Reimagine, redesign: the positive impacts of intellectual property education in fashion creative practice

Roxanne Peters, Creative and Cultural IP Rights Specialist, Careers & Employability, University of the Arts London


World Intellectual Property (IP) Day is celebrated on 26 April. It’s an opportunity to highlight the important role that intellectual property plays in encouraging international creative and innovative practice. For our UAL community, it’s important to think about what role IP education plays in shaping and influencing our student and graduate futures.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an immeasurable effect on the global economy, the fabric of our society and reframed our sense of being. In some ways, we are more connected than ever as we adjust to the acceleration of digital transformation to create, communicate and consume. At the same time, there has been an international gear change as we slow down to take stock. How to think smarter, do things better, be more conscious of the decisions we make for our future selves and wider societal and environmental benefit.

For the creative and cultural industries, the pandemic has further revealed ‘the precarious nature of artists work that makes them particularly vulnerable to the economic shocks caused by the crisis’ and has exacerbated the creative sector’s pre-existing volatility and inequalities[1]. For those already employed or in the early stages of their own business, it has been a critical time to identify ways to safeguard, survive and for some to start afresh. But what about our UAL students and recent graduates who represent the next generation of changemakers, innovators and thought leaders? How can they prepare for the real-world scenarios they want to address and what responsibility do educators have to help amplify their voices?

Facing the future of creative practice

At a crucial time in their professional development, our students and graduates have had to adjust to new ways of engaging with educators, less studio time for their practice and some missed opportunities for organic conversations and connections. Despite these perceived challenges, the last year has also encouraged innovative ways to cultivate co-creative practices and pave the way for new beginnings.[2]

Within this dynamic of global practice , intellectual property (IP) is a vital asset for innovation, economic growth and sustainable futures. It’s like an invisible business partner oiling the wheels of trade, and encouraging creative and cultural exchange. Simultaneously it has the potential to play an important role in human-centred and socially-conscious initiatives.

IP intersects design, innovation and technology. The increase of intangible IP such as tacit knowledge, the ethical and economic considerations of protecting the traditional cultural expressions of people in developing countries has encouraged more focus on IP within business. This together with the strength of networks and relationships through collaboration in start-ups and SMEs, indicates that there has never been a more critical time to embed IP thinking into creative enterprise education.

The role of IP education to ignite positive change

In this educational context, IP thinking is not only considered as integral to developing a business strategy but also to identifying the importance of IP to represent an individual’s values and ethos, their responsibilities and reputation. It is about IP playing an active role within a practice-led space. Creatives learn by doing, which encourages their critical thinking to move from an idea to an innovation that can make an impact in a global market.

Here at University of the Arts London we have recently launched an e-learning IP module, designed with UAL creatives for the next generation. It brings together the voices and experiences of those in the early stages of developing their professional practice. It provides a space to self-reflect and understand how IP plays an active role in defining the future of the way we live as well as identifying revenue streams and sustainable practice.

Reimagining and redesigning fashion

IP protects the expression of an idea rather than the idea itself such as a product, an artwork, a website design. It is essential to consider what they want to safeguard, why and how.

Many of the ideas students have in creative practice, extend beyond traditional business models where financial gain is the primary driver. They can encompass social entrepreneurship, ventures driven by solving social or cultural issues and green entrepreneurship, which can lead to a positive impact on the natural environment using sustainable processes.[3]

A call for action within the creative industries is perhaps most visible in reimagining the future of fashion.

Fashion education offers a space for the next generation to connect with global technology and business innovations, and use their intuition and imagination to guide the industry to adopt more sustainable, transparent and inclusive practices.[4]

From an IP perspective, considerations for those setting out in fashion business can range from understanding how copyright law works for fashion communication and increasing the visibility of brand identity to identifying the intangible IP in insights, methodologies and services. At the stage of ideation, it is often about having transparency on who owns what when creatives are working with technologists, scientists and other industry experts to help make their idea a reality and ultimately turn it into a scalable business.

The following case studies give an insight into some of the IP related elements students and graduates have to consider as they transition from education into industry, from an idea into the market.

Case study: Ashwini Deshpande

Close up, side vew, of a woman with long dark hair wearing a VR headset
Image credit: Ashwini Deshpande

Ashwini Deshpande is a designer and technologist currently studying at London College of Fashion[5]. She believes that ‘technology is the future of every industry and that it needs to make a difference towards creating a circular industry’.

Ashwini founded Art-Z software as part of a collaboration with Microsoft. It use artificial intelligence to reduce fabric wastage at the pattern-cutting stage, with the aim of eventual zero waste. As an international student entrepreneur, she acknowledges that  when she wanted to turn her idea in to a business, she received guidance on protecting her IP.

As her idea gained traction, Ashwini experienced the pressure points of deciding how much to disclose to those she wanted to attract support from without compromising her ability to retain control over her work. ‘It was all about signing NDAs but also being diplomatic, as an NDA can be difficult to enforce, especially with big companies. IP turned out to be a very confusing thing to deal with. I am glad I had mentors and legal advisors supporting.’[6]

For Ashwini having an awareness of IP early on in her product development has helped her position IP as a key part of her business strategy. As her software develops she will think carefully about how to fulfil her vision of scaling it internationally so that it becomes a universal solution to reduce fabric wastage.

Case study: Joao Marashin

For London based Brazilian designer and brand owner Joao Marashin, his practice is ‘a call for community action, and is founded on the principles of sustaining true connections and respect for the work developed by marginalised artisans globally, exploring the concept of social and environmental sustainability through human-centred design and preserving handmade techniques like crochet and embroidery, as well as working with new discoveries in raw materials’.

‘I come across many artisans that are seeing their skills die out because of lack of demand which leads younger generations not to feel inspired of keeping those techniques alive. I have also seen older practitioners lose their space in the industry and mature people being left out of the system in many ways’. [7]

Joao’s vision is embodied in protecting his trademark to help develop his brand identity, and reflects the interplay between IP and healthy ethical engagement. A graduate from London College of Fashion, Joao has recently taken part in the UAL Creative Business Accelerator programme. He has taken time to consider how to best convey his commitment to transparent and inclusive practice. His online presence sets out his positive impact statement and it is a testament to those creatives leading from the front and taking action to address inequality and cultural sustainability.

Image credit: Joao Marashin

Looking forward

As the global economy sets to repair itself and future entrepreneurs prepare for professional practice, it is essential that they have an awareness of how intrinsic IP is to their vision. IP education is not about having all the answers. It is about encouraging  the next generation to lead from the front, recognise the value of their creative agency and use their critical thinking and perspectives to make decisions that may not always be financial successes but which have longer term positive impact.

As Joao Marashin recognises, ‘overall, I treat my social and environmental impact as a primary measure of success for the business and prioritise it even in cases where it may not drive profitability. I believe the future of fashion relies on respect, to the planet and people, and sustainability is absolutely non-negotiable in the current times.’ [8]

Main image (top of post) credit: Ashwini Deshpande

References

[1] UNESCO Culture in Crisis: Policy guide for a resilient creative sector, 2020, p2, [Accessed 19 February 2021]

[2] Fashion students were profiled in Miss Vogue as some of the most affected to graduate in lockdown.

[3]  QAA Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education: Guidance for Higher Education UK Providers, January 2018 [Accessed 21 February) p 8

[4] London College of Fashion in partnership with Kering and Vogue Business has recently launched an open access e-learning platform to educate and promote sustainable futures. [Accessed 15 February 2021]

[5] This course focuses on customer-centric design for the current day market.

[6] The student perspective was provided during an interview via email (A.Deshpande, 2021), Personal Communication (9 February)

[7] The graduate perspective was provided during an interview via email (J.Marashin, 2021), Personal Communication (19 February)

[8] The graduate  perspective was provided during an interview via email (J.Marashin, 2021), Personal Communication (19 February)


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