Your intellectual property is your most important asset (besides yourself) when you're running an ethical, sustainable, circular or slow fashion brand and if you're not protecting it, you're leaving yourself open to some pretty big risks.
If you've poured blood, sweat and tears into your fashion business and you've got plans to scale, it's especially important to protect your intellectual property (IP) in order to future-proof your business and remain competitive in the fashion industry.
So, how do you protect your brand?
Firstly, it's about understanding what IP actually is, because your intellectual property encompasses both tangible assets like your physical products and intangible assets like ideas and designs.
Your IP can include...
Designs. This is one of the most critical aspects of intellectual property in fashion. It covers the unique visual elements of your clothing, such as patterns, prints, and styles. Protecting your designs ensures that other brands can't copy or reproduce them, which means you'll have a leg up on your competitors.
Trademarks. Trademarks are symbols, logos, or brand names that uniquely identify your fashion brand. Registering trademarks will stop other brands from using similar marks that could create confusion among consumers. If you have a great logo, protect it, so that someone else can do something similar and lure your customers away.
Copyright. Copyright protection applies to creative and original works, such as textiles, fabric prints, promotional material, and even written content like blog posts or marketing material. It gives you exclusive rights to use, reproduce, and distribute these works. As an example, this blog post you're reading is an 'original work', so if you copied it word for word and used it on your website, you'd be stealing my IP and I could sue you.
Trade secrets. In the realm of sustainable and slow fashion, you might have trade secrets related to your ethical and sustainable practices, innovative production processes, or material sourcing methods. If you're doing something unique or you've developed a new fabric technology for example, it's a trade secret, and these secrets can be protected through confidentiality agreements like a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Using a contractual agreement to protect this kind of information means your suppliers can't run off and give those secrets to your competitors.
Secondly, get your legal ducks in a row. IP protection is essential for the longevity and success of your slow fashion brand and if you're going to spend time on creating something so special, it's important to protect it. Speak with a lawyer about trademarking your brand and make sure you have every supplier you work with sign a Non-Disclosure and Working Agreement, so that the IP you share with them, the designs you show them, and any confidential information you exchange, stays between you and them.
Your pattern maker, your manufacturer, your bookkeeper - anyone and everyone who works on your business with you - needs to sign your agreement so you can protect your precious slow fashion brand.
Download the slow fashion specific Non-Disclosure and Working Agreement here.