Bureaucrat turned lawyer fights for a fairer fashion industry

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Miyuki Ebisawa loved fashion since she was a student at Keio Girls Senior High School and didn’t want to give up her passion even after becoming a civil servant.

So she turned to work as a fashion magazine editor, which she loved, but couldn’t condone the injustices in the fashion industry.

Today, Ebisawa, 45, is a lawyer specializing in handling legal issues in the garment industry.

She has taken a long, winding path to her profession.

Although Ebisawa wanted to attend a fashion-related vocational school after high school, her parents told her that “you should study at university first.”

When she was a student at Keio University Law School, Ebisawa began working part-time in a boutique. This caused her “to lag behind others in finding a place to work after graduation, the exam to become a civil servant was still the only choice for me at the time.”

Ebisawa was interested in local self-government because her family moved across Japan due to job transfers from her father. For this reason, she joined the Ministry of the Interior, now abolished, in 1998.

After completing a training program, she was temporarily assigned to the Gifu Prefecture government office.

Although Gifu Prefecture was once known as the “Garment Kingdom,” the fabric wholesale district was in severe decline. Ebisawa saw with his own eyes that “the fashion industry that I love is facing such a serious crisis”.

Despite objections from those around her, Ebisawa ended her one-and-a-half-year career as a public servant to become a fashion magazine editor at Takarajimasha Inc.

Avocado Miyuki Ebisawa (Photo by Hikaru Uchida)

Apparel-themed publications were selling well at this time, so she fully engaged in her new job.

“Every day was like the day before school holidays,” recalls Ebisawa. “Working there was really fascinating and rewarding. “

Meanwhile, Ebisawa has seen people subjected to power and sexual harassment on several occasions in photo ops and other locations.

“Photographers and stylists have made insulting comments and used violence against their assistants,” Ebisawa said. “I regret that I pretended not to see anything and not to speak at that time.”

Becoming familiar with the local dress style in Britain, Ebisawa began working as a freelance fashion editor upon her return to Japan. But his accumulated career experiences made him aware of many other challenges in the industry.

Verbal agreements are generally considered to be a well-established practice in the company. Additionally, while compensation is paid to photographers and models for secondary use of the images, stylists and hairdressers are often not eligible for future payments.

In 2012, Ebisawa believed that “the fashion industry has not yet been optimized from a legal point of view” and enrolled in law school to become a lawyer. She got the sunflower lapel pin for lawyers in 2017.

LEGAL TEAM FOR FASHION MATTERS

Mimura, Komatsu & Yamagata law firm, based in the Chiyoda district of Tokyo, to which Ebisawa currently belongs, set up a specialist team for legal issues related to the fashion industry in January this year.

Working in such a team was one of the goals Ebisawa set for herself when she first began to think about becoming a lawyer.

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Avocado Miyuki Ebisawa (Photo by Hikaru Uchida)

The newly established Fashion Law Unit is made up of officials such as a seasoned lawyer with knowledge of the clothing industry and a former judge of the High Court of Intellectual Property.

The team has around fifty companies as regular customers. Individual cases involving a total of 100 companies have been handled by the unit so far.

The Fashion Law Unit should move towards introducing an improved legal mechanism related to rights and other issues in the industry as well.

“We will also do our part as a team in lobbying to reach public agencies,” Ebisawa said.

Not only the issues of harassment and rights, but also the problems arising from the rapid evolution of online services make it more and more urgent for the clothing community to conduct its activities according to the law.

As inappropriate comments on social media lead in some cases to boycott of company products, Ebisawa “oversees wording to be posted on social media sites.”

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A Dolce & Gabbana promotional video sparked controversy in 2018 for a model “insulting traditional Chinese chopstick culture” with her clumsy use of the utensil to eat pizza. (From the official Dolce & Gabbana account on the Weibo service like Twitter in China)

“I work not only as a legal expert, but also as a consultant,” she said.

Another notable problem in the fashion industry is cultural appropriation these days, as a succession of cases have been reported on the subject.

Putting black hairstyle-like wigs on white mannequins in a show has been criticized. A French brand has been criticized for improperly tracing the traditional clothing of the indigenous peoples of Mexico.

“Cultural appropriation is an extremely difficult problem,” Ebisawa said. “It would be better for the fashion industry to set voluntary rules on, for example, how to respect different cultures and how to express esteem. “

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Comme des Garçons has been criticized on the internet and elsewhere for cultural appropriation after its white models donned a wig resembling the cornrow hairstyle worn by some blacks during a Paris Fashion Week show for men in January 2020. The brand explained that she had no intention of harming or offending anyone. (Provided by Hirokazu Ohara)


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