Women Helping Women Through Clothes

As Toronto’s LG Fashion Week kicks off this week, CanadaFashionLaw eagerly clasps her fashion week industry passes in anticipation of a week full of runway shows.  (I love my job!) But before the festival of fabulousness commences, CanadaFashionLaw wants to pause for a cause.  CanadaFashionLaw recently became aware of a great organization, Dress For Success, that aims to help women launch their career through the gift of clothes.  In the interview belowCanadaFashionLaw hopes to tap into the season of giving a little early.

Tell us about your organization and what it aims to achieve.

The mission of Dress for Success Toronto is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.

Our programs include the Suiting Program, which outfits women in professional attire for job interviews and employment; the Dress Rehersal Program where clients go through a mock interview and feedback session and can get assistance with resume/cover letter writing; and the Profesional Women’s Group, which offers women ongoing support as they successfully transition into the workplace.

How has the response been in Toronto?

The response in Toronto has been extremely positive.  Dress for Success Toronto serves job-ready women by referral only through our community partnerships with over 300 non-profit organizations.  Clients come to us from domestic violence agencies, homeless shelters and job-training programs. We work together with our referring agencies to provide delivery of services designed to elevate the lives of low income women and their families.

The concept goes way beyond clothes.  Women helping women really seems to be a central theme.  Can you share any success stories?

Latoya was introduced to Dress for Success Toronto in 2009 by a government employment centre.    She came to use our services and was encouraged to sign up for mentorship, assistance with resume writing and once she landed a job, she was invited to join the Professional Women’s Group, a group for newly employed women that have used our services that offers monthly workshops, networking and support.  When I asked Latoya about what this organization means to her, this is the response she gave:

A suit will last a year a two but it’s the lessons and support we receive that will last a life time and help us to better integrate and become successful in our lives and career.   Dress for Success is a driving force in my career development.  Getting a job is just the beginning, you have to start over, re-qualify and work your way up. This can be very demanding, difficult and challenging at times. I am better able to balance both personal and work life and cope with a new culture through the workshops and support I receive at Dress for Success.  This is more than just about suits; it is part of my survival. I may have received suits on my first visit but it’s the encouragement, support, joy and fulfillment that I receive that keeps me coming back.

What are the biggest challenges that your organization has faced?

Our biggest challenge is that people think we’re just about the suits!  The Suiting Program is an important part of what we do; however, our other programming is also essential to helping women become self-sufficient by addressing their social and economic needs in relation to work.  For example, the Professional Women’s Group offers women ongoing support as they successfully transition into the workforce, build thriving careers and prosper in the mainstream workplace.  Funding to support all the other programming we do is essential in order for us to fulfill our mission.  We can’t run our quality programming on clothing donations alone.

There is a lot of buzz about your organization’s Fundraising Gala on November 2, 2011 at the Bata Shoe Museum.  Can you give us the scoop?

It is Dress for Success Toronto’s inaugural Fundraising Gala!  The theme of the night is “Most Memorable Shoes” while guests are having a “Heel of a Good Time!” Attendees will enjoy refreshments and hors d’oeuvres while watching a fashion show featuring the EDIT by Jeanne Beker denim collection and Ron White Shoes, complemented by the original fashions of GISH (Girls in Skirts), Sarah Stevenson Designs and MINK, talented local Toronto designers.

There will be signature cocktails, and “innovative interactive entertainment” for guests to enjoy.  We also have a special guest appearance and book signing by internationally renowned Canadian fashion icon, Jeanne Beker!

More information about the event, including ticket sales, can be found on our website: www.dressforsuccess.org/toronto

How else can people roll up their sleeves and help out? 

Dress for Success Toronto has several opportunities for individuals to get involved.

We take donations of new and gently used professional attire at our 188 Lowther Avenue location in Toronto.  Individuals interested in donating to us can go to our website for more information (www.dressforsuccess.org/Toronto) or e-mail us at donate@dressforsuccesstoronto.org.

We also have several ways an individual can volunteer!  Volunteer roles include stylists, merchandisers and career services.  Anyone interested in volunteering with us can e-mail volunteer@dressforsuccesstoronto.org.  With the help of our volunteers, we can continue to have a positive impact on the lives of low income women, their children and future generations.

Through a $100 donation, you can give one woman access to the whole suite of Dress for Success programs.  We all know how good it feels to put on the right outfit when headed out to a big meeting or event – first impressions are key, so imagine if you didn’t have this ability!  Your $100 donation can make this difference.  Holiday season is just around the corner and helping one individual take the steps back into the workforce can make this a happy holiday season with hope for the future.  Donations can be made online through our website (www.dressforsuccess.org/toronto)

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Swimming Against The Tide: Wisdom from Canadian Swimwear Designer, Reyhan Sofraci

CanadaFashionLaw has a passion for fashion and for laws that assist the fashion industry.  We’ll take any opportunity to learn more about the fashion industry.  From attending industry events to understanding the challenges the designers face to looking at the less-sexy legislation, regulatory regimes and case law that affect the fashion industry, CanadaFashionLaw aims to get a full understanding of the fashion industry.  In this article, we learn from Montreal-based swimwear designer Reyhan Sofraci, owner of the swimwear lines Aqua di Lara and Qiss Qiss.

CanadaFashionLaw first became acquainted with Reyhan through an interview she conducted with the television show In Fashion a few years ago.  Feeling the U of T alumni connection and impressed with Reyhan’s hootz-pah to launch a swimwear collection without any formal fashion design training, CanadaFashionLaw has been watching Ms. Sofraci go from success to success. 

In this interview, we get Reyhan’s take on getting past the development stages in the fashion industry to becoming a noteworthy contestant in the niche luxury swimwear industry.  Enjoy!

You were recently featured in Miami’s Fashion Week.  How did it go?  What was the inspiration behind this season? 

The inspirations this season were:

Quartz – marble and natural influences

Farrah – 70’s inspired prints and silhouettes

Ecdysis – Snake prints

Golden Lights – Gold accent weaved and net prints

It went very well.  this was our third season presenting and it was a blast as usual.

You have two swim wear lines: Qiss Qiss and Aqua di Lara.  Why?  How are the different?  Does your merchandising and marketing strategy change for each line?

Aqua Di Lara is a trend-forward line catering to an older audience between the ages of 18 and 35 who appreciates originality and style and function.  We market this to more independent woman who possess a strong dominating personality and who are financially secure.  The items are made in limited quantities in order to ensure that the customer feels special.

Qiss Qiss is our junior line that caters to girls between 14-25 and is fun, flirty and sexy.  It is more on trend and changes every season to suit what girls who love fashion seek in the market.  It’s trendy with a twist.  We market Qiss Qiss at various events catered to the high school and freshman university crowd.  Bikinis dominate the collection and its all about eclectic fashion.

Is the swimwear market a niche market that requires special skills to navigate through – or do the same principles apply throughout the fashion industry?

Swimwear is extremely seasonal.

You have one presentation per year versus the 3-4 that clothing companies provide.  If people don’t like your collection in a year, you have to basically wait until the next one to get their attention again. So it is a yearly cycle versus the monthly that most clothing companies face and can be extremely challenging.

There are also similar expectations that have extended into the swimwear market in respect to style. People are seeking more coordinating looks and strive to achieve the complete ensemble.  Many swimwear manufacturers including us are now offering items to better merchandise your look. Runway fashion is definitely becoming more desired and acceptable on the beach and in the pool scene.

When you were an emerging designer and business owner, what were the significant or most surprising challenges you faced?  How did you overcome them?

People copying our designs was a huge one.

The worst was it was big companies that took advantage of our designs and promoted them as if it was their own.  I find this the hardest as they have a huge network and blast the item everywhere and people associate the look with them when it was clearly yours from the start.  Lacking the funds to do anything is always discouraging.. I guess there is flattery in being copied..but unfortunately it is also followed with a financial loss, as well as loss of recognition.   I am very sensitive to this matter and always try to ensure our designs are as new as possible.  If anything slipped through the cracks I would always do my best to ensure that credit is given where it is due.

Now as an established designer and business owner, what are your challenges?

The web – it can be extremely beneficial in some respects and a huge detriment in others.

We present our collections in July and items are not in stores for months later.  Bigger commercial companies see the suits and prints online the very next morning, sometimes even instantly.  With their weekly turn around time, they copy them and the suits are out in stores at a fraction of your prices.  So by the time you get your items to the shelves, they seem old to the eyes of the consumer.

What kind of financial, business or support resources/services were/are available to you either through the government or the fashion industry?  How did they help you?

The most helpful was Promode and the Career Focus Program. These two are fantastic ways that the government offers support.  One thing is important to note though, there are a lot of support programs when you first start and have not yet done anything and then again once you achieve a hefty amount of sales.  There are no services provided to the most challenging parts in between these times.  So you have to be strategic on when to apply for help.

You have been featured at Montreal, Toronto and Miami fashion week.  How fundamental have these shows been in establishing your company?  In what way?

They are important for branding. They are also somewhat of a bikini bible for media to gauge what trends are coming up for the next season as well as a good guide for pulls for photoshoots.

Your swimsuits were featured in marketing campaigns for the Next Top Model franchise – how did this happen?  How has this exposure helped your company?

It was a great opportunity to be featured in both Canada’s and America’s Next Top Model.  When featured in anything, it is very important to do your own PR and send out your own press releases.  It does not say anywhere that those suits belong to us so it is important for the company to ensure the public is aware of where those suits came from.  Exposures like this help a lot as they put your name out into the public eye.  The most flattering part is that they have so many items to choose from and if they picked yours at the end, it must be because they felt it was something special.

As your business grows, are you focusing on the Canadian market or looking abroad?   Why?

The US and the Canadian market are the areas in which we would really wish to keep expanding.  The US market is huge and most areas have a warmer climate so that helps swim sales.  Also Australia and Europe are areas we are selling in and wish to acquire more market presence.  Australia has opposite seasons and Europe, well its Europe!  Definitely a great market to be in.

What has surprised you the most about your journey to success?

How much time, money and energy one must invest when they start as a nobody.  I had no fashion background and did not know anyone in this industry.  It takes a lot of time to meet great people and I am blessed that I had the pleasure to do so.  Support from your loved ones keeps you going; mental and emotional support is key.

Your official title at your company is “Creative Director”.  In developing your business, did you always just focus on the creative aspects, or were you involved in the business side of developing the business.  At what point were you able/or feel comfortable solely focusing on the creative side?

In all honesty, I still take care of the business side too.  I always loved the arts and the maths and sciences so I thrive on focusing on these different aspects of the business.  If I had a choice however Marketing and Design would be my fortes.

From creating to manufacturing to marketing and, finally, sales – what has been the most interesting aspect of the business and why?  Which has been the most challenging?

It is the same cycle every year.  The funny thing is with designer brands like ours at times when we attempt to sell, some of our suits are not picked up by stores as they fear it is too different and are concerned that they will not be able to sell it.  The irony is that these suits get featured in many publications months later or become the trend for the following year and the consumers are breaking down doors trying to find them… and well, that is when the stores come back to us with phone lines ringing off the hook and they say I’ll take that one!

What advice would you give the emerging designer?

Be realistic.

Follow your dream but always be aware that if you opt to start a business of your own you need to be prepared.  Either partner up with someone who is business minded so you can focus on your strengths and passions or educate yourself to be able to do it on your own.

Life is full of challenges, and a business has those challenges ten-fold.

Where can we find your product lines

You can buy our brands at many swimwear boutiques in your neighbourhood or can go online and purchase them at some online retailers.

Update From The IDPPPA Trenches: Interview with US Fashion Attorney Charles Colman

The US is looking to revise its copyright act to extend copyright protection specifically to fashion designs, which has been a lengthy and somewhat controversial process. CanadaFashionLaw.com previously provided a summary of the latest attempts at legislative reform.  The IDPPPA hit parliament hill in July for a congressional hearing, which caused a flurry of commentary from the fashion community. 

Meet Charles Colman, who is a Manhattan-based fashion lawyer.  Charles serves as the Co-Chair of the Fashion Design Legislation Subcommittee at the American Bar Association and recently sponsored the creation of a Fashion Law Committee at the New York City Bar Association.  I wanted to get the inside scoop from Charles on what is happening with the IDPPPA and fashion law in the US.  Here’s what he had to say:

1. You have participated in the Fashion Design Legislation Subcommittee of the American Bar Association. What were the major themes of debate between the advocates of legislative change and those that objected?

In true lawyer form, I’m going to begin my answer with a disclaimer: that I’m not authorized to speak on behalf of the ABA, or any subdivision thereof.  The ABA’s official resolution on the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Act should be released to the public fairly soon.  In the meantime, however, I can say that the Intellectual Property Section of the ABA has actually been on the record as supporting some type of additional IP protection for fashion designs since 2008, when the industry and its lawyers were focused on the now-defunct “Design Piracy Prohibition Act.”  As a result, when I first became involved with the ABA in late 2010, my Fashion Design Legislation Subcommittee wasn’t starting on a blank slate; in other words, it was no longer a question of whether legislative change in this area was desirable or not – though it’s certainly a discussion many others are still having.  Rather, the Subcommittee engaged in a more granular evaluation of the merits and flaws of specific provisions in the latest iteration of the protection-for-fashion bill, the “Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act.”  To give you some sense of our discussion, certain Subcommittee members felt it was important to provide further clarification on the scope of immunity for “innocent retailers” under the proposed law.  Some members were troubled by language in the bill – “likely to be mistaken” – that seemed to pull the infringement inquiry back toward trademark law, contrary to its apparent purpose.  We also spent a lot of time examining what might be considered the “core” language of the bill – the threshold requirement that a qualifying design display “a unique, distinguishable, non-trivial and non-utilitarian variation over prior designs” – and whether that requirement was too stringent… or not stringent enough.

2. I understand that there was initially some serious objection from some within the fashion industry (i.e. the American Apparel and Footwear Association). Why? How were their concerns addressed?

I wasn’t involved in the debate at that time, but my understanding is that the AAFA was primarily concerned about frivolous lawsuits.  (Of course, this is a point of controversy anytime proposed legislation would create a new cause of action.)  The bill’s advocates eventually managed to get the AAFA on board, in large part by changing the required showing for liability from “substantial similarity” (the standard applied in copyright infringement lawsuits) to a higher standard that would require a plaintiff to prove that an alleged knockoff is “substantially identical” to her design.

3. How do you think the protection of fashion designs under copyright law will impact the fashion industry in the US? How will it impact the consumer? Will we see any impact to the economy?

I wish I could answer that question with any degree of certainty.  But as I’ve said in the past, I think it’s very difficult to make predictions about the impact of the bill – either on the industry or on consumers.  With that said, I have to imagine the law would have some prophylactic effect on unabashed knockoffs of original designs.  This could be very beneficial for small designers, who frequently can’t make the necessary evidentiary showing to prevail in so-called “trade dress” lawsuits.  But of course, even if the bill passes, it will be just as expensive to bring a lawsuit as it is now, so startup designers may remain vulnerable, even if they have a meritorious claim.

Some feel the impact of the law will be minimal, speculating that the required showing for liability has become so demanding that only a trivial number of designs will qualify for protection.  Interestingly, this point has been made by both advocates and opponents of the bill: at a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing last Friday, the CFDA (a longtime champion of additional IP protection for fashion designs) and its allies simultaneously stressed that the proposed law is desperately needed and that relatively few designs – only those “that are truly original” – will receive protection, even if the bill passes.  As some observers have pointed out, there’s an interesting tension there.

4. You recently championed the creation of a fashion law committee within the New York City Bar Association. Why was this necessary? What is the role/function of this committee?

Every bar association has a trademark law committee, a copyright law committee, a real estate law committee, and so on.  But I felt that a central forum was needed for practitioners serving fashion industry clients to come together and share their expertise on fashion-specific issues arising in distinct legal realms.  To illustrate, the pending, highly controversial Christian Louboutin v. Yves Saint Laurent lawsuit raises legal issues that are, at least arguably, unique to fashion.  So the members of a conventional trademark law committee would have little reason to devote extensive time and attention to the case, while every self-professed “fashion lawyer” is watching it like a hawk.  The new Fashion Law Committee can explore and evaluate legal developments of particular concern to fashion industry clients in a way that a more general committee never could.  Because the Committee is still in its infancy, I don’t think anyone knows for sure what it will evolve into, but for now, it is – at the very least – an excellent forum for discussion.

5. Are there any key cases/developments in the US that we should be watching for?

The most important issue on the legislative agenda right now, at least for IP-oriented practitioners, is the “Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act,” discussed earlier.  For decades, it’s been gospel that items of apparel are, by and large, “useful articles” and thus ineligible for copyright protection in most instances.  So any change to this legal landscape, even if the real-world impact does turn out to be minimal, would represent a major doctrinal shift.

Certainly the most “colorful” fashion-related case being decided right now is the Louboutin v. YSL dispute mentioned above.  But for reasons I’ve delved into on my blog, the case could also have major repercussions for the fashion industry at large.  YSL seems to have taken the position that trademark protection is never appropriate for “a single color on a portion of an article of apparel.”  If the district court agrees with this argument, there will undoubtedly be an appeal – perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court – and the outcome could be very significant for fashion design and branding.

While less accessible than the Louboutin case, many intellectual property lawyers are closely watching a case called Omega v. Costco Wholesale, currently pending in California federal court after a torturous round of appeals.  This case involves “gray goods” – here, luxury watches – that are sold outside the United States through authorized channels, but find their way back into the U.S., where they are often sold for far less than the brand would like to charge American customers.  The case made it all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court on a fairly esoteric copyright law issue involving the “first-sale doctrine,” where the Court was poised to declare whether brand owners can exercise border control over gray goods on the basis of copyright.  But the Court ended up in a 4-4 tie (Justice Kagan having recused herself), so we don’t yet have a definitive answer on the crucial issue.  Because Costco lost at the Ninth Circuit (a federal appellate court) on the copyright issue, it’s now pursuing a different argument on remand: that Omega’s use of copyright to control the importation of otherwise non-copyrightable goods is a form of “copyright misuse”.  It will be interesting to see how this specific dispute plays out, and also to see whether other appellate courts side with the Ninth Circuit on the first-sale question.  Though the relevant issues are quite “legalistic” and inaccessible, their resolution has major ramifications for the fashion industry (and many other industries, as well.)