The fashion industry is a multitrillion dollar global industry. In 2016, consumers in the United States of America alone, spent almost $380 billion on apparel and footwear. Some may deride the fashion industry as lacking substance and mere “fluff,” but the numbers validate that it is important and extremely valuable “fluff.” After all, clothing and footwear are human necessities and are the main output from this sector that spans from high-end luxury brands to low-end necessities.
Clothing and fashion help define a culture and reflect individual identity. Throughout most of human history, regional variations in style and clothing served as cultural markers. Some might slowly influence other cultures, thus spreading from one culture to another. However, in an age of globalization, one cultural cue from one group can spark creativity to a fashion line and show up on a Paris runway.
The Maasai “Shuka,” the Louis Vuitton 2012 Spring Collection, andBeyoncé’s Indian Desi inspired music video brought the issue of traditional cultural expressions to the surface of social media. In reaction to this, several proponents of traditional knowledge and cultural expressions shared their opinions on social media about the need for compensation and recognition of such intellectual property rights for communities whose culture is exploited for commercial gain. This is arguably a valid reaction judging from the value of the fashion industry on a global economy scale.
However, the fashion industry must address the role of culture in the fashion business—and we must determine where we draw the line between “inspiration” and “exploitation,” and most importantly, when compensation is due. Traditional knowledge and cultural expressions are attempting to come into their own as intellectual property rights. Thus, we must focus the presently blurred line for the fashion industry to avoid frivolous claims that will undoubtedly affect this economically lucrative industry.
Elizabeth M. Lenjo,
Inspiration Versus Exploitation: Traditional Cultural Expressions at the Hem of the Fashion Industry,
21 Marq. Intellectual Property L. Rev. 139
Available at: https://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/iplr/vol21/iss2/4