Taking Australian Fashion to the Global Catwalk: Using a Certification Mark

Taking Australian Fashion to the Global Catwalk: Using a Certification Mark

, By

We look at how the Australian Fashion Council aims to promote the country in the style stakes

As part of Melbourne Fashion Week, the Australian Fashion Council (AFC) announced on 12th October 2022 that it was launching the Australian Fashion Campaign. The Australian Fashion Council is a not-for-profit membership organisation whose vision is that: “the Australian Fashion™ will identify Australian Fashion brands on the global stage, selling our unique vision, original design and progressive values to the world. Instantly recognisable, it will drive demand by helping customers discover, explore and buy Australian fashion. […] United, we can show the world how prioritising people and planet together with profit can lead to a legacy of thriving prosperity.”

AFC filed nationally in Australia back in April 2022 for a composite logo and it’s (at the time of writing) part way through its opposition window. They’ve further acted on their vision to take this globally by taking advantage of the Paris Convention, placing an application at WIPO that claims priority from the first filing, designating China, the United Kingdom, India, Republic of Korea and the United States of America.

It’s not the first global certification mark to come out of Australia, either. The familiar Woolmark device, owned by The Woolmark Company, assures consumers that the woolen products they are buying are “made of natural, renewable and biodegradable wool”, having met their regulations, as well as helping consumers to choose wool care products and appliances.

The features and rules of certification marks

So what is a certification trade mark? Whereas an ordinary trade mark helps consumers to identify the origin of goods and services bearing the mark (and by origin, we mean the business providing them) a certification mark is used to identify goods and services that meet the regulations of the owners of the certification marks. Here are a few well-known examples:

As you can see, certification marks can cover all sorts of goods and services.

Owners of certification marks do not themselves use the mark for the goods and services that they certify, in fact, if they do, they run the risk of their ordinary marks being invalidated. This was the case for the British Standards Institution (BSI) who applied for their British Kitemark device as an ordinary trade mark in the UK, which was then invalidated for all but for standards development, certification and related services. This is unusual in terms of trade marks, where you usually expect it to be a “use it or lose it” situation, not a “use it and lose it” one!

Adding to this further, a certification mark must still function as a trade mark on its own. It’s not a given that a well-known regulatory body will automatically be granted their name, for example, as a certification mark. As an example, the Legal Aid Board’s application to register LEGAL AID to cover “legal services; conciliation services” failed because it was held that LEGAL AID was “devoid of any distinctive character.

As part of the application process, prospective certification mark holders file the regulations which govern what criteria the covered goods and services must meet in order to bear the proposed certification mark. In the UK, local law states that the “regulations must indicate who is authorised to use the mark, the characteristics to be certified by the mark, how the certifying body is to test those characteristics and to supervise the use of the mark, the fees (if any) to be paid in connection with the operation of the mark and the procedures for resolving disputes”. As an example, the AFC’s regulations as to what requirements an approved user must meet (at least for the Australian trade mark, where it is open to the public) are as follows:
  • “The goods being Australian made
  • Be Australian owned
  • Have Australian majority employees
  • Be Australian tax domiciled
  • Have Australian authentic design
  • Reflect and celebrate the Australian Fashion CTM brand attributes and values
  • Have made environmental commitments
  • Have made social commitments”

It is interesting and laudable that the AFC has made sustainability a key element of certification criteria. The current backlash against fast fashion could see consumers choosing certified products on the basis that they are more environmentally and socially responsible.

However, the fashion industry is also often accused of greenwashing – making claims that are either unsubstantiated or not genuinely beneficial in eco- and social terms. Consequently, the AFC may need to offer more detail about the governance around and verification of the claims made by mark holders. As part of the integrity of the certification, any mark holder that, in the future, faces criticism on environmental or social grounds must risk losing the right to bear the mark, or the integrity of the mark itself could be called into question and its reputation lost.

Conclusion – a strong move for Australian style

This move by the AFC could effectively protect Australian fashion brands from counterfeit. Brands that have been authorized to use the AFC’s certification mark will be able to further distinguish their products from copies or counterfeits. It’s likely we will see other fashion bodies across the world applying to register their own version to protect their country’s fashion brands. With international trade in uncertain waters and the prospect of global recession looming, any move that makes products more desirable and offers assurances about quality will be welcomed.

It allows the members to bolster their own ordinary trade mark to be associated with a higher standard, either in terms of quality or the ethics of the company. As previously mentioned, ethics in particular is a hot topic in the fashion industry, which considerable debate about the authenticity of claims, green washing, and workforce pay and conditions.

This move in fashion could set a trend for the governing or membership bodies of other high value sectors that are seeking to protect the exclusivity and quality of their products.

In all, it’s an exciting time for the uncommon certification mark, which finds itself at the cutting edge of fashion!