With Spring fashions in bloom, fashion lawyer Deanna Clark-Esposito is hard at work. She has been practicing for 15 years and is also a professor and author. Her new book, A Practical Guide to Fashion Law and Compliance, was published by Bloomsbury/Fairchild (and is now available) and is especially handy for legal and business professionals in the fashion industry, as well as in corporate and international law (among several other overlapping practice areas). The New York practitioner spoke to Leaders In The Law about her unique pairing of fashion and law and how it naturally fit with her skills and interests.
Leaders In The Law: What drew you to fashion and fashion law?
Deanna Clark-Esposito: I started compiling “look books” of magazine cut-outs when I was 8 years old and designed my own collection at age 10. Once I started working with importers as an attorney and discovered that approximately one-third of all U.S. imports are of wearing apparel and textiles, it was a natural gravitation as most of the legal work I already handled involved fashion merchandise.
LITL: What are some of the biggest challenges fashion lawyers face today?
DCE: That depends on who the client is. If it is an inexperienced designer, balancing client wishes with practical realities can be a challenge as the “artist” in the client may have yet to meet the business person. If the client is a retailer, importer, or even a seasoned designer, addressing their concerns over product integrity, the protection of ideas, and vendor oversight – especially in the context of foreign manufacturers – can prove harder to achieve than imagined, or just more complex than the client would like.
LITL: How is launching a fashion practice different than another niche practice?
DCE: The challenge of launching a fashion law practice is that it requires an understanding of several areas of law. Someone who purports to practice “fashion law” needs to understand the business of fashion, like buying cycles and the seasonality of the business, working with foreign manufacturers and the nuances involved with that, ensuring product testing and certifications are in order, and several other facets for legal compliance and oversight with day-to-day business operations. It extends far beyond a single legal practice area, as merely advising on one area of law, like intellectual property, for example, would not render them a fashion attorney. That would be like calling a real estate attorney who works with a lot of apparel retail stores a “fashion attorney.”
LITL: How are you advising clients in the wake of the newly announced China tariffs?
DCE: First and foremost to remain calm. Secondly, to reevaluate existing agreements and evaluate potential opportunities, whether in China or otherwise. Uncertainty in trade matters have been on the forefront of my clients’ minds ever since the new administration came in. Unfortunately for companies big and small, they sometimes are already locked into purchasing contracts and exclusivity agreements as an overnight change on tariffs had never been contemplated. Where amending or renegotiating existing contracts is possible, an analysis of what makes sense for now and added-in contingencies for increased flexibility in the future are examined. To the extent alternatives exist elsewhere, we can evaluate the risks and opportunities of each of them, and help clients negotiate appropriate contract terms with those third parties. Our job is to alleviate fears and restore a level of confidence and control when business operations go awry.
LITL: How do you juggle teaching and authoring a book while practicing law?
DCE: Late nights, early mornings, and effective use of technology. Dictation software has been a true time-saver!