Article by Fathima Sayed
High heels, lipsticks, the newest bags: the Fashion and Beauty industry radiates glamour and ease. Contrary to what we may think, however, it is actually a nuanced field that is permeated by legalities, mainly linking to manufacturing and workers’ safety, marketing (issues with deceptive advertising) and finance (factoring and private equity investment.) However, the biggest, and increasingly common issue faced by the industry, is trademark and copyright infringement.
Lack of respect for intellectual property? Or a simple act of following the law?
Hailey Bieber’s acclaimed brand ‘Rhode’ was sued by a fashion label with the same name, just a week after its launching on 15th June, due to trademark infringement. The LA label “Rhode’ was founded by Khatau and Vickers, and has been running for 8 years. The case, which was filed in the Manhattan federal court, requested protection of the ‘Rhode’ trademark and so, prevented Hailey Bieber from using the name to sell her products.
Khatau and Vickers claim that the use of the same brand name has caused brand confusion, which harms their brand irreparably, especially due to “the magnitude of Bieber’s following and the virality of her marketing” which has resulted in the need for court intervention, as stated in the lawsuit. They go on to reinforce that “[they] are still a young and growing company and cannot overcome a celebrity with Hailey’s following using [their] company’s name to sell related products.”
This legal battle for a copyrighted brand name is proving to be a common challenge in the Fashion and Beauty Industry, as seen with the famous shoe brand – Manola Blahnik – which has just won a 22-year trademark battle.
Fang Yuzhou, a Chinese businessman trademarked the name ‘Manola Blahnik’ in the year 2000 for use in the Chinese market, and due to China’s first-to-file jurisdiction (contrary to the more widely practised intellectual property law, where companies require proof of use/intent to register a trademark), Fang claimed the trademark for over two decades.
However, a shift in China’s trademark law in November 2019 claimed that “any bad faith trademark applications without intent to use shall be refused” and after a long legal battle, the Supreme People’s Court of China issued a judgment in June, giving Manola Blahnik all rights to their name.
This change in the intellectual property Law of China has also allowed for more Western Brands to break into the Chinese market, but whether this is a positive or a negative thing is a question with a not-so-obvious answer. While it does provide consumers with a wide array of products for lower prices, it is crucial to consider the cost this comes at…
The Chinese Market: a double-edged sword
The gradual ease of restrictions in the Chinese market has had a history of allowing new Western Brands into China and has increased Foreign Direct Investment. Ranging from free zones like Shenzhen to the 2015 e-commerce policy that reduced tax burdens and red tape for global brands, many such changes have resulted in the success of a myriad of brands, especially in the fashion and beauty industry.
One such example is the online fashion website Farfetch, which has recently entered the Beauty market featuring over 100 luxury brands, including Chanel, Olaplex and Charlotte Tilbury, last April. Farfetch also has a relatively strong customer base in China, reaching over 30 per cent of the market this year with a growth rate of about 56 per cent, which is relatively high for a Western brand in China.
Another such example is Shein, a Chinese fast fashion company that has a worth of approximately $15 billion and is a popular choice amongst teenagers and adults alike. However, its sweatshops in China are reported to have factory workers working for over 75 hours, for 12 hours a day in poor working conditions, opposing Chinese labour laws, which state that workweeks must not exceed 40 hours (and even overtime must not exceed 36 hours per month.) Workers must also receive one day off per week, contrary to the one day off per month they receive currently in many factories in Guangzhou.
There have been multiple such instances where companies commit acts that go against Chinese labour law, including, but not limited to Foxconn which has been accused of exceeding the 10% limit on dispatch workers in the company’s workforce. More to that. China Labour Watch also disagreed to work with Disney due to their sweatshop workers receiving an hourly wage of $1.3 whilst having to make over 2,500 toys daily.
While it is evident that the Fashion and Beauty industry has a massive positive impact in extensive ways, the many laws (also referred to using the term – Fashion Law) that are apparent throughout its dealings prove it to be a challenging legal area that has increasing importance and scope.