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Fashion law, like many niche areas, can often exist without public awareness until cases emerge that reveal the need for expert opinions.

Take, for example, the recent cases against Shein in California (racketeering, IP violation), the greenwashing claims by some “sustainable” fashion brands, rampant counterfeiting (costing into the hundreds of billions annually), and an increased spotlight on fashion and beauty influencers being transparent about paid partnerships versus organic posts.

The fashion industry thrives on innovation and change, and requires a broad awareness of the various structures within the industry. It is, for example, heavily casualised and there can be significant differences in the way a niche, national brand works versus a multinational, multibillion-dollar luxury brand.

Chloe Taylor is one of Australia’s few specialist fashion lawyers, and is comprehensively acquainted with Australia’s fashion industry. In 2022, it was an industry that employed over 485,000 people (80 per cent women) and generated over $7.2 billion in exports.

Taylor tells LSJ, “I loved fashion from a young age, and in deciding what I wanted to do, I was deciding between being a fashion designer or a lawyer. I decided to go with law because it seemed like a much more stable career. I’ve been in law for 6 years PQE (Post Qualified Experience) and the fashion law component of my work only just started last year. I was doing a bit of work with brands already, but I’d thought, how can I tie my loves of fashion and the law together?”

Taylor’s experience perfectly prepared her for the diversity of expertise required in fashion and beauty law. Following her Juris Doctor, Law at Melbourne’s Monash University in 2016, she worked in commercial law for two years (mergers and acquisitions, commercial contracts) before moving into a litigation role.

“Since then, I’ve always worked at firms where I was exposed to a mix of commercial and litigious work,” she says.

Taylor left her role as an Associate at Madgwicks Lawyers in Melbourne to join Hall & Wilcox in Sydney in September 2021.

She says, “There’s very few specialist fashion lawyers in Australia so you really have to have a passion if you want to drive something like this. What I’m doing [as a fashion and beauty lawyer] is so nuanced. Using Tik Tok for professional purposes is a new and innovative concept that Hall & Wilcox had never been faced with before. As much as it’s very unique, the firm embraced the entrepreneurial aspect of the concept and, although the firm is very traditional, it is supportive of the venture since I’m gaining clients through that stream.”

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There’s very few specialist fashion lawyers in Australia so you really have to have a passion if you want to drive something like this."

While intellectual property is a major component of fashion law, Taylor emphasises that being a fashion and beauty lawyer requires a comprehensive, holistic appreciation of the industry rather than memorising legislative technicalities.

Predictably, there are commercial contractual disputes and mergers and acquisitions, but there are also cases requiring expertise in insolvency, property, and employment law. Taylor is not a specialist in all of these areas, but she strategically partners with experts to ensure her clients receive the advice and representation they need.

“At the moment I’m in the litigation team, which I have been since joining Hall & Wilcox in 2021. I also do a lot of general work for property related disputes, which is such a big industry: builders and landlords, primarily. I’m going to be moving to the property team soon to get exposure to retail leasing, so that I can provide a full-suite service for our clients because we have clients who need that assistance with property matters as well.”

As a fashion law specialist, Taylor concedes that the biggest element of her work is intellectual property (IP).

“We’re acting for a big ecommerce fashion brand, which is most of my work at the moment. Day-to-day, that’s very much in-house counsel-type stuff, like negotiating brand ambassador agreements, negotiating settlements over IP disputes between smaller brands and our client, and trademark disputes. That’s been great. A lot of it is trademark-related.”

To that end, she’d considered studying a Masters in Intellectual Property in Fashion last year, but her research into further education revealed Fashion Law Bootcamp, which she pursued instead.

Last year, Taylor spent a month undertaking the online Fashion Law Bootcamp course offered by the Fashion Law Institute in New York. The Institute is the first institution in the world to be dedicated to law as it relates to the fashion business. Run by Professor Susan Scafidi, the Fashion Law Bootcamp is updated annually to reflect the most pressing issues: intellectual property, data, security and privacy, counterfeiting and industrial relations.

Her expertise is vital to her current work with established brands, but Taylor is hopeful that more small and medium-sized fashion businesses will see the benefit of having legal advice.

“Creatives don’t really like dealing with lawyers, and in dealing with small and mid-sized clients, they’ve told me that they’re reluctant to take on the cost of seeking legal assistance. An estimated supplier agreement is $3000 which is a big upfront cost for a small business.”

Taylor says it’s not all glamour and luxury brands, either.

“Fashion law is in the early stages, so I’m not dealing with Gucci and high end luxury brands yet, but there’s a lot of growth that our firm is looking toward.”

Growth, both individually for Taylor and for Hall & Wilcox as a firm specialising in fashion, requires that experts remain on top of the issues of the moment.

Fashion law is in the early stages, so I’m not dealing with Gucci and high end luxury brands yet, but there’s a lot of growth that our firm is looking toward.

Taylor says, “I am always reading about fashion and my feed is tailored towards those types of updates, so I’m generally aware of concerns within the fashion industry. I keep an eye on case summaries on disputes between retail and fashion brands, too. I’ve always had a high-level knowledge of the challenge the fashion industry out of my general curiosity.”

Her passion and knowledge is both entertaining and educational for her 2657 followers on Tik Tok, in addition to drawing potential clients.

“Our clients know that we specialise in fashion and beauty because we publish fashion industry-specific articles on our website, and I’m active on Tik Tok to raise awareness of our specialisation.”

That educational component is essential, especially in Australia, Taylor says.

“Especially because there’s no real legislation or regulation specific to fashion in Australia, brands are often operating without really understanding the Australian consumer law comprehensively. There’s definitely a lot that can be done through lawyers working with brands to reduce the risks they take on.”

The major risks relate to intellectual property, as mentioned earlier.

“IP is the big one: design imitation,” confirms Taylor. “We have a lot of clients who come to me conscious that they may have drawn inspiration from another designer and need to know what level of risk they’ll incur in releasing those designs. I’ve worked for big fashion companies that have had smaller boutique brands claiming their designs have been knocked off.”

Another issue plaguing the fashion industry is common to most industries in 2023: privacy, security and data protection.

“Part of a brand’s responsibility is ensuring privacy policies are clear and storage of information is secure. We’ve had scam accounts mimicking our fashion clients on social media. We send cease and desist letters but there’s not much they can do because it’s so difficult to track the scammers down.”

These essential elements of running a sustainable, legally sound fashion business are not being taught comprehensively within education institutions.

“There’s very little education around fashion law and the ins-and-outs of fashion business within universities and TAFE that would adequately prepare designers for starting and structuring a business in the real world,” admits Taylor.

Part of Taylor’s role at Hall & Wilcox is providing pro bono and fixed-fee services to emerging and startup brands and designers.

“We’ve provided preliminary advice and guidance to younger creatives, and we’ve also got a service named Frank where we provide a fixed fee for eligible clients. For $5000, they’re provided a number of documents. It’s important that we support startups because if they trust us in the initial stages, we can be part of helping them grow. I also do a lot of work with Arts Law Centre of Australia, a pro bono entity, volunteering my time to give advice to clients across fashion but also arts, entertainment and music.”

As a young lawyer with a specialist creative niche, Taylor leverages her Tik Tok account to appeal to clients, but also to law and fashion professionals nationally and internationally. She is aware that it is not a traditional platform, so she is treading a fine line between maintaining professional decorum and breaking new ground within the legal profession.

“Using Tik Tok is something you have to be very careful about as a professional,” she tells LSJ.

“I need to be conscious of not giving legal advice on Tik Tok, so it’s really just reading updates about the fashion industry: articles on recent mergers and acquisitions, for example. Other lawyers I know on Tik Tok have confessed that their firms don’t really like it, but it’s a new, up-and-coming thing that I think will become very common and popular amongst the next generation. I’ve got younger lawyers who see me on Tik Tok and love it, but the older generation aren’t so convinced.”

Another platform she regularly engages with is LinkedIn.

“I don’t stay on top of fashion trends. I couldn’t tell you the latest designer of Gucci is. I’m really interested in the business and legal side of fashion. A lot of what I discover is via LinkedIn, which is a great source of information if you follow the right people. I also follow the [global fashion media outlet] Business Of Fashion, which is a really good source of information.”

Networking, whether online or in person through events and seminars is fundamental to building a career in fashion law, emphasises Taylor. In her opinion, her work is akin to music and entertainment lawyers who benefit from attending performances and deeply immersing themselves in the industry they specialise in.

It takes time to establish and build those networks within the fashion industry, just as it takes time to gain confidence in the legal areas that are relevant to fashion law. Taylor recommends that anyone with an interest in directing their career towards fashion law should hone their commercial and litigation skills, while staying attuned to the fashion industry.

“I’ve had a number of law students ask me about how to enter this field of law, and I’d always recommend going into commercial law as a first step. Litigation exposes you to disputes with fashion clients, but commercial law is where a lot of the fashion focus is: intellectual property and trademarks, for example. I’d also recommend that they know the industry too. Be on top of current events and legal concerns. If you’re working in a law firm, you’re given the work the partner assigns to you so you have to be proactive and say ‘this is the sort of work I want to be doing’. you need to be passionate and ambitious about it.”