Hayley Paige Gutman’s Legal Drama With Wedding Dress Company JLM Couture Killed Her Fashion Dream Job

I remember being elated when I signed my first lead designer contract. It was 2011 and I was desperate to get my work out there and give building a brand my all. I was so eager, in fact, that I didn’t even hire a lawyer when bridal house JLM Couture approached me with the opportunity I’d been dreaming of my whole life: to direct my own line of wedding dresses. I read the paperwork and had reservations, but…I was getting a namesake line and I felt I shouldn’t be difficult or push back. I didn’t want there to be any chance of losing my shot. Now, of course, I understand why more experienced people don’t take a company at their word.

Over the next eight years, I did live that dream: Hayley Paige was a hit—and the numbers showed it. It was a trip to see brides so happy in my designs, and I poured everything I had into the brand, in addition to becoming a regular on Say Yes to the Dress and launching and running a personal Instagram account (@MissHayleyPaige), which I grew to more than 1 million followers. With each milestone and success, the brand and I became more intertwined, I felt more and more confident in my abilities, and I had more hope that someday I could figure out a new contract that would better reflect my contributions and value.

I’m not allowed to publicly express any hopes of doing what I love.

I started negotiating for that new contract in the beginning of 2019, and as soon as I decided to stand up for what I deserved (this time with lawyers), the company I’d given everything to turned on me. I felt beaten up, undervalued, manipulated…even harassed and bullied. I knew this was a typical corporate tactic—intimidation of the less powerful party to get financially favorable terms—but then the opposing legal team stopped responding to me completely. Eventually, while I was still working for the company, they sued me. All this from the leadership team who assured me when I started that we’d have plenty of chances to update that first contract later.

In 2020, a federal judge sided with JLM in enforcing its interpretation of the exploitive contract, which effectively states that I’m not able to use my own name, post without permission on the social accounts I created, or design bridal attire—for years —after I leave the company. The name part feels so ridiculous that I put it in the category of absurd: I can’t use my name in any capacity of business or commerce, like setting up an LLC or selling my own designs online—I can’t even say my name in public or go by my initials without fear of repercussions.

And it’s become even more petty. My fiancé got sued for identifying me on Instagram and on our podcast (even though he never signed a contract with JLM), and I was found to be in contempt of court for doodling on the IG Stories of my new account (@AllThat GlittersOnTheGram) —doodles that weren’t even bridal designs. Per the judge, I’m not allowed to publicly express any hopes of doing what I love.

It’s not over. We did appeal. And we’re in the process of waiting and praying for something to change. But this situation has made one thing clear: I never should have signed a contract that didn’t value me. I learned the hard way that young creators desperate for a break are an easy mark for successful corporations that want to become even more so. Never let someone else define your worth. And always hire a lawyer.

Update as of February 14, 2022: The Southern District of New York Court ruled that Hayley could gain access to the logins for the @MissHayleyPaige TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest accounts working jointly with JLM, provided she post within the guidelines of her original contract and the previous court ruling (aka she must post approved content from JLM and refrain from personal updates or third-party ads).

Editor’s Note

JLM has denied they harassed or bullied Hayley and has maintained that the court’s decisions were “based on the rights and provisions that [Hayley] voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently agreed to, which [she] has flagrantly violated.” JLM also maintains that Hayley told them at the time that she had a lawyer.

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