■ Kindly give us a brief introduction about yourself and a brief history of your practice as an entertainment and fashion lawyer.
Liz- I am an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya and Managing Partner of a niche boutique legal services firm; Kikao Law. The firm specializes in Intellectual Property Law, Entertainment and Sports Law, Media Law and Fashion Law and of course Commercial Law. We pride ourselves in being advocates for the creative industry.
Growing up I wanted to be a musician and dancer but owing to the status of the “industry” in the late 80s and 90s, my mother would hear none of it. She said I would die broke. For a minute I fantasized about moving to Hollywood.
In my varsity days I had the best interaction with the entertainment industry. I started off as an editorial assistant for a university magazine, which opened my world to a lot of networking with the who’s who in the Kenyan entertainment scene. This also pushed my short modeling stint to an all-time high. At 5’2 , I was crowned a varsity pageant queen and after that graced a few catwalk shows as the most petite model to walk Kenyan runways and also a few advertising campaigns.
This period exposed me to all the nooks and crannies in the Kenyan industry. . And the greatest weakness the industry ailed from: Legal Education and Assistance. I had one or two legal cases that needed curing at the time but I could find no lawyer willing to help who understood what I was on about.
So, I turned it into a learning experience and my love for intellectual property and entertainment law began. I also soon started a blog; lizlenjo.com.
■ What inspired you to go into the practice of fashion law? what other aspects of law do you have interest in?
Liz- My legal career is entirely centered around the creative economy. It is what I am passionate about and remain to be until something changes…
It is always important to understand one’s audience and market. For the longest time I wanted to talk about fashion law, but Kenya was not ready and neither was Africa (in the mid 2000s). However, when the industry became more and more vibrant I started to have conversations about it alongside my business partner Sarah Ochwada.
We have failed as a continent to realize the gems we have in our various countries and we unfortunately have allowed ourselves to be “brainwashed” … So for the longest time, we have just been small time players in the fashion industry yet we have the potential to be giants.
There is dire need for legal education and sensitization in the fashion industry to propel us to greater heights with probabilities of higher success.
■What challenges have you encountered?
Liz- The fashion industry and creative industries generally have managed to thrive for so many years while flourishing in legal ignorance. As such, it has been hard trying to make them see why the law is relevant to them and why they need to have business structures to grow their craft.
Trying to get industry stakeholders especially at the SME and individual level to understand the need and advantages of protective lawyering is quite the task. Most of them view that a lawyer is a necessary when they find themselves in legal drama, by them most of the time, it’s too late for any saving grace.
As Bill Gate’s famous quote goes, “Intellectual Property has the shelf life of a banana.” If you delay in protecting your intellectual property assets you hardly stand a chance to adequately compete for profit.
■What do you feel is the biggest problem associated with the fashion industry in your country/Africa? Kindly offer solutions
Liz- Aside from legal ignorance and lack of use of intellectual property laws as a continent, we are also not trading with each other. Which is largely a fault in policy making and visionary leadership.
The costs of purchasing raw materials from Ghana or Nigeria to Kenya are so punitive that we are all rushing to China. Yet, we can grow the African economies, enhance our intra-African trade opportunities as well as benefit from cross-cultural interaction like we used to during barter trade era. It is what made the African cultures so rich.
We need to start trading with each other, we need affordable transporting services, we need to have more flexible immigration practices and laws and affordable airfare around to travel across African states.
■What do you feel needs to be put in place for a better fashion industry than what we have now?
Liz– We need to embrace the importance of the law for the fashion industry, realize our weaknesses and find solutions. We also need to embrace the business approach to enable the fashion industries to thrive.
We also need to build strong associations so that the industry speaks with one voice. These associations need to be properly constituted with skilled personnel who have a passion for the industry. They should include lawyers, economists, accountants, marketers etc. Only then shall these associations yield fruit.
The self-interest route of navigating the industry needs to die a natural death; not only in fashion but in the entertainment industry as a whole.
■ Where do you see the fashion industry in five years from 2018?
Liz– If we do it well, I see African designers taking over the industry worldwide. I see more collaborations in the international space and more and more opportunities for all fashion stakeholders.
■ How do you think the textile industry can be fully revived in Africa?
Liz- We first need to examine the problems and faults that led to their downfall in the first place. We also need to acknowledge the need for research and development for a more vibrant and competitive textile industry. We have the potential to innovate and change the game. Our continent is rich in resources and we need to start exploring these opportunities.
My hope is that the private sector too also invests in the fashion industry, in kind or monetary wise. We have solely been relying on our governments, which has worked to our detriment. I do hope that Governments all over Africa are crafting their game plans too and not sitting pretty.
■On a light note, What are your hobbies?
Liz- My hobbies seem to be evolving with age. The two constant hobbies that remain with me since my childhood are dancing and taking good pictures.
I also enjoy my family time, so no work on weekends unless it’s absolutely necessary. I love to travel and experience new cultures and make new friends. Friendship is a precious commodity. I also enjoy cooking and playing host. I can’t have enough of parties too, especially the dressing up kind. I love to dress up!
■how can technology improve the Africa fashion industry?
Liz- It could help reduce production time for fashion garments and accessories. Case in point, 3-D printing. We are always pressed for time in the world of fashion, aren’t we?
It will also accord us more opportunities to experiment and try new techniques to better the fashion industry.
These are just but a few examples of how tech can improve the African fashion industry.
■Do you think our fashion industry is ready for international trade(export)? Are you ready for international trade?
Liz- We are yet to get there. The one quality our industry and stakeholders need to master is the art of consistency. We need to improve on how we finish our products. The international market is out for clean finishes. Nobody wants running hems, stitches or fabric. It is easy to tell the shelf-life of a fashion by-product by examining their finishing.
We also need to improve our branding game in our various countries. I partly attribute this failure to lack of knowledge on Trademark law and practice in our respective countries and in the international space as well.
■Kindly advise individuals in the fashion industry briefly about the importance of law in fashion.
Liz- If you do not embrace the role law has to play in your business, especially around your creativity, then you have nothing. Learn from the experiences of individuals like Sarah Diof of Senegal and her Baguette Bag.
You need to put in place structures that secure your creations (IP laws), general business law practices and measures to ensure longevity and employment laws among others. In a nutshell, you need a team of experts to secure your business, become profitable and compete globally if you so wish!
Thank you so much Liz! Interacting with you has been a great pleasure!
Credit to Couture Magazine East Africa and photographer Khalifa Louie