Fashion Law Institute
Above: Fashion Law Institute founder Susan Scafidi and Diane von Furstenberg.
“The Institute is the world’s first academic center dedicated to the legal and business issues that can arise throughout the life of a garment – or undergarment!” – Jeff Trexler, Associate Director, Fashion Law Institute.
The Fashion Law Institute is one of the most exciting and valuable resources designers and brands have here in New York City. And if the Institute is not on your radar, we have a special Q&A today with Jeff Trexler, Associate Director for the Fashion Law Institute to give us the scoop:
Jeff, could you tell us what the Fashion Law Institute is all about and how it got started? Who was involved at its inception?
The Fashion Law Institute is an independent nonprofit organization founded by Professor Susan Scafidi and based at Fordham Law School. It was launched in 2010 with the help of legendary designer Diane von Furstenberg and the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The Institute is the world’s first academic center dedicated to the legal and business issues that can arise throughout the life of a garment – or undergarment! – from the designer’s original idea all the way to the consumer’s closet.
Besides training the fashion lawyers of the future, the Institute is also dedicated to helping the entire fashion community through free legal services, public panel discussions, and annual Fashion Law Bootcamps where fashion professionals, lawyers, and students learn about fashion law from Professor Scafidi and other industry leaders.
Above: a scene from the Institute’s 2nd Anniversary & Pop-Up Clinic Celebration.
It’s pretty amazing that the field of Fashion Law didn’t really exist, what was the spark that led to the founders to breath this field into being? And how long was that process? What were some of the biggest hurdles?
What sparked the creation of fashion law as a distinct field was Professor Scafidi’s realization that was that while other major industries had developed recognized areas of law — such as banking law, sports law, entertainment law, and of course, the law of computers and the Internet — there was no distinct field of fashion law. There were lawyers who did work for the fashion industry, but this was all on an ad hoc basis, without any specialized training in the fashion business or the fashion industry’s unique legal issues.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle was the fact that many in the legal academy considered fashion to be inherently frivolous — in fact, Professor Scafidi’s senior colleagues at previous institution effectively forbade her to write about fashion. Thankfully, that changed once she got tenure, moved to another law school, and founded the Fashion Law Institute.
Above and from left: Jeff Trexler, Susan Scafidi, John Maltbie and John Margiotta at the Institute’s Law of the Bargain discussion in February 2015.
“In just a few short years fashion law has grown from a blog into an established field of law with a global network of attorneys, students and fashion professionals.”
What was the reaction like from the fashion industry during the Fashion Law Institute’s launch?
Wonderful and truly gratifying. In just a few short years fashion law has grown from a blog into an established field of law with a global network of attorneys, students and fashion professionals. The Fashion Law Institute’s September anniversary fashion show featuring designers from our various programs has even become an integral part of New York Fashion Week — our Third Anniversary show received worldwide coverage for featuring the first plus-size clothing line to show in the official Fashion Week tents, and the designer from our most recent show was just named to Forbes Magazines’ list of 30-under-30, as was a member of our faculty.
How is the Council of Fashion Designers of America involved with the Fashion Law Institute?
The Council of Fashion Designers of America and its President, Diane von Furstenberg, provided initial support for the Fashion Law Institute, and DVF continues to be the Institute’s patron saint. The Institute continues to have a strong relationship with the CFDA and its intrepid CEO, Steven Kolb, whose work in promoting the fashion industry’s awareness of legal and business concerns has been invaluable.
Above: the Fashion Law Institute 4th Anniversary Runway Show with Carrie Hammer.
We’re in touch with everyone in the lingerie industry from retailers to suppliers. Some of them are very new or starting out and we see a lot of questions floating around Facebook groups from individuals and businesses seeking some form of legal advice — how can the Fashion Law Institute help these businesses and individuals? Does the Fashion Law Institute offer legal assistance? How does it work?
The Fashion Law Institute operates a monthly Fashion Law Pop-Up Clinic, which connects designers and other fashion industry professionals to attorneys and law students for free legal advice. If any of your readers would like to benefit from this service, they can describe their needs on the information form at the following link and we’ll be in touch: http://fashionlawinstitute.com/yourlegal-qs.
In addition, the Fashion Law Institute offers a number of educational programs on key in fashion law and business, most of which are free for fashion industry professionals.
What are some of the biggest areas that the Fashion Law Institute gets a good chunk of questions about?
Design protection is naturally a leading area of interest. Although copyright does not extend to the shape of a garment, we’ve been able to show designers find other ways to protect their designs. For example, lingerie designers have been able to integrate copyrightable prints and lace patterns into their work, and the lingerie industry has long been a leader in using patents to secure legal protection for bras, corsets, and other undergarments.
That said, intellectual property is far from the only area of inquiry. Designers have come to us with questions about all aspects of the business, from the fundamentals of starting up a fashion business to the legal aspects of outsourcing and international trade.
Above: Fu Wu, founder of the the mens underwear brand FU e=fu8.
“Anyone, including design students, designers, and other fashion industry professionals, can apply to be part of Fashion Law Bootcamp.”
Since the launch of the Fashion Law Institute, how many students have enrolled and graduated? Who can apply to enroll in the Institute?
Interest in fashion law has been astounding, both in the law school and Fashion Law Bootcamp. Upwards of a thousand law students have taken the fashion law courses offered by Fashion Law Institute faculty at Fordham Law School; I myself teach the Fashion Ethics, Sustainability and Development course, and besides Professor Scafidi’s landmark Fashion Law course we also have a fashion law practicum as well as courses on such topics as licensing, finance, and modeling law.
Anyone, including design students, designers, and other fashion industry professionals, can apply to be part of Fashion Law Bootcamp — our graduates have worked for such companies as Marc Jacobs and Forever 21, and one of our alumni, Fu Wu, even has his own men’s underwear line, FU e=fu8!
Above: a scene from a recent Institute Seminar.
How can legal professionals and design professionals get involved with the Fashion Law Institute?
Attorneys with fashion law experience are always welcome to volunteer to help with out Fashion Law Pop-Up Clinics – anyone interested should fill out the volunteer form available here: http://fashionlawinstitute.com/yourlegal-qs/pro-bono-application-form-revised. Design professionals can get involved with the Fashion Law Institute in a several ways. Attending Institute programs is definitely encouraged — our panels are designed to be useful to the entire fashion community, not just attorneys. Fashion Law Bootcamp is open to everyone, and we’ve also had firms participate by sponsoring scholarships for designers.
And even if you can’t get to New York or San Francisco, you can help us help the industry by letting us know about your experiences and what legal issues you’d like to see addressed.
Are there any events the Fashion Law Institute is hosting in early 2015 that we can let our readers know about?
There are several events scheduled for 2015:
On April 17, 2015 the Fashion Law Institute will be hosting its fifth annual daylong symposium, which covers the year’s leading issues in fashion law.
Finally, this year’s New York edition of Fashion Law Bootcamp takes place from May 19 to May 29. The San Francisco edition will be held in August at the international headquarters of Levi Strauss & Co. More information on Fashion Law Bootcamp can be found here: http://fashionlawinstitute.com/bootcamp2.
Learn more about the Fashion Law Institute
And, where should we point our readers to learn more about the Fashion Law Institute?
Our website is FashionLawInstitute.com. On Twitter we’re @fashionlawinst, and on Facebook and Instagram we’re at /fashionlawinstitute. Anyone interested in design protection is also encouraged to visit the site where it all began, counterfeitchic.com.