Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Position Against Copyright Law in Fashion Design

On June 9, in Newport, RI, The Copyright Society of U.S.A., had their annual meeting. I was asked be on the panel of “Copyrighting Couture”, to present my position on the recent legislation going through Congress on a copyrights for fashion design. I presented two plates shown here. What follows is first the 2 minute talk I gave, and second the paper that everyone could download.

1. The battle in copyright law is really between big brand, celebrity designers – most of whom do not do their own designing, and whose profits protect their old hat production – and with tiny (DEs) design entrepreneurs, who have no voice in Washington - and with the copyright law would soon be extinct.

The “Wall Between Design & Manufacturing” is a plate for an NSF grant in 1989 – showing design and manufacturing not communicating. The wall was built by fashion school graduates who didn’t learn how to produce and romantic media promoting that designers didn’t have to know – only celebrity matters. The copyright law in design would make an even bigger schism – and further kill our industry in America.

Innovative production and pattern technologies help reduce prices and raise quality, and are more integral of the true fashion industry – than the look of styles – and doesn’t get, and doesn’t need, government protection. Fashion design is nothing without manufacturing. There are top brand labels copying themselves now, with fast, inexpensive and quality productions - that is the future. AAFA, representing manufacturers, are against the present copyright law proposal.

Promotion to sell my name wasn’t necessary – I sold great products I manufactured myself – such as this evening gown in suede. The stitchers could put the shell together in 15 minutes, and it wouldn’t sell that cheap, so I made 60% profit. How silly to copyright the look. Production is far more important. I designed tools that made buttonholes much higher quality, ten times faster, and the look from the tool helped it sell more. None copied it because I wasn’t media famous.

Today, I am devoted to a new fashion industry for young DEs, for consumers, and to help empower the disadvantaged – giving them my Stylometrics innovative pattern and production systems – for free to copy. Everyone’s a designer – everyone copies – everyone makes money on making – producing at low-cost. Fashion ideas are a dime a dozen.

2-1. Copying has always been an integral and accepted practice in the American fashion industry. (Learned from 60 years experience: apprenticing in 1940s factories, owning 3 corpo-rations (one design &manufacturing), & research in National Science Foundation grants.)
In the 18th century, dolls with French fashions were sent to American dressmakers to copy. In the 19th century fashion magazines printed “patterns” for American dressmakers to copy and cut. At the turn of the 20th century, Jewish tailors in Boston innovated production pattern making, and American fashion apparel, as an industry, was born. These technical designers still copied crea-tivity. Mid-20th century, fashion schools and colleges started – teaching French dressmaking methods, with design creativity, but with no production pattern knowledge. Toward the end of the 20th century, big fashion brand labels hired young designers to exploit their ideas, with fast turnovers, and big name retailers set up their own product development departments to copy, and with most doing offshore production. Young, creative, designer entrepreneurs (DEs) struggle for survival, with no respect from big business, little practical production knowledge, and very little availability to get small production lots made in America anymore.
* A graphic in all of my grants, “The Wall Between Design and Manufacturing”, shows the separation is getting increasingly worse, caused by the lack of communication between the two. Kurt Salmon Associates, 1989, reports, “Merchandising, what manufacturers call designing, is the least-effective function apparel companies perform…a process of creativity and luck. … Re-quirements can change as many as 50 times [from design to making].” The chart, (late 1980s) shows Brand Name Manufacturers as top control. Today that would change with Retailer Brand Names as top control.
* CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) (big names) started the battle for a copy-right law. Their president, Diane Von Furstenberg, says, “My job is to protect the [big name] designers, but the clothing manufacturers want something else.” – validating the bigger wall be-tween design and manufacturing, as well as between big and small designers.
* I fought for these DEs against “big business” as a delegate to the White House Conference on Small Business in 1986, and again as an evaluator of Manufacturing Technology Centers for the National Research Council in 1992.
* Chris Sprigman, in Virginia Law Review, adds: “The global fashion industry produces a huge variety of creative goods without strong IP protection. Copying is rampant as the orthodox ac-count would predict. Yet innovation and investment remain vibrant.”

2-2. A copyright law in fashion design would further smash young design entrepreneurs’ hopes, because every idea would have to be tested against all existing ideas.
* AAFA- American Apparel & Footwear Association (manufacturers), has come out in opposi-tion to the legislation and sent a letter to each member of the House and Senate explaining these concerns. If enacted, these bills would make legitimate companies, and their legitimate designs, vulnerable to a litany of excessive litigation and bogus claims. The inherent subjectivity in both the “substantial similarity” standard for infringement and the “distinguishable variation over prior work” standard for protection would expose footwear and apparel companies, retailers, designers and ultimately the consumer to unneeded costs and uncertainty that could stifle fash-ion design innovation. Moreover, we believe there are practical logistical considerations that would make such a design registry difficult, if not impossible, to operate.
Design (fashion or any industry) must not be separated from its technical design and manu-facturing. Young DEs are the future of America and its free enterprise system. Please, let’s not force every young designer to be controlled by big brands, or by a government that only works for big business and does not understand entrepreneurship and innovation

2-3. Copying great art and design is critical for students to learn what “excellence” is, especially technical and production excellence.
In the Renaissance all learning was by apprenticeship to the great art masters, and is the way fashion apparel, as an industry, started at the end of the 19th century, learning from pattern de-sign masters – and in Boston!! It is the way I approach it today when guiding creative protégés who already have active and successful small business enterprises, but need continual help with technical design and production. My number one protégé, Teresa Crowninshield, is a rising de-sign star in New England. Her cashmere and silk coats and jackets are exquisitely innovative, but she builds each one by copying my fundamental pattern templates, and by copying, for study purposes, other designers’ shapes of myriad parts. In the 1970s on Seventh Ave., New York, pattern makers from different firms would exchange and copy each other’s specific patterns, such as a collar or sleeve, to assure excellent shaping.

2-4. The attention that fashion design innovation is getting is a positive even though I am against a copyright law for it.
What lawyers, academics, and business people – on both sides of the argument, and for all indus-tries - can do is, first, clearly define what design innovation really is; and second, attempt some methodologies for measuring/evaluating design innovation. On the New York Times Freako-nomics Quorum, April 25, “How Can We Measure Innovation?”, John Seely Brown was quoted and names 4 types: “Incremental innovation, cheaper, thinner, faster and, of course, more features. … Architectural innovations, involve a restructuring of the very building blocks of a product family, industry, or infrastructure. …Disruptive innovations, from a societal point of view… . institutional innovations, enable society to function.” Because apparel is 3D, great fashion design through history are architectural innovations. But, like architecture it-self, it cannot be separated from its tangible building and production processes. My very success-ful evening gown in suede in the 1970s is an example of architectural innovation. The production process of setting up images on the machines so the stitchers could make the shell of the gown in 15 minutes was even more innovative that the unique patterning of seams. No one ever copied this gown or any other successful style, because – as I learned – they could not copy my efficient production system. My Stylometrics image language, for which I received 3 NSF grant awards, and today I call “Foundation Pattern Templates”, is an architectural innovation, involving build-ing blocks for fashion apparel designs.
Please let’s learn how to solve our design and business problems without government con-trolling our lives and our businesses.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Often we forget the little guy, the SMB, in our discussions of the comings and goings of the Internet marketing industry. Sure there are times like this when a report surfaces talking about their issues and concerns but, for the most part, we like to talk about big brands and how they do the Internet marketing thing well or not so well.

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