The importance of trademarking your brand as a fashion designer

Kulcha by Ayandiswa Ntombela. Picture: Supplied

Kulcha by Ayandiswa Ntombela. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 9, 2024


You’ve probably heard a story about a musician who lost it all because they didn’t register their masters under their names and therefore cannot claim several benefits, including royalties, right?

This is common in the music industry but also extends to the fashion world; we always hear of designers whose designs were “stolen” by another designer. Or even worse, someone taking your brand’s name and using it before you could even register it.

Most emerging fashion designers are talented in making clothes, but when it comes to the business side of fashion, they are clueless.

So, if you’re an emerging designer or a student planning on having a fashion label one day, there are things apart from creating garments that you need to consider to protect your brand.

Maryne Steenekamp, STADIO’s head of the School of Fashion, unpacks the importance of trademarking your brand as a designer.

What is trademarking?

Trademarking a brand in the context of fashion designers in South Africa involves registering the brand name, logo, or other distinctive elements associated with the fashion designer’s products or services with the appropriate intellectual property office.

A trademark identifies the goods or services of one person and distinguishes them from those of another.

A trademark can only be protected and defended under the Trade Marks Act 1993 (Act 194 of 1993). The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) is the relevant authority in South Africa to register a trademark.

By obtaining a trademark for their brand, fashion designers gain exclusive rights to use that mark in connection with their goods or services.

This legal protection helps prevent others from using a similar or identical mark in a way that may confuse consumers.

“To trademark a brand in South Africa, the fashion designer must follow the registration process outlined by the CIPC.

“This typically involves conducting a comprehensive search to ensure the proposed trademark is unique, submitting a trademark application, and paying the required fees.

“Registration provides a legal certificate granting exclusive usage rights to the trademark owner. A registered trademark can be protected forever, provided it is renewed every 10 years upon payment of the prescribed renewal fee.

Fashion designers should consult with intellectual property professionals or attorneys specialising in trademarks to navigate the registration process effectively and protect their brand,” said Steenekamp.

How important is it for brands to trademark their work?

Trademarking is extremely important for fashion designers since the trademark provides the fashion designer with exclusive rights to use the registered mark in the specified classes of goods or services.

This trademark registration, therefore, allows fashion designers to license or franchise their brand to others, generating additional revenue.

Furthermore, this trademark registration acts as legal evidence of ownership, enforcing rights in cases of infringement easier. Outside the legalities and formalities, from a marketing perspective, a registered trademark enhances brand recognition, fosters trust and loyalty, and adds value to the designer’s creations.

Additionally, trademarking, as mentioned, safeguards the brand against imitation, which could dilute the brand’s reputation.

Consumer buying behaviour shows that consumers often perceive registered trademarks as a symbol of quality and legitimacy. This could be the deciding factor when purchasing one product versus another.

For example, no other designer in the world can use the Thebe Magugu “Sisterhood” emblem because he has trademarked it as his signature logo.

What happens if one doesn’t trademark their brand?

If a fashion designer chooses not to trademark their brand, they may face several potential challenges and risks in the long run.

Without trademark registration, the designer does not have exclusive legal rights to their brand name, logo, or other distinctive elements.

Anyone who wishes to use their brand name or logo may do so, and there’s nothing the designer can do about it if they don’t have trademark rights. Without trademark protection, the designer may lose legal battles against competitors who claim similar rights.

“Trademarks contribute significantly to brand recognition and consumer trust. Without a registered trademark, the designer may find it harder to establish a unique and recognisable brand identity in the market.

“A registered trademark adds value to a brand, making it an important intangible asset. Without trademark protection, the brand’s market value may be diminished, affecting potential licensing or franchising opportunities.

“Trademark registration provides a solid legal foundation for brand expansion and protection,” Steenekamp said.

Learning the business of fashion to protect your brand

To gain more knowledge about protecting your brand, designers need to learn the business of fashion. Such will not only help designers establish and protect their brands, but will also help them build a successful and sustainable brand.

“Learning the business side of fashion is crucial for designers and all fashion practitioners, ranging from media to buying to retail, and it plays a pivotal role in their overall success and sustainability in the industry.

“Studying business-related modules for fashion stakeholders does not limit creative expression, but provides a foundation to build a sustainable career in the fashion industry,” said Steenekamp.

“The core understanding of the business side allows fashion practitioners to stay informed about market trends, consumer preferences, and industry dynamics.

“This knowledge is essential for creating designs that resonate with the target audience. Successful fashion designers create aesthetically pleasing designs and build and manage a brand.

“Business knowledge helps develop a distinctive brand identity, targeted marketing strategies, and effective communication with the target market, which ensures brand awareness, leading to financial success.”

To all emerging designers, we know you have the passion and the talent, but also master the business of fashion, or else they will eat you alive in this highly competitive industry.