Julie Zerbo, founder and writer of The Fashion Law, likes to think of herself as an industry outsider, albeit with lots of insider info.
Since its launch in 2012, Zerbo’s fashion law and business–focused blog has become a highly respected industry resource, one known not just for its legitimate legal intel, but also for its refreshingly honest perspective on the fashion world. Unafraid to criticize fashion in the various areas where criticism has been long due — copyright infringement, sustainability and diversity, to name a few — Zerbo has taken on juggernauts like Chanel and Zara, has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and is frequently quoted by The New York Times.
Despite this success, she’s remained largely behind-the-scenes, opting out of fashion’s social sphere whenever possible and avoiding the industry’s beloved influencer status by keeping her face (and personal life) out of the picture. The format and content of her site has remained relatively unchanged over the years, a constant in a sea of fashion blogs that are continuously reinventing themselves. What’s more, she churns out that steady stream of content all by herself, with passing help from an intern or two (when she has them), while juggling her other role of legal consultant.
It’s not glamorous, and every day is “intense,” said Zerbo.
But by taking the less flashy route, Zerbo has proven that there are other, less-superficial lines of influence to wield over the industry. Recently, we spoke to her about that less-trod territory, her unique perch in the fashion world and how she stumbled into fashion law in the first place. Edited highlights are below.
What she was doing before she launched The Fashion Law in 2012:
I went to undergrad at Chapman University, where I studied economics and international business and then worked at a law firm for some time before going to law school [at Columbus School of Law in DC]. I was planning on focusing on human rights issues and constitutional law [there], because that’s what I was really interested in, but then I discovered this thing called fashion law in my first year and saw that there wasn’t a lot out there in this field. There was some writing, but it wasn’t done very consistently or in a way that I thought was very helpful. So I just started writing about it myself, for personal research.
Eventually, I had [racked up] a bunch of articles and thought, ‘Maybe I’ll just publish these on a blog in case there are some other people out there who are interested.’
How she got her first “big break:”
I was at school during the fall 2012 shows, when Chanel showed a bracelet that looked a lot like a Pamela Love bracelet. I wrote about it, and a ton of sites picked it up. The Wall Street Journal called and wanted to talk about it and turn it into a feature on me. That’s how the site went from [being] just a little law school blog to one that was on track to becoming a website.
How The Fashion Law has evolved over time:
It hasn’t changed much. It’s very research-intensive, but I’ve only ever worked on it in a part-time capacity because I’ve always either been in law school or working full-time. It’s [still] not dictated by an advertiser’s perspective, and that’s not something I ever wanted to change.
But why I started the site is very different than why I maintain the site. I started it selfishly, because I had all of this information and wanted to learn more. Now, it’s more that I’m consistently disappointed by the stuff I’m reading, [which is] the result of behind-the-scenes deals and the motives of editors and advertisers. It’s frustrating to see a lack of objectivity in the voices that dominate our field, along with the lack of accuracy with legal reporting when it comes to fashion.
What sustains her interest in the industry:
I mean, I was aiming to be an economist and a human rights attorney, and somehow, I got involved in fashion. I think looking at the depth of this industry and some of the hypocrisy, the contradictions, looking to the human rights aspects of the industry — [that stuff], to me, is so much more interesting than anything that goes down the runway.
On being an “outsider” in the fashion industry:
I don’t feel any pressure to do what everybody else is doing, in terms of being “in fashion.” I’m not “in fashion.” I never set out to be an insider in this industry, and I think that allows me a lot of freedom and allows me to have this voice that can’t be bought. I don’t care if I go to, like, the Purple Magazine party. I don’t watch fashion documentaries, I don’t read fashion magazines, I don’t really go on fashion websites. My interests are so much broader than fashion that it allows me to keep going. No industry is in a vacuum, and if we look at it in that way, we’re being really shortsighted; we’re not really providing information that’s in-depth.
The industry puts this pressure on you and expects you to want to post a million photos of yourself on your Instagram account, and I’m not here for that.
On her career highlights thus far:
There are the traditional ones, like being featured in the WSJ. Getting my own weekly feature in WWD about law in the fashion industry was very, very exciting, but the things I consider to be the most valuable are those that occur all the time: having a platform where I can talk about the really gross abuses of fast fashion and being able to call out the industry on its shortcomings — the places where it’s just completely not transparent, that no one else is talking about it in such a straightforward way. That’s what’s valuable to me.
On the fallout she’s gotten from some of her writing:
People constantly want articles taken down, but I think they know what they’re getting into when they threaten to sue a legal website; it’s just not the most prudent thing to do — so in that way, it’s never too bad. A lot of times, parties who are the defendants in lawsuits that I write about want an article taken down and threaten to sue me for libel, because they don’t know how the law works. But I try to assure them that The Fashion Law’s readers are sophisticated in nature — they’re reading a legal website — and they can tell the difference between allegations and statements of fact.
I don’t actively try to go to fashion shows, but maybe I’m banned from a bunch of shows that I don’t even know about, too.
On noticing industry changes based off of things she’s written:
Since I wrote the FTC series, some influencers have started disclosing when things are compensated or sponsored content, which is great. Small changes like those, when you have a following of however many millions of people, are actually representative of quite a large change. There was [also] the mass editing by the Kardashians after all of the FTC stuff started making its way into the mainstream media, which was exciting to watch. I wish people would start thinking more about fast fashion, but I guess that one will take more time.