Scenario: You’re a woman….or a man with moderate to above average fashion sense with connections to a tailor who interprets your vision perfectly. This union means your Nigerian made outfits are always very well turned out. A few people notice your style, ask where they can get similar outfits and somehow…….you are suddenly in business. The above scenario may or may not be the case but more often than not I’ve noticed that the manner in which a lot of Nigerian designers started their businesses is unerringly similar and not too far off from that. Not because they studied fashion or grew up with this burning desire to dress the world, but because they fell into it. This unpreparedness for their future career leads a lot of people working in fashion; designers, textile creators, fashion merchandisers, tailors, stylists etc.; not taking adequate measures to protect their brand and aesthetic legally.
Some people remedy this oversight as their business grows but the risk of being taken advantage of is present at the onset and for every minute a brand remains unregistered or a trademark remains unprotected.
Fashion law is a rapidly growing specialty that deals with the issues of intellectual property, including copyright and trademark law, business law, licensing, textiles, merchandising, and, on occasion, the import/export side of customs.
The main branch of law under which Fashion Law falls is Intellectual Property (IP) and the important issues concerning this unique area of law are protection and exploitation. Budding designers require advice on protecting copyright, trademarks and design rights as well as prevention from exploitation by larger fashion houses with more exposure that may appropriate their designs without adequately crediting the source.
The best way to combat any issues directly from the instant you realize you have a money making venture on your hands is to meet with an Intellectual Property Lawyer. You would not only receive invaluable advice, you would also be aided in drawing up a watertight business plan.
The first step an IP lawyer can take on your behalf, before any major strides are made is to register your business name and trademark, which guarantees that it cannot be used in any form without your express permission.
The next step is to take note of any design feature particular to your brand which is an original creation and which is immediately identifiable to you and which you do not wish to see unreasonably duplicated, at least without adequate permission and pecuniary compensation.
The IP lawyer would then register this design feature as being of your own creation.
Failure to do this can be illustrated by the recent action by designer Christian Louboutin (“Louboutin”) against industry giant Yves Saint Laurent (“YSL”) over YSL’s decision to use the design feature of red soles in a shoe collection earlier this year. It is universally acknowledged that the foremost recognition of footwear by Louboutin is the use of red soles in every single shoe. YSL’s argument is based on the fact that Louboutin did not invent the use of red soles in shoes and therefore cannot restrict other designers from doing same. Loboutin however claims that he made a trademark application for “exclusive use of the red sole” which YSL alleges is false. If the judge overseeing the matter rules in favour of YSL, Louboutin is in extreme danger of identity theft because there stand to be a host of identikit red sole shoes flooding the market.
It has been opined that even Tiffany’s duck egg blue boxes are at a risk of copying if this trademark case falls apart.
To give this issue a Nigerian slant, I will bring up the design feature of sequins sewn on “Ankara” by the designer Lisa Folawiyo of Jewel By Lisa (“JBL”). JBL may not have been the first person to make use of this design feature, though I beg to differ, but it easily became the most recognizable aspect of her brand. A few years ago if you saw a “sequined” Ankara outfit, it had to be by JBL, now however any roadside tailor could run one up. Fashion is very tricky in the sense that it is extremely difficult to restrict what can be used and a lot of the ideas are very often recycled and instantly copied, but a feature as noticeable as JBLs sequins or Ituen Basi’s Ankara accessories could have profited from their designs if they had attempted to trademark the features with which their brands had been identified. I understand the Nigerian fashion industry is somewhat in its infancy but the need to distinguish one brand from another should prevail and this overlapping of designs from House to House is somewhat confusing and not encouraging for someone who has an original idea and is afraid to put it out there for fear of instant duplication.
The above covers the most pressing issues when you begin a new business, registering your business name, brand licensing and trademark & copyright protection. Once these are taken care of, as your business expands you may require advice on distributorship, agency, supply agreements, conditions of sale, concession and franchise agreements3. The preceding are however not of immediate concern, if you are able to engage an IP lawyer early enough he/she
would constantly advice you every step of the way.
To my knowledge I’m unaware of any industry specific fashion lawyers in Nigeria, the concept itself is relatively new around the world and requires someone who understands the seasonal nature of the fashion business, the extensive effort towards selling periods and the importance of international trade fairs for product promotion, as well as with the special terminology and types of relationships used widely within the fashion industry. Lacking that, there are a few law firms in Nigeria which provide exceptional Intellectual Property services and have already begun forays into aspects of Fashion Law such as, Adepetun, Caxton-Martins, Agbor & Segun; (email@example.com; www.acas-law.com) and PACE Attorneys; (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Fortifying your business legally is highly underrated; most Nigerians tend to just run with an idea without making sure they are adequately protected. What you would pay a lawyer to ensure your business is secure is a pittance compared to what you would lose if and when your ideas or even your name as well as your goodwill are stolen.
Educate yourself today.
For further information if you are considering a career in Fashion Law or are just willing to expand your knowledge, visit;
Fashionlaw.co.uk, Or contact Adaku Ufere at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Feel free to add your thoughts and share more knowledge on the subject in the comment box
Adaku Ufere is a fashion obsessed lawyer, published poet and currently a Post-Graduate student studying for a Masters in Oil & Gas Law. She combines her loves of fashion, charity, poetry, writing and the law to create a melange that is essential for the 21st century woman, the ability to do anything one feels like no matter how varied ones interests are, in her own words “versatility is the new black”. She lives by a Paulo Coelho quote that says “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it”…….so far, its working for her.
Follow her on Twitter: @VivrantThing