Lady Justice may have been blindfolded the day she posed for the famous scales-of-justice statue but without a doubt she knew what dress she put on that morning. One doubts that she gave the outfit much thought but one wonders was the designer of that dress duly compensated? Did he have adequate working conditions? And was his design attributed to his label? To be fair those were probably not relevant or legal issues in the 15th century but they are in the 21st century, which is why Fashion Lawyer and Director of SA Fashion Law Sumaiya De’Mar is ready to set transgressors running in their red-lacquered heels.
“The business of fashion is no longer only about creating brilliant designs,” explains De’Mar. “It has now become about not committing the biggest fashion faux pas of all time; that of leaving your designs and business legally unprotected.”
The concept of Fashion Law is a relatively new one in first world countries let alone in South Africa. The first recorded college course was taught at the Fashion Institute of Technology, USA in 2006, and the first law school course at Forham University in 2008.
De’Mar graduated with an LLB law degree in 2010 but has always been a fashionista at heart, albeit law was in her blood: “I am passionate about fashion and this has led me to pursue various roles within the fashion industry in order to gain experiential knowledge and a holistic understanding of it.” Most recently she worked at the Cape Town Fashion Council drawing up, negotiating and reviewing legal contracts for fashion industry players, as well as coordinating and hosting workshops focusing on the development of up-and-coming fashion designers embarking on a new business venture.
Practicing from Green Point in Cape Town, De’Mar is receiving support from the Fashion Law Institute in the USA. “I saw a desperate need for South African designers and manufacturers to stop being taken advantage of and so I approached the Fashion Law Institute for guidance. I learnt that by applying my skills and background in Intellectual Property Law (which consists of Copyright Law, Trademark Law, Patent Law and Design Law) as well as fashion I could offer a bespoke service to the fashion industry; helping to protect designers from getting ripped off. The solution is more often than not a lot simpler and cheaper than some may think.”
Fashion Law is an area of law that deals with the day-to-day business problems of the fashion industry. As with other, recently-developed subspecialties of business law – such as Entertainment Law, Sports Law, or Art Law – Fashion Law is actually a combination of several different legal disciplines. The practice of Fashion Law incorporates relevant concepts from intellectual property, commercial sales, contracts, real estate, employment and advertising law, amongst others.
“The fashion and apparel industry is growing at a rapid rate in South Africa and as it does so do the businesses that feed it become exposed to copyright infringement,” De’Mar continues. “Instances have been documented in South Africa where small businesses that have had little to no access to adequate legal counsel have not been able to fight for their rights against larger corporations. My aim is to highlight the importance of safeguarding the intellectual property of an article of clothing or a fashion accessory throughout its life cycle, and to equip small businesses with the knowledge and information required.”
“My services are not limited to that of the fashion industry. Some of my clients are artists, musicians and photographers.” concludes De’Mar.
Describing her own sense of style as sophisticated glam with an avant-garde edge, there is no doubt that De’Mar’s experience in the fashion industry and familiarity with the kind of business and creative environments her clients face on a daily basis are a winning combination. Case closed.