Fashion Law Institute Symposium

The Fashion Law Institute’s 4th Annual Symposium entitled “The Spectrum of Style”  on 4/4 certainly had the “fours” with them.  They also had the force in terms of some serious fashion law experts who appeared on five panels plus  keynote speaker Sigrid Olsen who closed the day with her “Rainbow’s End” presentation during the cocktail reception. As is fitting with the idea of a spectrum each session had the name of a color in its title.  “I was inspired by lights and the color of lights” said Susan Scafidi , professor, founder and president of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University Law School (where the symposium was held).  In keeping with her theme she wore a Gemma Redux multicolor Dichroic stone and metal necklace, earrings, ring and holographic patent shoulder bag, all from the line created by Rachel Dooley;  with her stylish black suit. Interestingly, Rachel appeared as a speaker on a panel but not the one entitled “Jewel Tones” (more about that later) but in the one entitled “Red Flag: Are you a Victim of Unauthorized Name Registration in China?” as she had her name trademarked in China by an unscrupulous third party.

As a non lawyer (definitely in the minority in this room) a lot of the terms bandied about initially escaped me, for instance there was much talk about IP law which I later came to realize meant Intellectual Property so it was a little like learning a new language in many ways.  I will attempt to make a brief synopsis of nine hours into a few paragraphs.

Jeff Trexler, Rosenna Sammi, Cecilia Gardner, Farzad Damania,
Brent Cleveland, Don Obert, & Laura Koss

The first panel  entitled “Green Light: Seeking Sustainable Style” moderated by Jeff Trexler, Esq. featured Amy Hall (Eileen Fisher), Debera Johnson (Pratt Institute), Laura Koss (Federal Trade Commission), Professor Barbara Pozzo (Universita degli Studi de Milano) who discussed the role of sustainability in global fashion.  They spoke of regulations and initiatives both from the government and from individual companies (Eileen Fisher) for one, including the mapping of the entire supply chain from seed, to farm, to animal.  “Where do your clothes come from, how are they made and what can we do to make it better? We need to make more conscientious decisions and without that information we can’t move forward” Ms. Hall said.  She also pointed out that by 2030, the demand for water will exceed the supply by 40%.  Mr. Trexler said that the movement is “not just a hearty brand of activists trying to convince the rest of the fashion world to go green” but rather regulatory changes are being made all over the world.  He said that we are no longer talking about “refrigerator art” (meaning a piece of art that your child might create that a parent feels compelled to display on the appliance) and admonished not to think of green fashion as “a hat made of coffee filters.”

Laura Koss from the FTC spoke of the truth in advertising claims (it’s known as “greenwashing”) as in not allowing a manufacturer to just state that they are “environmentally friendly” or that a product is recyclable  they must have specific scientific evidence to back it up as it states in the Green Guides which are revised every ten years.  Prof. Pozzo spoke of the European sector mentioning that sustainability is a core value of the EU treaty. “Let the market work for the environment” is the phrase along with integration working from the ” top down and the bottom up” with designer’s regulating themselves.  Deberah mentioned how the Pratt community is working sustainability into their curriculum and teaching the students by working sourcing of supply chains into their fashion education: “Form + Function + Consequences.”

Rosanna Sammi

The second panel “Jewel Tones: From Conflict Minerals to Multi-Destination Orders, Compliance is
key” which I guess sums it up.  Here is where it got confusing for me but
suffice it to say that the passing of Dodd Frank, a long winded regulatory law
for the banking industry which added gold to the list of metals (also the three
T’s of Tin, tantalum and titanium) used by the Democratic Republic of Congo
(DRC) to fund terrorism, had a huge impact on the jewelry industry as well as
affecting electronics. There was already a problem with conflict diamonds (made
famous by Kanye West in a song and by Leonardo DiCaprioand other minerals.

The panel which included lawyer and jeweler Rosenna Sammi as well as Laura Ross from the FTC doing double duty, also discussed the responsibility of ethics and moral responsibility in commerce.  Cecilia Gardner from the Jewelers Vigilance Committee also discussed making sure that jewelry is regulated in terms of disclosure and identification of product.

Prof Tanya Hernandez, Robin Givhan, Bethann Hardison, Cyrus Mehri

After lunch in the atrium (heavy on the salad with sliced steak, pasta and eggplant parm thrown in) it was back to session #3:  “Whitewash: Fashion & Diversity, On and Off the Runway.”  This panel featured Robin Givhan, the former fashion reporter from the Washington Post and now a critic at New York Magazine, as well as Bethann Hardison, former model and fashion advocate.  Fashion designer Tracy Reese was a no-show but sent her apologies for being tied up in a meeting.  Robin commented that diversity on the runway is not really a reflection of racism but that “designers look at color as a paint chip. It’s not cultural but more of a does it go with the clothes, hairstyles etc that I’m showing?” she explained.  Bethann (soon to be honored with a CFDA for her work) added that designers will say using “ethnic women isn’t my aesthetic” which is better than what they used to say which was “we’re not looking for blacks or ethnics.”  She grew up in the garment district and started the “Black Girls Coalition” of models which has had some success at changing things in terms of diversity by holding press conferences notably one in 2007 at Bryant Park which became worldwide news.  They also discussed the Barney’s/Macy’s racism conundrum and how people were “up in arms” about Barney’s because they are perceived to be snobby whereas most people felt that Macy’s just made a mistake. However, both Bethann and Robin agreed that Jay Z should have said something about the Barney’s situation since he was involved with the store on a collaboration.

Buffet lunch

The third panel: Next was “Red Flag” which I previously mentioned having to do with unauthorized name registration in China.  This panel discussed trademark squatting and the “first to file” law in China which allowed cyber squatters to take a US name and trademark it there.  A new law is coming on May 1st which will perhaps make it slightly harder for the Chinese to do this due to something called “Relative Grounds Examination” meaning a comparison of the incoming application would be studied to see if there is a similar application or product already out there.  Panel member Susan Anthony, of the US Patent and Trademark Office recommended that anyone who was interested in possibly doing business in China should immediately file the papers to trademark their name even before the US patent, to prevent this misuse.  As I previously mentioned, this is where Rachel Dooley of Gemma Redux ran into trouble and lost control of her name.  Many times you can get around this by just modifying your company name slightly for the trademark which could bring into question which one is the knock-off.

Angela Byun, Eden Miller, Kenya Wiley, Stacey Abiraj,
Ewa Abrams, & Claudine Meredith-Goujon

The fourth panel:  “Silver Screen: Licensing Links Film & Fashion” featured not only a live panel but also two women from Warner Brothers in LA on Skype.  I must admit I dozed off a little during this one but still managed to take four pages of notes.  Suffice it to say a lot of it had to do with the collaboration of products or brands with movies such as the tie-in with Tiffany & Co. and the latest release of “The Great Gatsby.”  This way Tiffany had complete control over how it was presented, according to Ewa Abrams, rather than in an earlier film which she said “thankfully no one remembers” called “Regarding Henry” with Harrison Ford which she said “had a negative impact” on the brand.  “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” and “Sweet Home Alabama” had a positive impact yet she reminded us that “Breakfast” was a movie about a prostitute so it could have gone wrong.  Other tie-ins mentioned included the movie “Her” and its retail collaboration with Opening Ceremony online (geek chic), “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” with Net-a-Porter, “Girl with The Dragon Tattoo” and H&M.

Sigrid Olsen

Lastly, we returned to the atrium for refreshments and to listen to the inspirational story of Sigrid Olsen who closed her clothing company in 2008 and has now, after a long legal battle, regained her name (due to licensing agreements in the US, not China) and is embarking on a new venture. “Sometimes a field has to go fallow to produce again” she said referring to the time between the closing of her business and now.  She called this her “most promising” third of her life as she has left the “striving, working, traveling” part of her previous life and founded Creative Wellbeing Retreats where she features art and yoga in beautiful beach settings. The inspiration came to her as she walked on the beach in 2009 in Tulum and her husband suggested she do something with yoga, art and meditating.  She is currently writing 3 books; a cookbook, a personal story with text and visuals and a workbook for after retreats as a reference when people return home.  She also offers work/life balance consultations while on retreat and adds that “If you feel passionate about something, you will be successful at it.  My design work is now aligned to my true self” she said referring to how her clothing line was “very preppy” while she was a “hippie.”  Sadly, she mentions that she recently lost her husband after a bicycle ride, and that she is a survivor of breast cancer and a double mastectomy but that she nonetheless considers this her “truly happy time.”

After thanking Susan Scafidi for nine months of negotiations that “I never would have been able to do myself” referring to the re-taking of her name, she concluded her speech with these words for all the lawyers out there:  “Next time I sign a contract, don’t rob me of my soul.”  I don’t think I can improve upon that for closure.

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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