and socially responsible fashion practices. Overall, the future of fashion law will likely reflect a growing commitment to gender equality, diversity, sustainability, and ethical standards, shaping a more inclusive and responsible industry.

Additionally, as the fashion industry continues to grapple with sustainability challenges, we may see legal developments addressing environmental and ethical concerns, with women-led initiatives advocating for eco-conscious and socially responsible fashion practices. Overall, the future of fashion law will likely reflect a growing commitment to gender equality, diversity, sustainability, and ethical standards, shaping a more inclusive and responsible industry.

FWIL:

As a legal professional, it is quite important to effectively use your network. How do you meet other professionals and what are some of your effective networking skills?

SD:

When establishing myself in the fashion industry, I attended as many fashion shows, events, workshops, and seminars as I possibly could, to build a network of industry professionals and clients who I am still in contact with.

Additionally, maintaining an active network with peers and mentors in both the legal and fashion sectors allows me to engage in knowledge-sharing and stay informed about real-time developments.

One of my networking secrets is to never leave a compliment unsaid. If I like something about a person, I genuinely tell them. This is likely to form an instant connection if made from an authentic place.

FWIL:

What is your take on mentorship and are you open to mentoring young lawyers or law students?

SD:

Mentorship is a powerful and essential component of professional development, and I firmly believe in its value. Mentorship has certainly played a significant role in my career, and I’m grateful for those who have supported me along the way.

When I decided to make the shift from the legal industry to the fashion world, I had a pivotal mentor in my life – I discovered my yoga teacher happened to run her own fashion company. She recognized my passion for both fashion and law and took a chance on me, offering me a position as a Trend Forecaster and Legal Advisor within her company. Her guidance and belief in my potential were instrumental in helping me bridge my legal expertise with the fashion industry.

Thanks to her and numerous other incredible women who have supported me throughout my journey, I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of paying it forward and am open to mentoring young lawyers and law students as they navigate their own career paths in the legal and fashion worlds. Mentorship is not just about giving back but also about fostering a supportive community that empowers the next generation of professionals.

FWIL:

Finally, what advice would you give to our readers who may be interested in pursuing a career in fashion law, and what resources or organizations would you recommend for further information and support?

SD:

For those interested in pursuing a career in fashion law, my advice is to begin by building a solid foundation in law while immersing yourself in the fashion industry. A law degree is a must, as it will equip you with the inner workings of the law to be able to apply it to the fashion industry.

When considering elective courses at university, choosing modules related to intellectual property (IP) can be a strategic and beneficial decision. These modules delve into areas such as trademark, copyright, patent law, and design rights, offering invaluable insights into the legal protection of innovations and creative works. Selecting IP focused electives not only enhances your understanding of this complex and evolving field but also equips you with skills highly sought after in today’s knowledge-based economy.

In addition to intellectual property modules, enrolling in as many fashion related courses as possible can be a strategic choice for students passionate about the fashion industry. Fashion courses offer a perspective into the multifaceted world of design, marketing, retail, and the various aspects of fashion. They can provide an understanding of industry trends, consumer behaviour, and the creative process, which can be immensely beneficial for those aspiring to careers in fashion law.

Combining legal knowledge from IP modules with a profound understanding of fashion enhances one’s ability to provide tailored legal support to fashion businesses, ensuring both creative expression and legal compliance. Such a multidisciplinary approach can set the stage for a fulfilling and impactful career in fashion law.

To further enhance the academic experience and prepare future professionals for the dynamic world of fashion law, we offer a fashion law course that covers topics such as intellectual property, contracts, licensing, branding and marketing, fashion technology trends, and ethics. This course equips students with a well-rounded understanding of the legal complexities in the fashion industry, enabling them to navigate IP protection, contractual negotiations, ethical considerations, and the latest technological innovations. By incorporating real-world case studies, our course equips students with a comprehensive skill set, culminating in a certificate that not only bridges the divide between law and fashion but also empowers them to make a significant impact in an industry where business and artistic expression converge.

To find out more, visit our website at www.safashionlaw.co.za or email info@safashionlaw.co.za

FWIL:

How can our readers reach out to you? (social media handles)

SD:

Our socials:

https://za.linkedin.com/company/safashionlaw

https://www.instagram.com/safashion_law/

https://m.facebook.com/SA.Fashion.Law

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

0
    0
    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop