The theme of Fordham Law’s recent Fashion Law Symposium was The Power of Fashion. None of us need to attend a symposium to know that the consumer has power – the clothing that we choose to buy influences what is made for future seasons. We are increasingly aware of how our choices influence where our clothing is made. Years of preferring to buy as much as possible at the lowest price drove a lot of garment manufacturing, and other manufacturers of consumer goods, out of the US.

Thankfully, we are seeing a big push in the other direction – buy less and buy smart. The smart consumer is not only looking for quality, they are also considering the effect of their purchase on their local market and the US workforce. This trend has laid the foundation for companies like Shinola Detroit to make quality goods right here at home. This trend will be a big player in the success of a growing Michigan garment manufacturing industry and other US “makers.”

What I did not know, until I attended the Symposium at Fordham, was the power of our social media choices on modeling. Did you know that when you choose to follow a model on Facebook or Twitter you are helping them land their next job? Fordham Law brought together a panel that included Coco Rocha (yes, the supermodel), Chris Gay of Elite World Group, and Melissa Wilhelmina Cooper to discuss the power of social media in the modeling industry. They wholeheartedly agreed that social media has dramatically changed their industry.

Coco observed that, early in her career, she got the job if she had “the right cheekbones” for the season. There was an image, in the eye of whoever was hiring, and models were hired if they fit that image. One panel member attributed to social media a new “democratic ideal of beauty.” A large number of followers suggest that the model has a look that people want to see. Also of great importance, hiring a model with a lot of followers will increase the number of people who will be drawn to your product. Particularly for those models that have a social media fan base that outnumber the followers of the clothing designer or the cosmetic manufacturer that is buying a “face” for their next campaign, hiring these models is an opportunity to reach new customers.

Social media gives us the ability to produce and distribute our own content, and that is a powerful tool for anyone that has something to sell. And as with any other form of power, the power bestowed by social media comes with responsibility. To address that point, Fordham’s Power of Social Media panel included Richard Cleland of the FTC. Yes, only at a fashion law symposium would Coco and an attorney from a governmental agency share a stage. They appropriately shared a stage because they share a common interest – life online.

So, circling back to that smart consumer, are you looking for information online to decide what to buy? Do you rely on favorable reviews? Are you more inclined to buy the handbag that has been hanging out in your cart when you see someone that you follow carrying that handbag? If so, you would like to think that the information that you find online is honest – right? And this is where the FTC comes into play and why Cleland was on the panel. His job is to protect the consumer from misleading social media, and his role on the panel was to inform those of us who want to sell something, or represent someone who does, what the law requires if you are considering how to use a social media celeb or how to generate positive reviews to reach a consumer. To summarize Cleland’s advice:

  1. Follow the FTC Endorsement Guide. You’ll find an easy to read intro, and the Guides are found at the Related Documents link. I also recommend the FAQ’s,  and
  2. At its core, federal law requires transparency, and federal law is violated if a significant number of consumers are misled.

For an aspiring designer, having someone with a lot of social media followers wear or carry your signature piece and share that on Instagram can be huge. Is that wrong? Certainly not, if they bought your garment or bag and they choose to share it with the world. If you send a celebrity a freebie, in hopes that they will post how great you are … not necessarily wrong, but check out the FTC links before you take that route and determine appropriate disclosures. What if you pay someone to post a favorable review or encourage someone to misrepresent who they are when they post a favorable review? I don’t think you need me or the FTC to tell you that you’ve crossed the line. Always remember, your consumer wants honest information, and I want you to be well informed before you unleash the power of social media.