An Overview of Fashion Law

This is a rapidly growing area of law

Fashion designers working with fabric and sewing patterns
Getty Images/Hero Images

Fashion law, also known as apparel law, is an emerging legal specialty that encompasses issues surrounding the life of a garment from conception to brand protection. Fashion law clients include designers, fashion houses, distributors, manufacturers, modeling agencies, retailers, and photographers.

New York Senator Charles Schumer introduced the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Protection Act (IDPPPA) in August 2010. The IDPPPA protects designs that are deemed to be "unique" and "original."

Responsibilities and Duties of a Fashion Lawyer 

Fashion attorneys advise clients on legal issues facing the fashion, textile, apparel, luxury, footwear, jewelry, and cosmetics industries. These run the gamut from licensing, merchandising, distribution, and franchising agreements to intellectual property, employment, and labor relation issues. They include safety, sustainability, and consumer protection issues. Various aspects of corporate, real estate, tax, and business law also come into play.

Fashion lawyers perform a broad range of duties from drafting and negotiating contracts to addressing and litigating trademark, copyright, and other intellectual property issues. They're in charge of forming and dissolving business entities and advising on branding development and protection.

Fashion lawyers also consult on design protection, import-export, licensing and other issues.

Education Opportunities

Education programs do exist that are exclusively dedicated to fashion law, but they're admittedly few and far between.

Fordham Law School launched the world's first Fashion Law Institute in late 2010 with the support of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Diane von Furstenberg. The Institute offers J.D. and LL.M. students the opportunity to study fashion-related legal issues.

The Fashion Law Institute also provides pro bono legal counseling for designers in need. Specialty courses include topics such as Fashion Law and Finance and Fashion Ethics, Sustainability, and Development, as well as Fashion Retail Law and the Fashion Law Practicum.

The institute offers a public seminar series for design and legal professionals, as well as a summer intensive course that's open to both degree and non-degree students.

A few other schools have launched curriculum and coursework in the area of fashion law as well, including Loyola Law School, the University of Buffalo Law School, New York Law School, and New York University.

Why Fashion Law Is Growing

The internet age has exacerbated many of the legal issues that designers and fashion companies encounter, fueling the necessity for fashion-specific legal advice and protection. For example, design piracy and copycat litigation have grown in recent years, prompting new legislation that provides legal protection for fashion designs. These issues are of particular importance to those in the fashion industry.

New York Senator Charles Schumer introduced the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Protection Act (IDPPPA) in August 2010. The IDPPPA protects designs that are deemed to be "unique" and "original."

How to Break into the Field

Fashion law is a unique specialty that's growing, but very few law firms specialize in this area. Fox Rothschild is one of a handful of full-service firms with a fashion law practice in several of its U.S. locations. You can potentially intern with one of these law firms that specializes in fashion law or works with fashion clients.

Taking courses in fashion law, intellectual property, business and finance, international trade, government regulation, and consumer culture can also provide a foundation that might boost your chances of employment in this specialty. Volunteering to assist in providing pro bono legal services to the fashion community is another way to gain contacts and related experience.