top of page

Distribution Agreements In The Fashion Industry and Their Contractual Nuances

Updated: Mar 25, 2023


The fashion industry is known for its fast pace and ever-changing trends, but behind the runway shows and glossy advertisements is a complex web of contractual agreements. The distribution agreement, which governs the relationship between designers and the entities that sell their products to consumers, is one of the most important types of contracts in the fashion industry. Distribution agreements can take many forms, ranging from traditional wholesale agreements with department stores to more recent direct-to-consumer agreements with online retailers. Regardless of the format, these agreements are essential to the success of the fashion industry because they control how goods are offered, promoted, and delivered to customers. The specifics of distribution agreements, however, can be intricate and nuanced in the fashion industry, necessitating careful negotiation and attention to detail. The legal nuances of distribution contracts in the fashion industry will be examined in this essay, along with the crucial clauses and terms that retailers and designers should take into account. By examining real-world examples and case studies, this paper will offer insights into three key types of distribution agreements in the fashion industry and the legal and practical considerations that should be taken into account when negotiating them.

Consignment Agreements

Consignment is a special arrangement that gives retailers the right to display and sell products for a predetermined amount of time while retaining ownership over the products from brands. Such agreements should expressly state, among other things, the duration of the agreement, the percentage of profits that each party receives from sales, who bears responsibility for lost or damaged goods, and the results of non-sale. Recent court cases have brought to light the necessity for brands to pay close attention to how their intellectual property rights (IPRs) are being used in consignment agreements, especially in the luxury e-commerce resale markets. For instance, in the case of Chanel v. TheRealReal, Chanel claimed that TheRealReal, an online store that sells luxury items that have been consigned from their owners, was selling knockoffs of its handbags. The Court held that because TheRealReal approves the products before they are listed, has control over pricing and marketing, and actually owns the goods, it may be liable for direct trademark infringement. This is why it refused to dismiss the complaint.

License Agreements & Selective Distribution

The specific considerations for licensing in the context of sales and retail should be understood by fashion companies. By prohibiting licensees from selling through specific distribution channels, such as discount stores or the Internet, brands can choose to maintain their exclusivity and reputation. Litigation may result from ambiguous clauses that fail to clearly define the permitted retailers or categories of retailers, pre-approvals for retailers, and/or geographic restrictions on where a distributor may sell and ship. For instance, after learning that its jeans were being sold at discount retailer Costco, Calvin Klein filed a lawsuit to end a licensing agreement with Warnaco, alleging breach of contract, trademark infringement, and dilution. Warnaco filed a counterclaim alleging contract breach, and the high-profile case wasn't resolved until the day before the trial. Other distribution clauses to take into account include those that define specific sales territories (and prevent the sale of goods on the grey market); the locations of retail stores; standards for store design and staffing; administration of excess inventory; product recall rights; and requirements and approvals for advertising and marketing.

Co-Branding and Co-Marketing

As fashion collaborations become more prevalent, governing agreements are required. The relevant IPRs to be used, as well as the parties' respective rights to use each other's IPRs, should be specifically identified in brands. To avoid confusion, the permitted uses by each brand should be made clear for blended marks (marks that combine elements of both brands), including where and how they may appear, such as on websites, social media platforms, domain names, hashtags, and advertising campaigns. Additionally, brands need to specify how long use rights will last and whether they can keep any unused stock after the collaboration has ended.


In conclusion, distribution agreements are a critical aspect of the fashion industry, and their nuances and complexities must be carefully considered to ensure success for both designers and retailers. This essay has examined three key types of distribution agreements in the fashion industry, including consignment agreements, license agreements, and co-branding and co-marketing agreements. The legal and practical considerations for each type of agreement have been explored, drawing on real-world examples and case studies to highlight the importance of negotiating clear and precise terms. From the need to protect intellectual property rights to defining specific sales territories, the success of distribution agreements in the fashion industry ultimately depends on the careful negotiation and execution of contracts that take into account the specific needs and goals of each party involved.


Gould, E., & Harrison, R. (2016). Fashion law: A guide for designers, fashion executives, and attorneys. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

Lee, Y. (2019). Distribution agreements and the luxury fashion industry: The Chanel and The RealReal case. Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, 37(2), 477-502.

Mokal, R., & Hviid, M. (2014). Distribution agreements in the UK fashion industry: exploring the legal implications for SMEs. Journal of Business Law, (1), 33-53.

Oliver, D., & O'Neill, J. (2015). Legal and ethical considerations of distribution agreements in the fashion industry. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, 19(4), 361-377.

Wang, H. (2018). Protecting intellectual property rights in the luxury fashion industry through distribution agreements. Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review, 38(2), 213-240.

“Fashion Law” (United States - Fashion Law - Law Over Borders - The Global Legal Post, March 1, 2023) <>

32 views0 comments


bottom of page