“I started writing about the legal need for bloggers, influencers, and Kardashians to disclose their sponsored posts two years ago or so, and that is really gaining momentum now.” – Julie Zerbo, Founder of The Fashion Law
HELPSY and The Fashion Law have lead parallel existences and we’ve admired this blog since it’s inception. TFL’s founder, Julie Zerbo, has used her independent platform to explore and expose legal failings in the fashion industry, many of which include the same environmental, and human rights abuses that we fight against at HELPSY. We both have the fortune of having a giv-no-fuks attitude about what we say, as no one is giving us big money and we have no names to protect.
While financial independence may mean we’ve probably both had some lean dinners, at least we can sleep well at night! A comrade in arms, we’ve watched the influence of Julie’s blog grow from something little known, to what it is today which is an industry go-to. We got a second to catch up with Julie and pick her brain about the highs and lows, trials and tribulations and fruits of her labor.
What was your initial impetus for starting The Fashion Law? How has it evolved?
I started TFL during my first year of law school as a supplement to my coursework for my own benefit when I could not find other sites that were regularly and accurately covering these topics. I ultimately shared my research and writing in a blog format once I had compiled quite a significant amount of posts discussing the intersection of law and business, and the workings of fashion industry hoping to fill the void that I had experienced.
The breadth of the site’s content has evolved tremendously since its inception. Nowadays we cover everything from straightforward copyright infringement lawsuits, for instance, and trends in consumption to whatever individual passion projects I have at any given time, which are currently fast fashion and the human rights abuses associated with it, and Federal Trade Commission disclosure issues. Also, my work has expanded from just being online to encompassing an array of other capacities, where it will be working with designers or speaking to students or doing other more traditionally academic writing/editing projects.
What is your biggest accomplishment to date with the site?
There is the quintessential instance that everyone seems to point to when they think of TFL and that is when I wrote about Chanel copying a bracelet of Pamela Love’s in 2012. Within 24 hours or so, Chanel issued an apology for showing the lookalike bracelets and vowed not to sell any of them at retail. So, that was a big one, I suppose. I was a first year law student at the time - with a blog that was just a few months old - and lacking in any real concept of how blogging or social media or anything like that worked, and so, the Chanel situation was an interesting one in that respect.
For me, though, being able to write (and speak) about the law in a way that is accessible and interesting and above all, accurate (which is horrifyingly difficult to find), is probably the most rewarding aspect. Not many people are doing that. Further, I am consistently content in a sense because I never have to dumb down anything, so to speak, because TFL’s audience - which ranges from CEOs of fashion brands to designers to college students -- is just very sophisticated and intelligent. Building a community like that from scratch is extremely rewarding. And to be frank, being able to write whatever I want to without any larger bias or restrictions from investors or advertisers, etc. is pretty significant, especially in the current landscape of “journalism” or whatever you want to call it. If there is any bias in my work, it is my own personal bias and that is the extent of it. Not many sites can say that, and I am very grateful for that.
What would be the coolest next biggest accomplishment you achieve through your journalism?
I suppose its pretty cool to have gotten the ball rolling in terms of awareness of FTC disclosure requirements in the fashion industry. I started writing about the legal need for bloggers, influencers, and Kardashians to disclose their sponsored posts two years ago or so, and that is really gaining momentum now. Also, having the opportunity to continually work with designers and brands in any array of capacities is very compelling.
What are some of the struggles being a female, activist business owner and what advice would you give to young women just starting out who have the activist itch?
One of the greatest struggles that I have encountered really centers on the fact that many people don’t have the same level of dedication to and willingness to learn about the things I think are absolutely critical. Fast fashion and the gross human rights abuses associated therewith is a really great example of where we see a lot of resistance from people and almost all of it is derived simply from a lack of research. That has been a difficult thing for me to come to terms with. But it helps to remember that there are likeminded people out there who are on the same page and really do want positive change.
You know, I have been very lucky in that I have able to connect with mentors or others -- whether it be in my education or in the fashion industry or whatever -- and nurture relationships, which has been extremely rewarding. Obviously there will always be people who do not want to help you succeed and that is just part of the game, but surrounding yourself with people who have more experience, more wisdom, more context than you is enormously worthwhile in my opinion.
The people I really look up to and have learned from (and continue to learn from) range from Barbara Kolsun, the former general counsel of Stuart Weitzman (a real, old school-minded lawyer) to Om Malik, who is such smart guy to Errolson Hugh, one of the founders of ACRYNM and an all around bad-ass, really. To me, having people who really believe in their individual crafts and projects--whatever they may be-- and are dedicated to that, is invaluable in so many ways. So, I suppose my advice is to find people you admire-- even if they are doing something completely different than you or better yet, especially if they are doing something completely different--and listen to them, learn from them. Nothing can be done successfully in a vacuum. You and your work is nothing without some larger sense of context.