Episode 83: How not considering Intellectual property can damage your business




  • The historical lack of IP education in fashion schools
  • The pressure faced by graduates to conform to industry practices
  • How brands seemingly get away with copying designs
  • Companies' "war chest" for paying off people due to IP infringements.
  • Three reasons why IP matters in the fashion business
  • The impact of copying on brand loyalty


Welcome to episode 83 of the Fashion Unearthed Podcast. The episode today was born out of a discussion with a coaching client, and I thought it might be good to cover it in a little bit of detail today. As some of the things we went through were quite a surprise to the client, and they hadn't even considered this aspect when building their fashion brand. Just on the topic of coaching, I am in the final stages of updating my website with the coaching programs that I do. I'm hoping by the time this episode comes out, it will be up and live. Maybe now that I've said it, it'll make me push to get it finished. In any case, if you are wanting to launch a new fashion brand, you'll be able to check out all of the coaching options on the website.

I wanted to talk about my experience with IP or Intellectual Property. As you might know, I have worked for a lot of brands both here and in the UK, and IP has been a big part of the design process, either with strict processes or on the flip side, a total lack of concern over IP. But I do want to make the disclaimer as well that I'm not a lawyer. These are my own experiences and insights from being in the industry. If you do have a legal issue, I recommend you find an Intellectual Property lawyer. If you need an introduction to one, just email me at info@belindahumphrey.com. Back in the early years of my career, I worked at a fast fashion brand and pretty much everything was up for grabs to be copied. There was just a general culture of acting fast and asking for forgiveness or paying someone off later.

I think there's a bit of a mismatch between what is taught at schools. Maybe that's changed now, but I don't remember anything about IP in my fashion education and what happens in the industry. I think when graduates go into the industry, they probably feel pressured to stay silent and maybe just do it because they don't have the power. There's that power imbalance and they make a moral trade-off to keep their jobs, and they probably also think this is just how it's done. They just go along with it. A question that the person I was coaching asked in that coaching session I mentioned earlier, was, “How do brands get away with it?” And often they don't, but we'll get into that a bit later. Going back to my experience later on in my career, I had the benefit of brands and businesses that invested in IP training where a lawyer who specialized in this field would come in to talk to us about what to look out for and how to document our work.

One larger company even had a dedicated lawyer on site who assessed and signed off on all of our design work. Coming back to that earlier idea that brands seemingly get away with copying, I've had firsthand insight that they don't, you just don't hear it spoken about. An NDA is involved in a non-disclosure agreement, the affected brand won't, or they can't talk about it, and this might surprise you, but often companies who copy designs just allocate money and some corporate bro lingo for you. Sometimes they call it a war chest, but it's the amount of money that they put aside just to accept the fact that they'll have to pay off a certain amount of people in a year because of IP breaches. Another personal story of mine was when I changed to consulting three years ago, I had a freelance designer in the same space, get someone else to buy my templates that are available in my shop, and they copied the website description word for word as well as the templates and how to guide.

But because of my IP training, you wouldn't have seen me try and take down this person on social media. I knew the steps and things I needed to do, which I did, and I was able to resolve the issue. But I guess the reason I'm talking about this particular situation was that the saddest thing about that whole experience was it made me realize that the idea that everything is up for grabs still exists. I naively thought that the designers coming up through the ranks would be more aware, but this person seemed quite young and early in their career, and they'd worked for a big private brand. I felt a bit sad for them that they'd had that start to their career, and that what they'd learned from that business. The lesson is just because you see other brands doing it, don't think that they're getting away with it.

IP is something that you need to consider in your own business, particularly if you don't have the spare cash or deep pockets to pay people for either intentionally or unintentionally copying a product. But aside from the financial dent, it can put in your profits. There are three other reasons why it matters. The first one is, if you're using one style or point of reference, you're just diluting your own brand and adding to the homogenization of product that's out there in the market. Sometimes I think if you lined up four dresses, all of the same style, and you took the brand label off sometimes you wouldn't even tell whose dresses who. You want to be able to pick your one out of the lineup, and that comes from developing your own distinct aesthetic. That's what creates brand loyalty. Bigger brands with deeper pockets are treading a fine line, and do you want to be lumped in with all the sameness?

Number two, if you do copy someone and get found out, it can damage your brand value. Often businesses I work with will tell me that it's their customers that alert them to the fact that someone has copied them, and you don't need the bad PR and the stress that goes along with that. The third one is wasted stock. Often it's a demand of the brand who's been ripped off, that not only are they financially compensated, but that the product is destroyed. It's such a waste of resources, not only for the product but the time and money the businesses have put into the development before it got to that. Which brings us to the end of today's episode. I hope that's given you something to think about. If you do need more information on how to structure your design process to protect yourself and things to be aware of, this is something that we can go into in coaching. You can check out the new packages on the website, belindahumphrey.com. As always, you'll find the show notes and any links for today's episode on the website in the podcast section. Thanks so much for reading. See you next time.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change.


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