THE LAW OF FASHION
DURBAN-BORN SUMAIYA DE’MAR HAS ALWAYS HAD A PENCHANT FOR FASHION. FROM A YOUNG AGE, SHE WAS FASCINATED BY THE GLOSSY PAGES OF FASHION MAGAZINES AND THE GLITZ AND GLAMOUR OF FASHION SHOWS. GROWING UP, FASHION WAS A BIG PART OF HER ARTISTIC OUTLET. WHEN SHE FINISHED HIGH SCHOOL, HOWEVER, SHE WENT ON TO STUDY LAW – ANOTHER PASSION OF HERS. IT WASN’T LONG BEFORE DE’MAR DISCOVERED THE PERFECT WAY TO COMBINE HER PASSIONS. InFlight RECENTLY CAUGHT UP WITH THIS YOUNG, INSPIRING AND SUCCESSFUL LAWYER.
InFlight: Despite being a self-confessed fashionista, law has always been in your blood and you graduated with an LLB degree in 2010. Where did you study and what made you decide to choose law as a career?
Sumaiya De’Mar (SD): I studied law at the University of South Africa (Unisa), specialising in Intellectual Property Law and graduating with seven distinctions. After spending several years working in the legal profession, my love of fashion led to my involvement in numerous projects within the fashion industry, from trend forecasting and fashion designing to styling and editing.Through these roles I gained valuable insight, experiential knowledge and a holistic understanding of the industry.This led to my decision to apply my legal expertise to the fashion industry, thus pioneering “fashion law” in South Africa by founding SA Fashion Law.
InFlight: What exactly is fashion law?
SD: Law is something that has dominion over every industry and fashion is no exception. Fashion law is a specialised area of
law that covers issues relating to the business of fashion, from conception to brand protection.
Fashion law is a combination of several different legal disciplines. At the heart of it lies intellectual property law, which covers copyright, trademarks, patents and design law. Fundamental issues also include business and contracts, employment law, media law, cyber (IT) law, as well as ethics and sustainability. Fashion law also extends to related industries such as photography, modelling, music, film and media.
InFlight: What are some of the biggest problems facing the fashion and apparel industry in terms of legalities and business dealings?
SD: Entrepreneurs in developing countries like South Africa do business based on trust and verbal agreements – until somebody gets double-crossed. Even if both parties have honest intentions, details of an agreement can easily be forgotten if they have not been written down. When it comes to business transactions, written contracts should dominate every important relationship, including those with suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, service providers and especially employees. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t delay formalising their legal agreements, as it sets the tone of professionalism in doing business legitimately, thereby attracting the right calibre of collaborations.
Also, the value of intellectual property, particularly in our digital era, should not be underestimated. Being successful is no longer just about creating fabulous designs. It has become more important not to commit the biggest faux pas, by leaving designs unprotected and falling victim to copycats.There is a distinction between imitation and inspiration.
It is crucial that entrepreneurs see the law as a way to reduce risk in all aspects of their businesses and safeguard their brands. SA Fashion Law offers a bespoke service tailored to the challenges of each business. It includes drafting of contracts, intellectual property protection, and dealing with infringements. The aim of SA Fashion Law is to bring formality to business transactions whilst affording access to legal protection.
InFlight: What have been some of your most memorable successes as a fashion lawyer so far?
SD: There are many, but I would have to say: being the first person to pioneer fashion law in South Africa by launching SA Fashion Law; being chosen by Fashion Revolution – a South African NPO – to be their Director of Fashion Law and Ethics in 2015; presenting the first fashion law lecture in South Africa to FEDISA’s BA Fashion Degree Honours students 2016; and being chosen by the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa as a finalist in their Business Achiever Award in 2017 in the Professional Category.
InFlight: What are the challenges you have faced setting up such a unique endeavour, and how have you overcome them?
SD: It was a challenge setting up a business that was unheard of in South Africa. I overcame this challenge by sharing information through talks at events and conferences, networking with people in the industry, and focussing on a PR strategy so that people became more aware of the importance of fashion law in South Africa.
InFlight: Do you practise other kinds of law?
SD: SA Fashion Law has the support of a network of various legal practitioners and specialists, thereby being ideally positioned to cover other areas of law to help businesses address their legal needs.
InFlight: Let’s talk fashion. How do you believe fashion influences our society?
SD: Fashion symbolizes the spirit of the times, and in our society fashion itself is a reflection of social, political, economic and cultural changes.The internet has changed the game, so many fashion lovers follow their own rules, inspired by what they see on the internet or street style photography. Now more than ever, it is important to stay informed about fast fashion versus slow fashion, and focusing on issues such as ethics and sustainability.
As the world continues to evolve, so does fashion. There is a strong movement towards ethical fashion and the rise of independent designer labels, which can only be seen as a movement in the right direction.
InFlight: How would you describe your own style?
SD: My style depends on what my agenda holds for the day. If I’m headed to business meetings, I like power dressing with a touch of sophisticated elegance. For an evening out, I love glamorous dresses and killer stilettos.
InFlight: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
SD: In my free time I enjoy being creative by designing my own clothing, jewellery and accessories, and I intend to spearhead a collection in the near future. I enjoy doing yoga and meditating. I also love music and playing guitar, and just doing things that keep me motivated and inspired.
InFlight: What are three items you simply cannot live without?
SD: My laptop is vital to my work; a book that enriches my mind; and lip balm is essential.
Fashion law is emerging throughout the world, and has a big presence in the United States, the United Kingdom,Australia and now in South Africa. SA Fashion Law’s aim is to cultivate a new generation of fashion law practitioners in South Africa through training in the form of a series of Fashion Law Master Classes. For more information go to www.safashionlaw.co.za.