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Episode 1: Upcycling Legislation and Using Branded Products

Episode 1: Upcycling Legislation and Using Branded Products

Welcome to "Deep Diving into Upcycling"

Welcome to the first episode of our series "Deep Diving into Upcycling," where we explore topics related to upcycling. Today, we will discuss the legislation surrounding the use of products with other brands' logos and trademarks in upcycling. To understand what can and cannot be done, we have invited in our Instagram live lawyer Valentina Ricci. Valentina, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Meet Valentina Ricci

Valentina Ricci: Sure, I am a lawyer based in Milan, primarily providing consultancy to businesses. I have assisted major fashion houses in combating the unauthorized use of their trademarks. It is crucial for brands to protect their trademarks and reputation. I also teach at the university and run an Instagram page called "insalata di diritto." My main focus is on preventing disputes through consultancy, which is fundamental for those starting a business, especially in upcycling, where the risk of clashing with big brands is high.

Legal Issues in Upcycling Fashion

APPCYCLED: With the rise of reuse in fashion, upcycling has become common. This trend is driven by the urgent need to address the massive waste problem in the fashion industry. Every year, millions of tons of clothing end up in landfills, contributing to environmental degradation. Upcycling offers a creative solution to this issue by transforming old garments into new, valuable items. However, despite its benefits, there are legal issues related to using branded products. Valentina, can you explain what these are?

Valentina Ricci: Of course. The main issue is that upcycling involves reworking garments that may still have visible logos, creating a problem of trademark use. Even though there are legislative advances and some openness from judges, brands, rightfully, want to maintain control over their trademarks to have a clear tone of voice and image and without damaging their reputation.

Personal Use vs. Commercial Use

APPCYCLED: Let's consider some practical examples. If I buy a vintage garment from a luxury brand and modify it for personal use, are there legal issues?

Valentina Ricci: No, if it’s for personal use, there are no issues. Trademark exhaustion rights allow consumers to modify products for personal use. The problem arises when you want to resell the modified garment.

Selling Modified Vintage Clothing

APPCYCLED: So, what happens if I sell a modified vintage garment with the logo still visible?

Valentina Ricci: In 95% of cases, it's a problem. If you do it as a professional or designer, you're exploiting another company's trademark without authorization. The only exception is if you have a licensing agreement or collaboration with the brand.

Removing Brand References

Diletta Pollice: What if I remove all brand references but leave the internal label?

Valentina Ricci: It’s still an issue. Even a small reference to the brand can be problematic. It's better to completely remove all indications of the brand to avoid legal issues.

Iconic Fabric Designs

Diletta Pollice: What happens if the fabric design strongly recalls a famous brand?

Valentina Ricci: Even in this case, it can be considered trademark exploitation. If the fabric is iconic enough to be associated with the brand, it’s problematic.

Vintage Stores vs. Modified Vintage Stores

Diletta Pollice: What distinguishes a store that sells vintage from one that sells modified vintage?

Valentina Ricci: The difference lies in trademark exhaustion rights. Selling unmodified vintage products is legal because the brand's right to protect the trademark is exhausted once the product is sold. Modifying and reselling a product can be considered counterfeiting.

Upcycling with Non-Apparel Materials

Diletta Pollice: If a designer upcycles with non-apparel materials, such as billboards, are there legal issues?

Valentina Ricci: It depends on the fame of the brand and the product class in which it is registered. If the brand is very well-known, it could be problematic even in sectors other than clothing. For instance, using materials from a well-recognized brand's billboard to create bags or accessories might still infringe on trademark rights because the brand’s logo or distinctive features are used in a new context.

Additionally, even when the materials are not originally meant for apparel, if they carry strong brand identifiers, the use can still be seen as leveraging the brand's reputation without permission. Clearly communicating that these are recycled materials can help mitigate legal risks, but it does not fully eliminate them. It's also advisable to avoid using any trademarks or identifiable brand elements in a way that could suggest an official collaboration or endorsement by the brand.

Furthermore, there is a growing movement towards promoting sustainable practices in the fashion industry. Designers and brands that actively emphasize their commitment to recycling and sustainability might find more leniency and support from consumers and potentially even from the legal system. However, the safest approach remains obtaining explicit permission from the brand or anonymizing the materials to avoid any identifiable brand elements.


APPCYCLED: In summary, upcycling presents a creative and eco-friendly approach to fashion, addressing the pressing issue of waste in the industry. However, it also brings about significant legal challenges, especially when dealing with branded materials. While personal use of modified vintage items is generally permissible, commercial endeavors require careful navigation of trademark laws. To mitigate legal risks, it is crucial to remove all brand references or seek explicit permission from the original brand. Upcycling with non-apparel materials can also pose issues if the brand identifiers are prominent.

Valentina Ricci's insights highlight the importance of understanding and respecting trademark laws in the upcycling process. By doing so, designers can pursue their creative visions while maintaining ethical and legal integrity. Thank you for joining us for this first episode of "Deep Diving into Upcycling." We look forward to exploring more topics in the world of upcycling in our upcoming episodes.

Deep Diving Instagram Stream



(The live was recorded in Italian)