Julie Zerbo and the rise of fashion law
By WGSN Insider

From design copycats to the legal implications of 3D printing, Julie covers the latest issues impacting the fashion world. WGSN’s Richelle Cyrus reports.

Oct 25, 2016
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If it’s not already on your bookmarked blog list, The Fashion Law should be. Created by lawyer Julie Zerbo, the blog was initially inspired by her law studies and interest in fashion. The blog focuses on the law and business aspects of the fashion industry- two important formalities that are often overshadowed by the glitz and glamour. The site includes objective fashion news analysis, daily links and in-depth commentary on specific happenings in fashion.

WGSN sat down with Julie to discuss her unconventional yet successful approach to dispatching fashion news.

How did your interest in fashion law begin?

It was a bit out of nowhere. I went to law school and I anticipated focusing on constitutional law but in my first year of law school I felt very lost. I wasn’t particularly interested in the coursework and someone recommended fashion law to me. I started looking into it and there wasn’t a lot out there. There weren’t websites writing about it on a consistent basis so I just started my own website because I couldn’t find one that I liked. I didn’t ever set out to be a blogger it just started picking up steam and I went with it. So now the Fashion Law is a source of fashion law news and it’s accurate all the time, so I’m pretty proud of that. It’s hard to find that in the blogosphere and online particularly when it comes to fashion. People really do want to write about and read about fashion law, but it’s complex and difficult so I took on that role.

How did you build your following once you started your blog?

A lot of writing and researching. My background is in economics and international business not blogging. I edited an economics journal and that was the extent of my experience. It’s just been a very organic progression, I am not particularly calculated in terms of my social media and my posting and things like that. Maybe if I was, things would be different. I honestly approach the website and my following in a somewhat selfish way. I post and I write about things I think are interesting and I’ve managed to build a little community based on that. I don’t have an investor or big advertisers that limit what I can say and dictate what I can say and I think people appreciate that, so that’s been a big selling point to my audience and just over time a lot of it has been word of mouth. Rihanna retweeted me once so I guess that helped- it’s just random stuff like that it’s been really organic.

Are you the sole contributor to the blog?

A lot of it is me. I would say 98% of the content comes from me which is insanity because a lot of the sites that are perceived as competitors have teams of 50 or more. I do have a little bit of help in terms of writing but I really am trying to build a team because I can’t do everything. I think that I am of more value when I can really write thoughtful pieces and not just run to keep up with the news cycle. I think that media is changing in terms of newsworthiness and breaking news and that’s not something that’s super interesting for me to keep up on.

 

Who makes up the majority of your audience, lawyers or emerging designers?

It’s actually wild. The audience ranges from late high school students that are thinking about college to those in higher positions at luxury conglomerates and designer trade organisations. In the middle there are lawyers, there are business people and there are designers. It’s really a wide array of readers which I think is super cool. We don’t have the most followers of any blog on the internet but I’m personally really proud of the quality of the readers. That to me has always been important. I like how sophisticated and diverse their interests are, I never feel like I have to write about stuff I don’t want to or dumb anything down. I always say that I never feel like I’m writing fashion law for dummies, I feel like I’m just writing my content in a way that’s readable and people respond to it.

Do you have an example of one of the most notable or outrageous cases in regards to bigger brands ripping off or taking ideas from smaller designers?

That’s how the website really got its start. It was calling out copycats and doing a lot of side-by-side photos but I guess the quintessential example- the first big one that I ever wrote was in 2011 Chanel copied a bracelet of Pamela Love’s. I just wrote about it and put a side-by-side picture of the bracelets and discussed how there aren’t a lot of protections for fashion designs and the difference between stealing and taking inspiration. I thought it was important because Pamela Love is an emerging designer and there’s just such a different balance of power between the two brands. Chanel ended up saying they weren’t going to make the bracelet, they issued an apology and everything kind of took off from there but that was the first big one.

Would you ever consider using your law degree to represent smaller brands?

I do think about it a lot and I consult in that way but my passions are just a bit more expansive than that. I never wanted to be a full-time lawyer but I think that I’m capable of helping designers and students and business people simultaneously so why just do one? So the answer to your question is yes, but I want to do all these other things too.

Do you have any law related advice for young designers that are entering the fashion industry? Maybe something that might help them that they don’t know about.

Think about things upfront. Don’t wait until you have chosen a name and bought a domain and are selling in stores to think about things like ‘is someone else using this trademark?’. That’s a huge one because a lot of brands start out and they don’t give their name a lot of thought in terms of legality. Also in terms of choosing a name you have to think really hard about whether or not you want to use your personal name as your brand name because if one day down the road you sell your brand, in theory you’re going to be selling your name as well. Kate Spade for instance- she cannot use her name ‘Kate Spade’ in a commercial way. The company that bought Kate Spade now owns her name and that’s something designers don’t think about up front and get very upset about it down the road. The same with picking a name that someone already has. It’s a simple search that anyone can do and while you might be able to use this name that someone already has, when you start making a lot of revenue they’ll find you and they’ll want you to license that name from them. These are just things designers should think about upfront to save them time and money because legal services are not cheap.

Where do you see the future of your website?

I think right now is an interesting time to ask this question because we’re in growth mode 100%. Up until now I’ve been doing a bunch of different things at once. The blog was never my full-time job I was either a full-time law student or working full-time and doing it. Now it really is my full focus and I’m looking to turn the blog into a larger brand, so we’re growing.

 

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