By: Dalton Carty
Lansing Managing Editor
Fashion makes billions of dollars each year as famous designers launch new and high prized collections that every person will covet, but few could actually afford. From Milan to Paris to New York, major fashion houses exhibit their fall and spring attire with substantial fanfare and attendance of numerous high-profile celebrities. Yet, the intricacies of fashion are far more profound than merely organizing an apparel showing. With designs that are affected by exchange rates, international laws, and merchandising agreements, the world of fashion entails prolific legal facets that require all fashion companies to retain one or more lawyers. Therefore, designer Lauren Aitch’s discussion with approximately 30 Cooley students about how law impacted her fashion career was beneficial in understanding the fashion industry’s legal issues.
On November 3, 2014, entrepreneur, philanthropist, inspirational speaker, fashion designer, and college and Danish basketball-player Lauren Aitch spoke with the Sports and Entertainment Law Society about her journey as a sportswoman, businesswoman, and woman of God.
Lauren Aitch grew up in Lansing, Michigan and graduated from Michigan State University in 2010 after playing for the Lady Spartans basketball team. Subsequently, Aitch went to Copenhagen, Denmark to play basketball eventually winning a national title and MVP honors. While there, she found God, completed her Master’s in Public Relations, and began a clothing line for women. Based on her life-long difficulty to find clothes that fit her taller than average frame, Aitch started the Lady Aitch label because of her passion for clothes and a desire to help taller women find suitable professional attire. After she drew some sketches and made some pieces, Aitch worked with a Cooley graduate to discern the legal aspects of starting a business. Specifically, Aitch said, with the lawyer’s advice, she decided to create her fashion line as a limited liability company rather than a sole proprietorship to limit personal liability and provide future business structure. Thus, when Aitch returned to America in 2011, she started the line with business suits for women.
Yet, Aitch was not finished. While in Denmark, her father, who was the inspiration for many of her pursuits, developed cancer and died. Distraught, Aitch wanted to do something in his memory, but that would also assist others who contended with the disease. She decided to start the Aitch Foundation, a non-profit geared towards the advancement of cancer research and generating community involvement through sports and fashion related events. The foundation’s 501(c)(3) was filed in 2012.
Aitch also started a second business when she returned to the states. She formed a partnership with a company to create custom performance undergarments for people in high pressure situations. Labeled “Our Own,” the brand tries to limit the damage to professionals’ clothing by offering undershirts that have double reinforcement under the arm. This allows customers to maintain professional garments and demeanor without underarm wet spots.
However, before Aitch started the business, she needed a lawyer to help her patent the undershirt’s design and manufacturing process, only to discover the design was not something that could be patented. She initially worked with three lawyers, and eventually selected one because that lawyer told her the patent application for the manufacturing process had to be filed by a particular deadline due to a recent change in the law. The other two lawyers failed to mention this fact and Aitch refused to do business with people who were unaware of changes in their field. Thus, she said, as lawyers, the students should always be abreast of changes in the law and how those changes may affect their clients.
Next, Aitch discussed her association with several lawyers at Foster, Swift, Collins, and Smith which has developed a limited fashion law specialty. She said she has worked closely with the firm to discern potential future problems with her business, and plan now to avoid them. She also talked about the financial and legal difficulties involved in her decision not to produce clothes in China. She said the Chinese want to know proprietors long before the government allows them to begin a business there. Although China has a better tax structure, she rejected the idea of expanding to China because the venture requires foreign business owners to be liable for all losses. She also told students the costs related to the manufacture and the export and import of the clothing from China were so great for the small volume she would have produced, that it was more cost-effective to produce them in the United States. She also liked the fact that her clothing could proudly state “made in America.”
Although the main focus of Aitch’s speech was the role of lawyers in helping her start her various projects and the appreciation she has for them, she also extrapolated on her business philosophy. She said she only hired people who shared her vision or whose long-term goals were compatible with her employment needs because she did not want employees who would eventually become disenchanted with the work and seek other employment. She said fashion was about understanding what consumers wanted and required significant teamwork, cooperation, and communication to provide quality products that responded to consumer needs. Finally, she said she surrounded herself with powerful, influential people not because she expected them to do lots of work for her non-profit foundation or her fashion business, but rather she valued their input and advice. Picking up on the theme using many creative and educated minds to improve her business, the students brainstormed on ideas how Aitch may expand her Our Own line to new markets here in the United States.
Lauren Aitch is a woman who knew what she wanted, required some assistance to obtain it, and had faith that she would succeed. Presumably, she will continue to achieve her objectives because she remains knowledgeable about what she wants, who can help her attain her goals, and faithful that such people will cross her path if they have not already done so.
*Note: Thanks must be given to Professor Julie Janeway for her help in writing this piece. Without her comments and insights, this article would have been quite different.