Thursday, 25 March 2010

Rights in fashion: what the Pirate Party says

Noting that the prospect of a General Election in the UK is looming larger than a mirror full of unwanted muffin top, Fashionista has decided that it would be a great idea to discover what the many and varied political parties have to say about the fashion industry. To this end she has recently been engaged in correspondence with Pirate Party leader Andrew Robinson, on the subject of that party's position with regard to the fashion industry. After all, the Pirate Party is not known for its sympathetic position regarding intellectual property rights, particularly regarding copyright in recorded works and the protection of computer software. This is what Andrew said:
"I'll admit that the fashion industry isn't the strong point of a party whose membership consists predominantly of young men who spend a lot of time on the internet, and that's why we won't have much to say about this area in our forthcoming election manifesto. Broadly, our stance is that trade mark law, and the laws that cover 'passing off' do a very good job of protecting rights in this area, so we do not see the need for any changes there. We are strongly opposed to commercial counterfeiting, and believe that a great deal of good would come from concentrating law enforcement efforts on that problem rather than on persecuting relatively harmless file sharers.

Our proposals for legalisation of non-commercial copying would probably not have any impact on the retail trade, and in a fast moving industry like fashion our proposals to reduce the length of copyright would barely make an impact apart from giving the t-shirt industry more freedom to plunder the past for images. Having said that, I'm aware of a groundswell of opinion in the party that counterfeiting laws shouldn't be (ab)used to stop 'gray imports' of products such as jeans and perfume that are not counterfeit (as the man in the street would understand the word).

We also feel that a broad review of copyright and patent law is needed necessary now that the internet takes the possibility of infringement out of the purely business-to-business domain and into the consumer v business arena, and that to make the law more understandable for consumers it would make sense to explicitly write into law a lot of rules that are currently just case law; however, realistically we are a very young party that is very busy with our first election, and we are aware that we don't have the spare skilled manpower needed to do a good job of such a monumental undertaking, so I'll have to borrow to a rather horrible political weasel word from the big parties and admit that is currently an 'aspiration', not a policy".
Fashionista looks forward to reporting on the position of the other parties too, before the polls open, and to presenting them to her dedicated readers.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Last Tax Tango?

Fashionista has noticed that the UK seems to be suffering from election fever at the moment, not a condition that Fashionista has had previously. However, Fashionista does know that part of the Labour party's election bid will be centred on the Chancellor's final Budget of this Parliament to be given today.

Will this Budget will be an end of season clearance sale or will it contain previews of next season's collection and next season's prices? Fashionista, ever anxious to know what may impact on her spending, will be following the news online here to find out what Mr Darling has in store and recommends that all other fashionistas do likewise

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

"Keywords" and locking down on third party use of them

We all know of Louis Vuitton: the company and the brand. We all know the goods they cover. This is the function of a trade mark: to act as an indication of origin for the product bearing the brand. So when Google made the words "LOUIS VUITTON" available for third parties to purchase as Google AdWords, and when third parties starting purchasing these AdWords to guarantee that their own websites (often selling counterfeit Louis Vuitton products) popped up as "Sponsored Links" when a consumer searched for "Louis Vuitton" on Google, was this a problem? Were LVMH's trade mark rights infringed? Could LVMH do anything to stop this practice? and if so: who is liable - the third party or the search engine?

Fashionista, together with fashion brand owners no doubt, has eagerly awaited the Court of Justice's judgment on these issues to see what rights brand owners have against third party use of their marks which could otherwise damage the brand and its reputation.

Third parties can be prevented from doing so if their appearance as a Sponsored Link will make it difficult for the average internet surfer to determine whether the goods are legitimate and provided by the brand owner. So, if an internet user searching for "Louis Vuitton" sees a Sponsored Link for "Louis Vuitton bags" and is unsure whether the provider of such bags is, in fact, the brand owner, LVMH would be entitled to take steps to prevent the third party's advert from appearing - including requesting the service provider to remove or disable access to a website if the advertiser's activities are unlawful.

Google was not considered liable for making trade marks available to purchase as keywords - although this will be a question for national courts on a case by case basis and will depend on whether a service provider has played an active role over the data it stores.

Fashionista breathed a big sigh of relief at this positive news for brand owners. Whilst the test today laid down by the court is a subjective one which rests on "will the internet shopper be confused?", this decision at least acknowledges the possible damage to a brand owner if third party advertisements can pop-up in a calculated measure to piggy-back off the reputation of the brand a consumer is looking for. This decision should help to put an end to the stream of Sponsored Links for replica and imitation brand products which have until now frequently appeared when a luxury brand name was typed into a search engine.

A positive step to preserve hard earned brand reputations and another just measure to clamp down on those seeking to ride off the coattails of others.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Amy, Fred and a couple of axioms

Fashionista has just come off the phone from a fellow fashion fiend who, in an attempt to broaden her vocabulary and enhance her insights, has taken up a new pastime -- reading. She told Fashionista that she was currently quite engrossed in a fascinating book which, while it didn't have much of a storyline, was rich in new ideas. When asked for its title she replied "It's called the Dictionary and, once I've finished it, I wouldn't mind reading something else by the same author, but it doesn't say who wrote it ..."

Fashionista's friend very much enjoyed the entries under "A", among which she discovered the word "axiom" -- and here are a couple of axioms over which Fashionista has been reflecting recently. One is "Fashion makes for strange bedfellows"; the other is "A leopard can't change its spots". Both these axioms were summoned into her mind when she read of the deal struck by Amy Winehouse with Fred Perry which will see the former design a range of womenswear to be marketed under the latter's brand, though "The polo shirts will have 26-year-old Amy's own logo on them, a twist on the classic Fred Perry symbol" -- something that trade mark lawyers, anxious about the way registered marks are used, will no doubt be having their own little ponderings.

Right: Perry and Winehouse -- from racquet to racket, or a brilliant ploy for the continuing evoluation of the Fred Perry brand?

Does fashion make for strange bedfellows? So it seems. For an older generation of consumers, the words "Fred Perry" summon up images of flapping flannels, sepia photos, black-and-white telly and the halycon days when British tennis players didn't get paid but did win the occasional big tournament. If they have heard of Amy Winehouse at all, their first thought is "what must that girl's poor parents have had to go through ..."

Left: not an immediate and obvious match for Fred Perry, but a good one?

How differently today's younger consumers view Fred Perry -- sporty, classic styles which ascribe an image which is smart, young without being juvenile and gently understated. The same consumer cadre Amy Winehouse conjures up a cocktail of talent, passion and at least a hint of personal tragedy, a sort of latter-day English version of Edif Piaf. One wonders how each of these two brands will function together: Odd Couple or Arthur Miller/Marilyn Monroe? And what, if any, break clauses might be drafted to enable the two to extract themselves if the synergy/reaction between the two threatens to damage either brand?

Can a leopard change its spots? That's a tough one to call. Fred Perry is undoubtedly a very different brand now, but how far can it continue to change -- and how far is it wise for it to seek to do so -- in a marketplace where competition is stiff, market entry is easy, celebrities spring up like Japanese knotweed and a strong brand message is easier to lose than to acquire?

Right: never mind the leopard, leotards have spots too!

Friday, 12 March 2010

American models as virtual imports?

"Rimmel Recruits American Models To Increase Brand Exposure", writes Sara Zucker on brandchannel today. This causes Fashionista to think a couple of thoughts.

First, the use of national labels conjures up many different responses in the human mind, particularly with regard to fashion and models. "French", "Italian", "Russian", "Swedish" spark off mental associations which evoke a variety of stereotypes: complexion, hair colour, body mass, style and even social activities. This doesn't work for "American", since the mix-and-match multi-ethnic culture has done so much to break down those stereotypes. The three models recruited by Rimmel London are a case in point. Zooey Deschanel (of Irish-French descent), Solange Knowles (African-American/Creole) and Alejandra Ramos Munoz (Puerto Rico) – are helping the brand to break that trend.

There's a second aspect to the breaking down of tribal barriers, this time along national and economic lines rather than in terms of ethnicity. Fashionista remembers being told about a dim-and-distant past in which one was supposed to hire locals, only turning to foreign staff when there were no suitable locals to do the job. This caused particular problems in some sectors (the acting profession being the most high-profile) and still does for professional footballers today, where even the richest and most successful clubs have go to through a series of hoops before being able to import some highly talented sportsmen.

In the fashion sector, this should never need to be a problem again: Zooey, Solange and Alejandra can become the best-known faces of fashion in the United Kingdom without ever planting stiletto tracks across the Heathrow runway, so long as the internet works, their names and likenesses are duly protected by trade mark and copyright. Sara Zucker reports Coty CEO Bernt Beetz as saying
"Zooey, Solange and Alejandra each bring a distinct look and personality to Rimmel London, expanding the brand's visibility and strengthening Coty's global colour platform".
She adds:
"Each model will plug an individual collection through television and print placement. The brand, however, may want to have the women also join its social media efforts; currently Rimmel's Twitter account, geared toward American consumers, could use more followers".
Nothing is said about bringing the Rimmel Three over to the UK in person, which is a shame because Fashionista has some simply lovely people she'd like them to meet ...

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The High Street turns green

Fashionista recently read that according to DEFRA in the UK we buy around two million tonnes of clothing - £23 billion worth - every year. The footprint this leaves in the global supply chain and beyond includes high energy use from washing and tumble drying, water use, toxicity from pesticides plus one million tonnes of unwanted clothing – 50 percent of which goes to UK landfill !

To tackle this major problem of waste, in September 2007, the government launched the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP). Last week, in time for London Fashion Week, new signatories from the forefront of ethical/sustainable/organic fashion such as
MADE-BY and the Ethical Fashion Forum signed up. According to the Action Plan, MADE-BY is going to look into the important issue of developing a cotton benchmark evaluating the different sustainable cotton options. But other actions listed in SCAP are equally impressive - and this is not just lip-service. A number of actions listed in this one-year old plan are already noted as completed, such as Continental Clothing Company's launch and development of the EarthPositive® product line which is a Pilot Partner with Carbon Trust's labelling initiative. Perhaps not surprisingly, EarthPositive has won the Soil Association's Best Organic Textile Product Award 2009. And Marks & Spencer's 'Clothes Exchange' partnership with Oxfam Clothes Exchange has developed into the UK's biggest programme to encourage consumers to recycle their clothes. Fashionista is a great fan of Oxfam and always finds something exciting and original to take home. And under the partnership, when showing an M&S label, Oxfam will even give you a voucher worth £5 to use next time you spend £35 or more on clothing, home or beauty products in M&S!

M&S have now, this week, not only confirmed their continued commitment to their so-called Plan A, but also said that the Plan is to be extended and will include a target to source all of M&S' food, clothing and home items from sustainable or ethical sources - such as the Fairtrade scheme - by 2020!

Other large international players who have taken on action tasks include Adidas, Asda/George, Nike, Sainsbury's, - Levis Strauss have just signed up and it will be interesting to see what action they take. The DEFRA press report says that

  • Asda, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury are focusing on green factories, reducing the impacts of clothing packaging, increasing their ranges of FairTrade and Organic, increasing take back and recovery of unwanted clothing, supply chain traceability and increasing consumer messaging on low impact clothing washing practices.
  • This Spring Tesco will launch a new online capsule Sustainable Fashion range in collaboration with From Somewhere, the recycling fashion pioneers. The collaboration comes after Tesco was inspired by their ranges at Estethica during London Fashion Week Feb 09 where the first SCAP was launched.
  • Association of Charity Shops, Clothes Aid, Recyclatex, Salvation Army Trading Company Limited and Textile Recycling Association activities are focused on increasing consumer awareness of the benefits of clothing reuse and recycling.
  • The Oxfam 'Clothes Exchange' partnership with M&S continues to flourish with around four million garments recovered for reuse/recycling at an approximate value to Oxfam of £2.2m by the end of 2009. The Association of Charity Shops’ “Donate, don’t waste” campaign launched nationwide on 22 February, involving 100 charities and 5,000 shops.
  • Continental Clothing have reduced the carbon footprint of their organic (EarthPositive®) T-shirt range by 90%, and launched the first carbon reduction label on textile products to tackle corporate clothing waste – CRR’s is online and Aestiva Ltd is working with Leeds University, C-Tech, Madera, Royal Mail, Mathias & Sons, Gnosys, and Oxfam Waste on disassembly techniques to enable cost effective reuse of corporate clothing.
  • Adidas, Nike, MADE-BY and European Outdoor Group are developing innovations on sustainable design tools and techniques.
  • Fairtrade Foundation UK maintain their ongoing campaign to increase Fairtrade clothing in the UK.
  • 170 organisations have worked with Defra to complete key projects to show the way forward on reducing the Impacts of Clothes Cleaning, Maximising Reuse and Recycling of Clothing/Textiles, Sustainable Design and Eco-Efficiency in Dye houses serving Indian and UK supply chains.
  • One of Clothes Aid’s pilot schemes that forms part of the Roadmap Action Plan has now been formally launched as the ‘Great British Clothes Clearout’ together with partner charity NSPCC. The scheme is on target to raise £2 million by 2012 by diverting 1,000s of tonnes of textiles from landfill and converting them into cash for the NSPCC.

Fashionista is impressed!

The high street is often criticised as not being sufficiently on the forefront of sustainable fashion and of not doing enough. Fashionista thinks that at least for some of the high street favourites this appears somewhat unfair. Considering the complex issues surrounding FairTrade/ sustainable and organic fashion this Action Plan and the actions undertaken by high street undertakings in cooperation with the government, charity and business organisations promise to create a fundamental framework on which, hopefully, one day the development of a substantial market for FairTrade/sustainable and organic fashion will be made much easier.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Vogue Curvy: Hitting the Big Time

Writing for BrandChannel ("Italian Fashion Brands Now Fit Curvy Women"), Isobella Jade comments on a key fact that drives the fashion industry: while the desire to be beautiful, or to acquire objects of beauty, is presumably a constant, notions of beauty are in a regular state of change. Isobella says:
"When Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli painted his Birth of Venus between 1485 and 1486, he most likely would never have figured that Venus, with her tummy pouch and sensual, curvy, and milky soft skin, would be considered a plus size in today’s thin-obsessed world. However, if Venus was into today's latest trends, she might not even be able to find her size in fashion retail stores."
The good news for Venus (pictured above right, as we would imagine her today, and, below left, as she might be if you left her alone with some decent chocolates) is that
"Vogue Italia is rediscovering curvy women and dedicating a section of its online site to full-figured ladies, calling it Vogue Curvy.

There are very few fashion destinations on the web that celebrate and include the plus size fashionista; however on Marie Claire Magazine’s site, Ashley Falcon writes a blog called Big Girl in a Skinny World, which is really an online landmark within the virtual fashion spectrum".
She adds that the Vogue Curvy mission are writers from SaksInTheCity and Fashionista, who recalls marvelling at the massively outsized (by today's standards) chorus line of the outstanding 1955 movie production of Guys and Dolls, has no objection to others being, er, curvy. Her concern however lies with the confusingly wide range of clothes size-marking practices of some of her favourite shops. While attempts have been made to rationalise and standardise them (for example European Standard EN 13402), one supplier's size 8 might flap around like a tent while another's fits like ClingWrap. Since many of those who are large in limb and big in bulk do prefer clothes with lower-sounding sizes, confusion and customer annoyance may result. Fashionista is not yet aware of any legal action based on confusion or shopping rage caused by misleading size labels, but she bets that someone has been there. Does anyone know?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Every cloud has a silver lining . . . .

Fashionista is in a reflective mood prompted by yet further dismal news about the economy. No fashionista can have failed to note that we are constantly bombarded with gloomy prophecies heralding ever new ways in which the recession will impact negatively on our lives and how the recent (but past) era of prosperity is never going to come back again. But like it or not, times of strife have also always had a profoundly modernising influence on the society.

British Retail Consortium (“BRC”), an organisation representing the retail industry, certainly embraced this philosophy. Fashonista has noted that the BRC is using the recession to increase the momentum of its campaign to persuade landlords to allow retailers pay rent for their premises monthly rather than quarterly. The campaign predates the current economic crisis and was meant to bring the market practice in granting leases up to speed with the era of information economy rather than provide relief for retailers in a difficult consumer market. But the economic downturn certainly helped to bring the message home to landlords who face a quickly raising number of defaults by their old tenants and increasing difficulty in finding new ones to replace them.

Although many landlords would rather use other incentives to lure new tenants - like extended rent free periods or options to terminate the lease before the expiry of the term - monthly payments of rent are slowly but surely finding their way into new leases. According to BRC’s survey two-thirds of all new leases granted since January 2008 have included provisions for monthly payment of rent.

This looks to be a promising change though Fashionista is not convinced that this change is here for good. Many landlords, especially in the prime locations, are large institutional investors unwilling to incur increased agency costs of managing a large portfolio of properties with monthly rent payments. Also, a lot of office premises are still let on the basis of quarterly rent. Both of these factors may remain an argument for the return to quarterly rent payments on retail premises once the market bounces back and tenants start to compete again for the best space.
It remains to be seen if the monthly rent payments are only a transient fancy in the retail market or a new, redefining trend.