FASHION LAWYERS WALK THE TALK
Diana Hamadé Al Ghurair offers an insight into the world of fashion lawyers
FASHION, FOR MOST LAWYERS, HAS been a hit or miss. Fashion lawyers are not necessarily fashionable, but a knowledge and passion for fashion are vital. They are lawyers who specialize in the business of fashion. Although, as a practice, it is quite new, it is indeed a fast-growing niche that law firms worldwide have been setting up as a practice, hiring lawyers with fashion law degrees to render their services.
Lawyers in the fashion business say both legal knowledge and an interest in the industry are required to make the most cost-effective decisions on behalf of clients. It also helps to understand retail, and how online fashion works. But an obsession with clothes is optional.
Fashion law is an area of law that deals with intellectual property (copyright and trademark law, including brand licensing), domestic and international business transactions, merchandising, employment and customs (import/export issues). Fashion law clients include designers, fashion houses, distributors, manufacturers, modelling agencies, retailers, and photographers. Fashion lawyers may either work for established fashion and luxury goods companies, or outside the company for law firms.
An outlook study in 2015, undertaken by Deloitte & Touche, showed that value of design in the UAE stood at $27.6 billion. That compares with about $100 billion in the Middle East and North Africa region, and a global value of $2.3 trillion. High growth rates are forecast for design in the UAE, with the biggest elements of the industry for fashion, which takes 74 per cent of the total, followed by architecture.
The Dubai Design District (d3) set up as a hub for the design community in the region, is shaping Dubai’s future as a leading destination of the fashion industry. Being home to the region’s growing community of fashion designers and style innovators, fashion lawyers are ultimately sought after, and will become part of this district as providers of legal services.
Fashion houses and designers in the region both face unique challenges specific to their industry. They require attorneys who understand the nature of short seasons and ever-changing product cycles, pressures surrounding counterfeit goods, and the issues of unfair competition. Valuable assets in the fashion business comprise not only intellectual property rights, but also trade arrangements, contracts, and information technology systems.
The question for lawyers is whether fashion law is as glamorous as it sounds. The answer is: it may well be, especially where the headline news being made by the fashion business of disputes by luxury brands, such as the legal battle between LVMH and Hermès following LVMH’S increased stake in the brand. The local fashion business also had its share of breaking news, with the Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC) liquidating its majority investment in Villamoda in 2008 – the exact amount of the investment was not disclosed – followed by iconic US department store Saks Fifth Avenue closing its Dubai store after nearly 11 years of business.
It’s unlikely that these lawyers will make it to the FROW at Fashion Weeks, yet they get to work with some glamorous clients on some innovative legal issues. For a lawyer to make it in this business, it takes understanding such clients’ needs and keeping abreast of changes in their trends.