Lawyer of the Week – Uduak Oduok

Our Lawyer of the Week is Uduak Oduok. A former fashion model, Ms. Uduak is a Partner and Co-Founder at Ebitu Law Group, P.C. whose practice areas include contract drafting and negotiations, business litigation, intellectual property, fashion, and entertainment law.

Follow our exciting interview with her below.

 

From a Fashion Model to a Fashion and Entertainment lawyer; that indeed is no easy transition. Kindly share with us why you took this bold step in your career and how you were able to achieve this feat.

It was an easy transition for me. I’ve always known I wanted to be a lawyer, and that I would also practice fashion law. I knew I would be a lawyer since I was about six years old and I set out to do just that. I created debate teams in grade school with my friends, competed on debate teams in college and law school, and basically mapped out for myself all the necessary steps I knew I needed to take to become a lawyer.

I was so eager to become a lawyer that when I got into my first year of college I went to speak with one of my school’s counselor about getting into law school. He thought it was my final year in college. He asked several questions and I ticked all the boxes until he confirmed I was graduating. I said “no, I am a Freshman.” (Laughs) He was stunned, laughed but also told me to come back in three years. (Laughs) For the arts and entertainment side of things, I was always involved in the industry while pursuing my legal dreams. I worked in the fashion and health/fitness industry to put myself through school, and volunteered a lot of my time in the music/film industries mainly because I enjoyed the arts and loved supporting creators. Finally, law and fashion are in my blood.

The law comes from my paternal side of the family. The fashion, music and the arts come from my maternal side.

Why fashion law?

It is in my blood.

Did you originally set out to have your own law firm (EBITU LAW GROUP, P. C.)? At what point?

I am also from a family of entrepreneurs and always knew I would venture on my own. I didn’t expect it to be as quickly as I ultimately did. However, I’ve always been an anomaly. So, I knew to fully express the vision I had for my career in law, it meant that I would take the road less traveled. Fashion law, for example, is still a relatively new and growing field in the U.S.

With so many years of practice, what are the major challenges you’ve faced in your career?

This is a very good question. Even though I have a legal heritage, I did not have the luxury of having someone show me the ropes. So mentorship was the major challenge for me. I literally had to just jump in and learn how to swim myself. Those were very challenging times for me. In hindsight, however, that was and is the best way to learn. It brings a certain level of fearlessness because you’ve had to figure out a lot on your own. I had some great mentors but they were not readily available or were in different states, and this was just before the You Tube and Facebook eras.

From your days at San Jose State University, you were actively involved in a couple of projects and programs. How did that shape you?

Interesting question. Let me answer it this way. While I tend to have a very pan-African and multi-cultural worldview, I am unequivocally very passionate about my African identity, and more specifically I am a very proud Nigerian-American.

Even before it was cool to say, I am African, albeit an American born African, I’ve always maintained, fiercely, my passion for my heritage and people. So, everything I have done has never lost sight of that identity because it is what has shaped me and continues to, inspire and keep me going. My passion for my identity has driven me to create and be unafraid of trailblazing my own lanes, despite how very difficult and painfully slow it has been, many times, to see a return on my investments. I just know that in due time, the vision that has been revealed to me for decades now, will come to fruition if I stay in my lane and keep at seeing my vision manifest in reality.

All of this is to say that my African identity has shaped everything I do and the projects I chose to be involved in during college. In college, that identity led me to co-establish the African Student Union, among many projects.

You are a publisher at Africa Music Law™, Fashionentlaw™ and Ladybrille®. How do you manage all that?

I don’t know. I am compelled to do it. I have no choice. From when I wake up to when I go to bed at night, Nigeria’s children remain on my mind. How do I make their lives easier? How do I create an environment where they can be as safe as possible? One where they have equal access to education, healthcare, and have a fair chance at job opportunities etc.? I also have the same strong feelings about Nigeria’s women. Realizing that the tool I have been blessed with to be their voices is law and media, I literally have no choice but to get to work, daily, to get me one step closer towards this vision that is a blessing but sometimes feels like a curse because it leaves me with no real option to rest. I am compelled to do this. So I try not to think about how I manage it all and just get it done.

Leaving the law and fashion, what other areas interest you?

Health, fitness, sports, the arts in general, publishing/media, travels, and meeting new people.

Ladybrille® was a contributing factor to your nomination for the 2010 Africa Fashion International Africa Fashion Awards. Kindly share with us your drive for creating that platform.

To de-stigmatize the image of Africans in the west by using the same tool westerners used to paint Africa as a dark continent and its citizens as backwards i.e. clothes, or the lack thereof. Those National Geographic documentaries painted a very racist global view of Africans using one very powerful tool, fashion. Africans were never seen clothed, for the most part. My idea was to replace the imagery of naked Africans and their kids with flat butts and rotunda bellies in the wild with fashionable Africans fully clothed in beautiful contemporary African designs. The latter is an Africa I grew up in and knew. It was an attempt to take back the narrative and I am happy Ladybrille was a pioneer on that front and that we made an impact in our own way.

Marketing, Branding and Infringement. Of these three subjects, which is the most difficult problem faced by most African fashion houses and enterprises; in your opinion of course?

I think the African fashion industry has come a long way. When I began documenting our fashion history, there was only one You Tube video from South Africa on contemporary African fashion. I remember contacting African fashion photographers, the few I could find, from Kelechi Amadi Obi in Nigeria to others in Ghana, South Africa etc. and sharing my vision for what I wanted to do in America and asking for their help with the kind of imagery I was looking for to share on my platforms so we could all change the African narrative. They were so sweet and supportive.

Today, the story is different. The African fashion ecosystem has come a long way. We’ve gotten better with marketing, and branding. However, I think for where we are at this point, the next step is the fashion law aspect. We do need to know how to truly build scalable fashion businesses. In the west, we are dealing with the future of fashion event productions such as New York Fashion Week. Are these productions sustainable or is it time for new business models? We are also dealing with the seeming tension between changing consumer tastes and technological innovation. The fashion industry is often so slow to respond to these changes because of its elitist attitude. In fashion, you are either in or out. However, technology is pushing aside the gatekeepers and consumers are the ones now determining who gets in and who is out. For the African fashion industry, it’s an opportunity to truly advance our ecosystem and finally play on the same level field, if we are willing to get past confining ourselves to outdated systems in the western market that is currently being disrupted. Why, for example, do we have fashion seasons in our fashion event productions that are simply inapplicable in an African climate? Why do we focus on producing large fashion events on the continent and fly in international superstars and designers that seem to serve no real purpose than just a glamorous show to be seen? How are we ensuring the growth of our emerging designers? What are the trade laws affecting our ability to trade with each other (from one African country to another?)? So, for fashion, it’s more of a legal challenge at this point but not so much infringement per se. We are still on the question we asked ourselves almost a decade ago. How do we develop international scalable businesses that take into account trade practices, IP (trademarks), licensing, import and export issues, among others.

Do you see entertainment law as different from fashion law or one birthing the other?

Yes. They are different but are parallel in terms of the legal issues that arise in both practice areas. Fashion law focuses on the legal issues the fashion industry and its professionals face across the fashion value chain i.e. from the producers of raw materials needed for fabric creation all the way to relationships with the fashion consumer, whether via ecommerce or brick and mortar. Entertainment law, on the hand, focuses on legal issues pertaining to the entertainment industry and its professionals. It includes media, music, film, publishing, and much more. Both fields do cross over. For example, music licensing in fashion films and as part of fashion productions (runway shows) etc., and on the flip side, merchandising in the music industry, an area that is largely unexplored in Africa’s music industry.

A couple of law students are now showing interest in delving into the practise area of Entertainment law, including fashion. What prospects does this field hold and what counsel do you have for such enthusiastic students?

Huge prospects. Nigeria and Africa haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.

To the enthusiastic student reading this, we need you more than you realize. We need your passion, your commitment, drive and focus to use your love or interest in fashion and law, or entertainment law to engineer social change in Nigeria and African society.

We need you to be part of lobbying our schools, governments, and industry stakeholders to understand the value of truly investing in our creative industries to help build a sustainable eco-system that preserves our heritage, creates wealth and job opportunities for our youths. You have to work hard, and smart. It is not enough to be excited about the seeming sexy aspect of the business. There is much work to be done. Right now, there is a shift occurring in the entertainment industry. It’s one we saw in fashion.

That shift sees a keen interest by the west in the monetization of the intellectual property assets of many of our entertainment creators. The problem is our creators lack the infrastructure to benefit from the exploitation of their own intellectual assets. As a result, our creators are left fighting for crumbs for their own content while everyone else benefits at their expense. Sadly, those who should be fighting for them are busy fighting one another.

Fashion and entertainment lawyers are a necessity to help with curbing/reducing this problem, and for a sustainable future and a strong Nigeria/Africa. You are needed.

Any final words?

Thank you for the opportunity.