Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Fashion Law Institute® 4th Annual Symposium: The Spectrum of Style Part 1

Fordham University Law School, NYC

April 4, 2014

To attempt to summarize an all-day conference where the five panels were so brilliantly 'stocked' with informative and engaging experts ---AND---some rather meaningfully priced talent-that being legal practitioners with collective billings per hour- more than a year's law school tuition…

…would be like trying to even score high enough LSATs to get admitted into the conference host.

Highlights were truly every utterance…beginning with the head of the Fashion Law Institute® -Professor Susan Scafidi ---introducing the modules:

(1) Green Light: Seeking Sustainable Style
(2) Jewel Tones: From Conflict Minerals to Multi-Destination Orders, Compliance is Key
(3) Whitewash: Fashion Diversity, On and Off the Runway
(4) Red Flag: Are You A Victim of Unauthorized Name Registration in China?
(5) Silver Screen: Licensing Links Film & Fashion

With keynote address and reception by fashion/lifestyle designer Sigrid Olsen.

Part 1

The 'greening' (not green-washing) of fashion was addressed by Amy Hall of the  the fashion forward thinking EIleen Fisher -a knits' based apparel/accessories company that women like our  Gen X friends LOVE, Debera Johnson-Director of Pratt's Center for Sustainable Design Strategies (CSDS), the whip-smart Laura Koss -a FTC senior attorney -and the leading light behind that agency's Green Guides review, Barbara Pozzo-Professor of Comparative Law at the Università deli Studi di Milano-with remarks on the eco efforts going on across the POND…and moderator Prof. Jeff Trexler-of the Fashion Law Institute.

The issue of being green-is not just a "glib slogan" ---with the panel agreeing-that the demand for 'sustainable' fashion is akin to the growth of the slow food movement…with consumer demand  and company initiatives both working towards more eco materials/manufacturing and fair label/ethical work initiatives in the fashion industry.

We noted the impetus for the triple "P's"-People, Planet, Profit-a given in the outdoors apparel/gear/footwear world---while sustainable sourced/made fashion FASHION is not. IMO-there are plenty of smaller labels committed to the green that tend to be higher priced than fast fashion... and as we observed- from mass merchandiser Walmart-the biggest retailer of organic cotton- and implementing ground breaking measures requiring its vendors to document supply chains- from 'cradle to finished product' …in turn (we hope) offering even more sustainability at accessible price points.

The need and existence of third party certification entities-we think---are key to truthfulness…with NGO's like Greenpeace (DWR finishes with fluorocarbons-a recent example) -  activists who ignite change with "Name to Shame"tactics…a term mentioned in the Conflicts Mineral panel also.

Another point…cleaning and laundering apparel=  the biggest 'un-green' practice of fashion. And it seems to us that all of those so-called "Organic" Dry-Cleaners sprouting up on seemingly every other block in NYC---like Starbucks -falls under the auspices of the FTC's GreenGuides-that summarizes what enviromental claims can legally be made in the USA-and that includes the need to specifically substantiate broad claims rather extensively…with specific benefits that "consumers understand to be significant."

In Italy-the Prof. Pozzo remarked on the role of  Italian designers on two 'hot issues'---eco initiatives and Fair Labor practices -with the recent factory tragedies in Bangladesh…once used by Italian label Benetton as an off shore manufacturer ---igniting the need for companies to commit to ethical practices at home and beyond their own borders (Manifesto for the Sustainability in Italian Fashion-addresses business ethics, transparency, economics, design and raw materials production, best practice use of resources in manufacturing, packaging and shipping of goods, etc). Prof. Pozzo also added that in Italy-there's an Italian expression that translates into -when there's a law-there's a way around it. Loopholes know no borders.

Another panel-and one we were somewhat clueless on UNTIL---addressed the supply chain integrity issues -an international issue (too) of conflict minerals-including the three "t's" of tin, tantalum (in electronics everywhere, fyi) and tungsten. Conflict sourced gold and diamonds-that got recognition in this country when the powerful movie, Blood Diamond-With Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, Kagiso Kuypers was released -was also addressed by the panel -all part of the new SEC enforced sweeping financial reform legislation-Dodd-Frank.

Publicly listed companies in the USA are now required to file a Form 5D annually -perform due diligence -on whether their company has products with conflict minerals and gold-with reference to sources from the ten countries covered by this law-the Democratic Republic of Congo and the nine countries surrounding it.

We asked why those discussed regulations were part of Dodd-Frank reforms…and learned they were tacked on close to the bill's voting deadline-a not uncommon legislative occurrence.

The Panel included jeweler Rosena Sammi-who provided insights from a jeweler's perspective and comments on retailer/customer demands, Brent Cleaveland-Executive Director of the trade association Fashion, Jewelery and Accessories-who demonstrated examples of how its members self implement a lot of consumer friendly changes without government oversite and willingness of members to work with regulatory agencies, Cecilia Garner President, CEO and General Council of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee (who answered our SEC ? and provided for attendees-copies of an informative guide given to its  members ), Laura Koss-from the FTC  and compliance lawyers Farzad F. Damania (co-author of a White Paper-" Conflict Minerals Compliance: Observations and Recommendations for 2014 and Beyond") and Don M. Obert---who told the audience how he deals with 40 government agencies as a Customs and International Trade law practitioner…meaning=customs-revenue agencies' filing requirements, often involving "tariff engineering" -and what ever else it takes to get a product into this country.

To simplistically summarize the dizzying intricacies.

It was ALSO duly noted…that there is a big job market for compliance lawyers in this country.

Our kudos- to company commitment announcements- at the most recent Consumer Electronic Tradeshow--- to conflict free sourcing (supply chain is not linear-btw)…including Intel and Apple.

The next panel on racial diversity (or lack thereof) on and off the major fashion runways-drew a diverse audience itself-with esteemed journalist Robin Givhan, the well respected industry icon-former model, talent manager and current advocate Bethann Hardison, and litigator par excellence Cyrus Mehri Esq. -and moderator Prof. Tanya K. Hernandez- serving up observations and recommendations on how to, frankly, bring the fashion world into the 21st century.

Fashion with a capital "F"-is analogous to the importance of the sports industry-emblematic of who we are-and when fashion doesn't play fair, we call them on the carpet---observed M. Givhan's addressing the topic of why fashion is not frivolous. (We thought of that genius monologue by Meryl Streep/Miranda Priestly in the flick The Devil's Wears Prada-taking to task Anne Hathaway's Ann Sachs):
 'This... stuff'? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select... I don't know... that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise. It's not lapis. It's actually cerulean. And you're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent... wasn't it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.' (source:imbd)

Also noted-the fashion industry has a profound effect  on what consumers consider fashionable, and that -customer preferences are not excuses for racial discrimination---(we asked about international preferences and 'it' labels-like Céline).

There were optimistic remarks on the slow evolution of fashion designers' mindset-from distilling of skin color like "paint chips" against the tonal values of runway ensembles---morphing into ethical considerations of multi-cultural casting-including efforts by the casting directors themselves to provide models from mixed and different ancestries. 

Often these changes were a direct positive result of efforts by the amazing Bethann Hardison-and others--- who recently called to task- New York based large fashion houses for their lack of diversity on the runways of their VERY well publicized shows.

Additionally, observations told-  how fashion show casting is very judgmental in general (too tall, not thin enough, etc.) and input from a legal standpoint of what can and cannot be done-led us to think about all of the backstage interviews we had this past NYFW.

From our blogger perspective-all of the NYC hair/makeup teams we interviewed -(less one show styled by the all Japanese Shiseido team-flown in for a show)-reflected who lives in NYC= from many different ethnic groups. Most of the shows/presentations we get invited to cover however-are not the dominant (big five) fashion houses-that were cited by the panel…but were collections by emerging designers-who were often of mixed heritage themselves. 

Changes---involving the entire industries-are all good ones-as IMPORTANTLY these smaller labels all were able to get  financial backing…too. It's not just the front of the house---it's in the back rooms and access to capital- too-where diversity matters…

Part 2