COVID-19: Community Updates and Resources
Seeing the latest structured, vintage-inspired Kate Spade handbag in a display window might cause shoppers to do a double-take. For Albany Law School student Madison Forsander ’21, she’ll stop to admire the purse—but through a legal lens.
She spent the spring 2020 semester as a legal intern with Tapestry, Inc.—a New York City–based house of brands that includes Coach, Kate Spade New York, and Stuart Weitzman—where she found a fresh outlook on in-house counsel work and the fashion industry. The internship was part of Albany Law School’s innovative Semester-in-Practice program that allows students to intern anywhere in the world for academic credit.
“I always envisioned [working in fashion] as the creative people creating things. But there are a lot of checks and balances within a legal department,” Forsander said. “It’s an interesting facet of in-house work—you only have one client at the end of the day, but there’s so much that goes into it.”
Long before a handbag debuts on shelves, behind-the-scenes work has to be done: contracts, privacy issues, and sifting through design clearances to make sure a new release doesn’t infringe on another designer’s work. Tapestry’s legal team also works on brand deals with influencers and celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez and Michael B. Jordan.
“Influencers are a big part of retail right now. It’s amazing seeing some of those contracts come through, [learning] how they work and the requirements that are set for them,” she said. “It’s changed how I look at things while online shopping or being on Instagram.”
Once a designer item takes off in popularity, it’s often ripe for counterfeiting. The Tapestry, Inc., legal team also watches the market for fakes.
“The amount of people who work on a graphic or design, all the effort that went into that, and then to have it used by someone who doesn’t have the right to—I can’t even imagine how that would feel,” she said. “But it makes the intellectual property work that much more important.”
Brand collaborations often heavily involve legal counsel, too.
“If a big company and another big company work together, so much back and forth went on with that contract—how many specifics there are—it’s eye-opening to learn how much preparation went in to putting your logo on another brand’s T-shirt,” she said. “It’s been awesome to see how lawyers fit in to the fashion world.”
While Hollywood might portray the fashion industry as cutthroat, Forsander said her experience was picturesque—particularly the modern Hudson Yards office—and the people were kind and eager to help her learn.
“It’s added to my desire to do something in house one day,” she said. “It speaks to how versatile the skills are that you learn in law school. Knowing how to read, write, and research well allowed me to do the work alongside others who may have had more classroom experience.”
She collaborated with other interns on multiple projects, including research to improve working conditions for factory employees, which Forsander recalled fondly as “something for the greater good.”
Each brand within Tapestry’s house of brands has a retail storefront at Hudson Yards, where she was able to see the impact of her work on display.
“It was surreal to see the things on the shelf and seeing people touch and interact with the product,” she said. “We really did see it full circle.”