I decided to write a statement of ethics after one of you wrote me. M, who provides contract sewing services, was burned badly after signing a non-compete. The business she worked for has ceased to exist in anything but name only but she’s still tied to the contract and it’s difficult for her to get work now. Based on that experience, she’s decided she won’t sign any more agreements. Because of this, I decided it would be useful for service providers to develop a written policy statement of integrity that explains the standards they employ with any client as a matter of course. Ideally, this would replace the NDAs entrepreneurs favor.
By way of example, below are the standards I use in the course of conducting my business. I don’t dare suggest anyone else should follow all of these standards to the letter because I’m rather strict but I’d hope others would follow most of them. As this is a work in progress, this document will evolve as my thinking becomes more solidified. Feel free to use whatever is appropriate if you think having a ethical policy statement would benefit your practice. Also comments from designers are encouraged. Would you trust this pattern maker?
My statement is comprised of four sections. I’ve embedded hyperlinks because it’s so lengthy.
My conduct with clients
Disclosure and colleague relations
Courtesies extended to former clients
My expectations of clients
Conduct with clients:
Unless otherwise contractually stipulated, all work is rendered as work for hire. Unless otherwise stated, clients retain all rights to any work rendered on their behalf.
Unless specifically requested by the customer, I do not retain copies of any patterns. A request to retain copies must be made in writing. Revocation can be made verbally or via email. A customer is free to change their mind either way at any time.
I will not manufacture any of my client’s products unless they have specifically contracted with me to do so. Any request for me to drop ship said products (or any work materials) to a third party must be made in writing.
I do not use patterns made for one customer, to generate patterns for another. Caveat: If a client fails to pay owed amounts within one calender year, all materials become my property to dispose of as I see fit.
I do not use any client’s patterns, sketches or materials for projects intended for my personal use without permission.
I have not and will not publicly disclose names of companies or persons I have worked for unless the client or employer has first publicly disclosed they worked with me.
I reserve the right to retain any client correspondence for an indefinite period of time.
I will not advertise, market nor disclose a client’s name, product, or means of production (to include pattern, proprietary sources including materials and contract production) for a period of three years after termination of the work agreement. For a period of 3-10 years, disclosure is verbal only, and considered to be privileged conversation between another client and me.
Because I am a specialist, I reserve the right to work for other clients who may share similar methods, processes, materials and market niche.
I do not copy competing products for anyone. Do not ask me.
I will only copy garments and products that have been in public domain for at least twenty years. If a vintage garment is being copied, I will urge my client to disclose their homage or source of inspiration publicly.
I will freely disclose in opening discussion whether an existing project I have represents a conflict of interest. I will proceed only if all parties are in agreement.
Upon termination of our working arrangement and final payment, I will return all documents and property of the client. Upon request, I will retain copies of materials for at least one year in the event they are needed.
I cannot be held liable if the client disseminates what I would consider to be proprietary information to other parties.
I reserve the right to use sourcing information acquired in the course of working on your project into any other future projects unless it is uniquely proprietary. Proprietary sources specifically refers to products or services that represent competitive advantage and are not likely to be known or are difficult to source by adept practitioners in the community.
I do not use any recent products or materials for demonstration purposes. In the course of writing and training, I use old client material for the purposes of instruction. I retain the right to use dated (three or more years) material for these purposes but do not disclose company name or any identifying information in association with it.
All work in progress, samples and materials are secured before I allow anyone in my shop. Visitors are supervised at all times in my workplace.
I require that any employees or subcontractors I may hire agree to uphold these courtesies. Alternatively, said parties can submit their own version of practices which the client is free to accept or decline.
Disclosure and colleagues
I reserve the right to solicit advice from my colleagues in regard to difficulties that may arise in the course of providing services.
I reserve the right to confer with my colleagues with respect to sourcing materials and additional service providers needed to produce your items.
Unless otherwise specifically stated, I will not disclose your name, business name, label or other identifying information to my colleagues without permission. I will not describe your enterprise or product in anything but the most generic terms possible.
I reserve the right to give references as is appropriate, to colleagues I have referred you to. This information may include payment history and limitations that impact the working relationship. For example, another service provider will need to know if you work a full time job and cannot be reached at a moment’s notice.
I reserve the right to decline to provide referrals or provide sourcing information unless it has been specifically agreed that I will. In the event I decide to decline to provide referrals, your invoice will be credited or monies refunded. Any financial ambiguities will favor the client.
Courtesies extended to former clients
Unless otherwise mentioned, the same courtesy extended to current clients is accorded to former customers.
If a client sells their enterprise to another party, these courtesies are transferred automatically to the new owner without further notice.
If a client dissolves their enterprise (no buyer), I reserve the right to use any unclaimed patterns or materials I may have after a period of one year. In actual practice, I wait three to five years because some entrepreneurs regroup and start anew.
My expectations of clients
If in the course of providing services I have reason to believe a client is using the intellectual property of another party, I reserve the right to withdraw services immediately regardless of whether the other party is a client or not. Materials are returned once the final bill is paid. If payment is not made within one calender year, I have the right to discard, reuse or sell project materials in accordance with my exclusive discretion.
I will only remind a client once that I will not use the patterns (grade rules etc) of one client for another. Ask me twice and I’ll never speak to you again.
If we have an ongoing relationship, I expect a client to refrain from altering or modifying patterns or materials I have provided unless it has been discussed with me first.
Any mention I’m made of my current or past clients in private conversation is privileged information and may not be disseminated in any way without my written permission. This presumes of course that current clients permit me to tell you I am working with them.
I have developed proprietary processes (trade secrets) that are my property and are clearly described in writing. A client is permitted to use them exclusively in the course of product development and production but no other rights to the use of my trade secrets are transferable. Under no circumstances is a client permitted to share this information with any other parties without my written consent.
If a client has not paid past due amounts within one calender year, all documents and materials become my property to dispose of as I see fit. I usually dispose of these items except for patterns which I may use for other clients. Some material may be used for demonstration purposes. In any event, I do not disclose client name or any other identifying criteria.
This statement of professional integrity describes how I choose to conduct my enterprise.