Photo provided by Duane Morris
Since moving to Duane Morris in 2009 as a partner specializing in private equity and venture capital, Nanette Heide has combined two of her greatest passions: building companies and working with fashion entrepreneurs. Duane Morris is just one of a handful of law firms that has built a niche practice within its private equity and venture capital practice group catering to fashion and apparel startups.
As founding sponsor of FashInvest, an annual conference in New York that draws more than 300 attendees from the fashion and investing community, Duane Morris has become a well-known brand among fashion entrepreneurs and investors.
“We felt that the fashion industry had a very disjointed approach in how designers, technology folks, and investors come together. It is a very haphazard system,” Heide explains. “So the conference was organized to help build a community where folks in the fashion industry looking for people to help their companies grow their businesses can come and meet with them. Each year we hold this event and we pre-screen companies that want to do a 5-minute presentation.”
Lawdragon: Can you briefly describe your practice?
Nanette Heide: My practice primarily involves working with a company through all stages of a company’s life, from the formation of a company to a liquidity event. I do capital raising, strategic growth transaction work, fund work, private equity funding, make acquisitions and divestitures of the company. I’ve also represented all sides on the table. Having previously been a GC and CFO for two technology-based companies, I am really able to give clients a 360-degree view of the entire transaction from a company’s perspective. It’s so great to be on the ground floor and work with those folks and the idea people to really help them shape, formulate exactly what their company should look like in order for them to get from the idea in their head to getting a financing done or potentially becoming a public company, to doing a merger or what have you.
LD: How did you end up representing companies in the fashion industry?
NH: I’ve always been interested in fashion. It is something that is ingrained in me and I have always loved because my mother was an interior designer. She is also very talented with the sewing machine. Through her I really gained a true appreciation of the genius and the difficulties involved in fashion design. Then I started practicing in the VC arena and it just happened that many of my clients are either fashion-focused or are investing in fashion related companies. My client base includes fashion designers and companies that have developed software for fashion companies.
LD: Duane Morris is probably one of a handful of law firms that actually has a fully dedicated sub-practice focusing on the fashion industry. What was the reason behind the formation of this group?
NH: We have a strong client base in the fashion industry. We represent American Outfitters, luxury designer Reem Acra, some online startups, and other luxury-brand designers. So the firm thought it made a lot sense to have that expertise under one group and to pool resources to get everyone involved in the firm. It enabled us as a firm to present clients a full package of resources available to serve their needs. That’s very beneficial from a client's perspective.
Also, one of the things that the firm really strives to do is to cultivate that entrepreneurial side of our corporate practice and the fashion industry has a highly entrepreneurial environment. We want to be able to assist all our clients involved in the entrepreneurial process. Duane Morris has a really strong private equity and venture fund practice, for example, and our clients are always looking for opportunities to invest, and we can match them with our clients who are looking for funding.
We have actually developed an entrepreneur-type program, where we hold videoconferencing for the attorneys to present possible investing opportunities so that fellow attorneys can learn about them and funnel that information to their own clients.
LD: Can you talk a little bit about the matters you’re currently working on?
NH: Currently, I’m working with an online startup what2wearwhere.com. It’s basically an online destination for women to find out the appropriate clothes to wear for certain occasions. You go on the site and it gives you great ideas of what to wear to events. And you can click through and order those pieces. The company is actually a combination of all the online things that are happening right now. We are not doing things the old-fashion way anymore. It has become too cumbersome to go to a store and shop, and it is so much easier to pop online and order the things you need. I think it is a very interesting play in combining fashion with the online social media aspects of our current world.
I’m also working with clients specializing in really high-end clothing. And there’s a huge difference between these clients and the typical retail clients. Everything is really made-to-order type products so you don’t have these huge amounts of inventories and quite divergent product concepts.
I also have traditional clothing designer clients who are trying to get their business plans going and find investors.
LD: What is the most pressing legal issue or development in your clients’ minds right now?
NH: It’s the current environment in which everyone is operating. Everything now has a significant online aspect to it. How are we going to change who we are and make sure what we are going to create is something that works in this new online environment? For others, it would be 'how do we get eyeballs to become relevant' or 'whose blog do we need to be mentioned in in order to get noticed'. You see all kinds of fashion-oriented online sites. There are sites now which basically allow you to keep your wish list and anyone who knows you can access that list so they can buy you a gift. It is really about staying current and relevant and getting noticed within the way in which people interact now and make purchases. That’s the key issue on which all my clients are focused.
We also pay a lot of attention to copyright issues, changes in privacy laws, and new legislation coming regarding design. All of those are legal business issues on how you make it in today’s social media market. It is still a little bit of the wild west out there. You have to be incredibly careful. One bad posting can crush you and there’s no control over it. If you have one bad posting that goes viral, it’s tough to undo that. It’s unlike in the old days when you issued a press release and you got noticed. Your audience is everywhere now.
LD: What is the most challenging part of your job?
NH: Helping clients that are just starting to get the capital they need. Even with clients that have capital, this industry is quirky. You may end up with 600 pieces of something that don’t sell and it messes up your business plan. You may have a fabulous idea but you need someone who is going to believe in your dream. It is tough to get out there and find the capital to make that dream come true.
LD: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
NH: Watching a client become successful and really launch their vision, making their dreams come true.
LD: Any advice to young attorneys thinking of embarking in this field?
NH: You have to get out there and participate in the places where the clients are and the industry lives. This is not a type of practice that will walk through your door like institutional clients. If you want to be involved in an industry where things are new and happening, you gotta get out there.
LD: What do you do for fun?
NH: I have an 8-year old son who is absolutely my number one priority. He’s an avid skateboarder so I spend a lot of hours driving him around and watching him skateboard.