Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sartorial Statements: Advice for JDs and MBAs Entering the Fashion Industry

Hi everyone! This is the first edition of Sartorial Statements, my weekly editorial where I discuss some of the latest news articles related to the the business and/or legal side of the fashion and luxury goods industry. Hope you enjoy it!

Advice for JDs and MBAs Entering the Fashion Business

The Business of Fashion is an incredible website run out of the UK that provides daily news coverage of the business side of the fashion industry. The website collates news stories from all the major international newspapers (NYT, Financial Times, Reuters, etc) and also has its own editorial staff who produce original articles. Imran Ahmed, BOF's editor-in-chief just put out an article on his 6 Tips for MBAs Trying to Break Into the Fashion Business. The tips are quite good, such as Ahmed's advice that MBAs should know the fashion industry's value chains and where their skills would let them fit in. However, since my job as a lawyer does not, unfortunately, lead to much skill at value chain assessment, I thought I would offer something similar but tailored to the skills we can develop as lawyers.

4 Tips for JDs Trying to Break Into the Fashion Business

1) If you like litigation, get involved in intellectual property copyright and trademark law
For litigators, the courtroom and the catwalk most easily come together when one design house sues a competitor over a copyright or trademark issue. Keep in mind that clothing itself is not able to be protected under IP laws (at least in the US - Europe has considered revising this), as it is a wearable item and thereby a useful good. However, colors in a logo and the logo itself are protected under trademark law, and an original pattern on a piece of fabric can be protected by copyright law. Luckily for all the women that love them, Louboutin's famous red soles are protected by trademark law. A judge ruled in 2012 that while YSL could make a shoe that was completely red all over (including the sole), only Louboutin could use its trademark red color on the sole of a not-fully-red shoe. Wouldn't it have been awesome to be a lawyer in that case? I would definitely ask to receive my fee in shoes!!

2) If you like corporate law, get involved in M&A
Aaah corporate law -- where we get up close and personal to some of the world's most famous companies. We do that by helping those companies do three things: sell off parts of themselves that are not profitable or in keeping with the company's business, acquire new companies, and list themselves on various international stock exchanges. If being the next Pierre Godé interests you, then M&A is the place to start. Godé is the vice chairman of LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) and is now a billionnaire. He started off as the lawyer for Bernard Arnault, the CEO and Chairman of LVMH and guided LVMH through numerous acquisitions of luxury brands. LVMH now is the largest luxury goods group in the world and owns brands as diverse as Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Guerlain, Marc Jacobs, and Bulgari.

3) If you like corporate law but the M&A department is full, get involved in IPOs
The nice thing about stock exchanges is that there are so many of them. And it takes a lot of money to list your company on any given exchange. And really big international companies sometimes like to get listed on more than one stock exchange. Which all goes to say that if you find yourself in the right place at the right time, you may be able to get an incredible insider's view of a company like Prada, which listed itself on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2011. The benefit of doing an IPO? Well, you get to look through all the company's books and records and REALLY see how a company does business. Before it can list itself on a stock exchange, a company must have itself thoroughly examined by lawyers to ensure that it is fully keeping with the rules governing public companies in the country where the company wants to list. If the company is a fashion house, the lawyers are in for a treat as they will get to pour over copious amounts of detail regarding how that fashion house does business.

4) If no fashion is coming your way at the law firm, be an entrepreneur
Not all law firms have fashion companies as clients, and even at the law firms that do, those companies will be few and far between. So if there is no fashion coming your way at your current firm, you have two options:
1) Find a boutique firm that specializes in fashion law. This is better option for those interested in litigation, as these types of boutique firms seem to all be IP litigation firms. Unfortunately I have not yet heard of a boutique corporate firm specializing only in M&A and IPOs for fashion companies. Maybe one day I'll start one.
2) On that note, start your own company. The all-time favorite way of trying to break into the fashion industry is simply by, well, breaking in. As in starting a company that has some connection to fashion and seeing if it will take off or not. This will obviously take capital and having to live the life of a start-up entrepreneur instead of a firm lawyer (though you could hedge a little bit and join an already-existing start-up), but if the fashion catwalk is where you want to be, you've got to be willing to WORK IT!

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