I’ve always wondered: when does a new fashion designer need to consult with a lawyer? When you’re starting out there is just so much to know and it’s really hard to understand what’s important. Most new designers are so happy to sign a contract with their first PR (they usually just feel lucky that someone will take them on!), and you might design a diffusion collection for a high street brand, and you might have sold some of the pieces from your first collection without understanding their real value.
I had the opportunity to ask Intellectual Property/Commercial lawyer, Louisa Hetherington why might a new designer need a lawyer? Here’s what she had to say:
Creative work is precious: the amount of hard work involved in putting a collection together and showing it is enormous, as is its potential commercial value. The last thing a designer, launching a new label or showing a collection for the first time, needs is to find his or her creativity and hard work on the shelves of a high street store 48 hours after presenting the collection. Unfortunately, this does sometimes happen.
Protection is key and there are all kinds of ways of protecting both your creativity (your intellectual property) and business interests. One crucial way of protecting your rights is to apply to register your business’ name or label as a trade mark. This gives you the right to prevent others from using that name or trading off your reputation. Registering key web addresses as domain names is also important. Another useful step is to apply to register your designs. These can make it much easier to beat off copycats.
Whilst registration will give you additional, stronger rights, if you don’t have any, there are other rights, such as copyright and unregistered design rights, which exist to protect you. Intellectual property lawyers can provide guidance and assistance in ensuring that trade marks and key designs are properly registered, as well as advising on these other forms of protection.
In addition, what do you do when your business begins to take off and you need to engage manufacturers, distributors, PR agents, marketing assistants, retailers and other business partners? How do you protect your ideas during the discussion stages? What about starting up an online business and selling through a website? What are the regulations you have to comply with?
It is very important to have written contracts in place to protect your interests, particularly for new designers just beginning to feel their way in the business world. Commercial lawyers can assist in negotiating and drafting contracts and confidentiality agreements on your behalf so that you are adequately protected. This way, you are less likely to end up in dispute with the other party and, if that other party runs off with your ideas, you will have some recourse against them. Commercial lawyers can also advise on exactly what you need to do to ensure your website is fully compliant.
Finally, what do you do if a copycat comes along and you find your designs on the shelves of a high-street store, or online, or anywhere for that matter? Or, you find another business attempting to use your label name or trade mark? Enforcing your rights is important in order to stop others from exploiting your hard work, claiming it as their own and trading off your reputation. A well-crafted letter from a lawyer to the copycat can be very effective in stopping copying and, hopefully, recovering some money. If this doesn’t work, you may need to start legal proceedings and a lawyer can help you through this to get the solution (and compensation) you want. If you have registrations and good contracts in place it is usually much more straightforward, quicker and cheaper to enforce your rights.
Getting advice early on, protecting your rights through registration and ensuring you have good written contracts in place doesn’t have to cost the earth and prevention is better than cure. See it as an important foundation stone, an investment in the future and a way of preventing you incurring higher costs if things go wrong at a later stage.
Louisa Hetherington is an Intellectual Property/Commercial lawyer at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP. Louisa.firstname.lastname@example.org.