Monday, February 18, 2013

B.A.F.F.L.E.D. Fashion Law

Is there a Place for Fashion Law in the Caribbean?

By Contributing Editor, Sonya Stewart

Fashion Law’s place within the legal field cannot be denied. As Entertainment Law came into its own by way of a compilation of several legal disciplines; so too has Fashion Law as the cultural and economic importance of the fashion industry increases on a daily basis. Now classified as a movement in the legal arena, Fashion Law has been gracing law firms, court rooms and fashion houses with its presence in the United States, Canada, Europe, South America... but what about the Caribbean?

Susan Scafidi, the first professor to ever offer a course in Fashion Law tells us that -as long as there have been people making clothes, there have been occasions to consult lawyers[1]- then there is no denying that as the fashion and apparel industry accounts for 4% of the Global GDP (a sum in excess of 1 trillion per year)[2]; an industry of this size would undoubtedly engender reoccurring legal problems and concerns.

So the next step would be to examine the Caribbean’s fashion industry. Is there a fashion industry in the Caribbean? Is this industry such that would propel the need for a legal discipline in its own right to combat the peculiar challenges of fashion entities-these entities being fashion houses, designers, modeling agencies, models, department stores and anyone working within the apparel and accessories industry?

Suffice it to say, the Caribbean does have a fashion industry, where "according to rough estimates, the Caribbean Fashion Industry — English, French, Spanish and Dutch — is conservatively worth J$10 billion ($111.1million USD) per year. Given the relative infancy and underdevelopment of the regional industry, one could assume a value of 10 times this amount, once fully developed[3]” as noted by Kingsley Cooper, Chairman of the Caribbean Fashion Industry Association, CEO of Pulse Models and mastermind behind Caribbean Fashion Week.

In 2007, deputy Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Motley spoke of the importance of the fashion industry to Barbados’ development: “I am confident that fashion could provide an export base for Barbados…we have the wisdom of investing in Intellectual Property and the rewards it offers”[4].

With such an achievement and promising future, there is no doubt that there are and will be many legal issues surrounding Caribbean fashion. In fact, there are a myriad of examples of intellectual property issues in Caribbean fashion (of which I’ll give an example) which a learned fashion law student, fashion blogger and fashion lawyer knows is only one of the basic pillars of fashion law. To the fashion law virgin, the discipline also entails business and finance [advertising law, commercial sales, real estate law (or real property/land law as classified in the Caribbean)] international trade and government regulations (customs, employment law, safety and sustainability) and customer culture and civil rights[5].

Take for example, in 2011 when Caribbean International Fashion Week appropriated Pulse’s Caribbean Fashion Week’s logo in advertisements for the event to be held the same week as the Caribbean event and even started off using the name “Caribbean Fashion Week”[6]. Luckily CFW’s creator, Kingsley Cooper, an attorney at law; quickly got an injunction from a court to stop the misappropriation of the Caribbean event.

The popularity of Pulse’s yearly staging of CFW cannot be disputed as well. In June 2012, a total of 51 collections from 50 designers took to the runway in Kingston (Jamaica), the fashion capital of the Caribbean over a four day period. Designers came from Barbados, Haiti, Turks and Caicos, Trinidad & Tobago, Belize, Suriname, The Dominican Republic as well as from the UK and US.  

Within the fashion apparel academic sphere as well, we have seen the emergence of the importance of legal knowledge related to the business of fashion. The Caribbean Academy of Fashion and Design (CAFD) at the University of Trinidad & Tobago’s (which offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Fashion Design) co-program leader and fashion management coordinator Lisa Sinanan exclaims that “it’s a billion-dollar industry and it can be dog-eat-dog as well. You have to be able to know how to ensure that your designs are not stolen, how to protect yourself. That is why we have taught the students about business law, intellectual property rights and copyrights”[7].

An extrapolation of the figures related to the Caribbean fashion industry illustrates that there is more than a place for Fashion Law in the Caribbean. I say the practice of Fashion Law already exists in the Caribbean by an extension of legal representation for fashion clients; but its recognition as a distinctive field in Commonwealth Caribbean law does not exist, at least not yet (but that’s just my opinion).

There has to be acceptance by the Commonwealth Caribbean legal fraternity for lawyers in the region to consider themselves “fashion lawyers”. As beautifully stated by author and Professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Guillermo Jimenez “tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars…can turn on the interpretation of the wording in a fashion contract; lawyers, judges, and juries now need to understand what fashion is and how the industry operates. Fashion companies now require the very finest legal counsel”[8].

With that we can accept that as the Caribbean fashion industry grows, so too will the need for Commonwealth Caribbean judges, juries and lawyers to understand the uniqueness of Caribbean fashion. It is fair to accept that fashion law has a place in the Caribbean. The region must now develop legal tools to facilitate the Caribbean fashion industry as every business needs legal support so why not the business of Caribbean fashion?

[1] Fashion Law
[2] Michael Flanagan How Retailers Source Apparel, Just-Style. Jan 2005
[3] Jamaica Observer “Regional fashion industry worth $10 billion a year — Cooper” June 2012

[5] Susan Scafidi Flat Fashion Law! The Launch of a Label-And a New Branch of Law. Jan 2012
[8] Jimenez & Kolsun. Fashion Law: A Guide for Designers, Fashion Executives and Attorneys Fashion Law: Overview of a New Legal Discipline


  1. Love it!!!! Great Job Sonya!

    A big problem with the business of fashion in the Caribbean is that not many up and coming designers are aware of their rights and don't take the legal measures to protect themselves or their brands. Seasoned brands like Bridget Sandals have sought to protect themselves through registration of designs, but other new innovative designers continue to sit back and allow their designs or brands to be copied on the local and international markets. Its a pain to see.

    Hopefully with articles like these, our designers will become sensitized to their rights.

    Great Job again Sonya!! Keep it up!

  2. Well written and well researched. You've garnered my attention to an area that I would never have ordinarily stopped to take a look at i.e. Fashion Law. Looks like you've identified the next trend in the Caribbean legal field. I like it Son.


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