The Weekly Journal | Fashion

By Yenia Hernandez Fonseca- July 7, 2022

People Moving Fashion

Julie Zerbo

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Art by Dorothy Guya

Looking at fashion from the outside, it might seem like a glamorous industry full of expensive clothes, exclusive luxuries, and exquisite designs. However, those who work in the industry day-in and day-out know that fashion is more than fancy purses and cute dresses.

Zerbo is a lawyer, journalist, and the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fashion Law (TFL), an independent source of objective fashion law and business analysis—a site that’s popularly unfocused on the fashion’s superficiality, instead unafraid to criticize the industry in several areas where criticism has been long due: copyright infringement, sustainability, diversity, and cultural appropriation.

From the runways to the metaverse, from blogs to news sites, fashion’s influence has evolved and changed over the past century. What started as a luxury only afforded by some, the world of fashion has steadily developed branches that focus on different aspects of interest. Such is the case for law today. 

Zerbo built TFL while she was still in law school at Columbus School of Law in Washington, DC as a way to ground the theory she was leaning into something concrete. 

“I was planning on focusing on human rights issues and constitutional law, 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.” 

Zerbo was then and continues to be a force to be reckoned with. 

TFL launched in 2012 and has since become a highly respected industry resource, known not just for its legitimate legal intel, but for its refreshingly honest perspective. Such a unique voice has earned the site a significant following of readers who want to see beneath fashion’s surface.

“I had a lot of catching up to do because I did not have a background in fashion at all. At a certain point, I realized that there was a pretty substantial void in the media space in terms of coverage of the legal aspects of the fashion industry and retail more generally. So I started to publish my articles on a blog in case other students were interested, and years later, here we are. I certainly did not set out to make a career out of the blog that I started in law school!”  

TFL came around during the explosion in popularity of fashion blogging in the early 2010s. But it didn’t take long for Zerbo’s big break after she published an article on the particular bracelets shown at Chanel’s Fall 2012 show. The case? Chanel’s bracelets looked very similar to the work of then emerging designer, Pamela Love.

“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 just a little law school blog to one that was on track to becoming a website.” 

Admittedly, the economic impact of fashion is huge. Fashion is a 3 trillion-dollar industry that employs over 3 million people, representing 2% of the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Rather than finding out about the hottest trends seen during fashion week, TFL is more likely to reveal infringements on human rights or intellectual property.

“I think looking at the depth of this industry and some of the hypocrisy, the contradictions, looking at the human rights aspects of the industry, to me, is so much more interesting than anything that goes down the runway.”

Zerbo approaches fashion from an analytical standpoint and leans heavily into the idea of accountability—a topic that is quite possibly her favorite and what sets her platform apart from others.

“If I have to pick a story that I am quite proud of, the first one that comes to mind is a piece I wrote a few years ago about the rampant lack of disclosure by mainstream media outlets when they were being flown to brands’ runway shows, housed by the brands, given gifts, etc., and not telling their readers about that in connection with their reviews of the collections at issue. That necessary element of disclosure and transparency in media is important to me, hence the purely independent nature of my site.” 

Unsurprisingly, no one had really written about this angle of the industry before. Zerbo was ultimately able to turn her piece into another one for the New York Times. 

“I got to start writing for them, which was an added bonus.” 

With a background in international business, economics, and law, Zerbo is regularly relied upon by brands, world-renowned law firms, non-profits, trade groups, educational institutions, and media outlets. 

“I’m not actually of the belief that “fashion law” is a new field. Lawyers have been practicing intellectual property law, employment law, real estate law, various types of international transactions law, etc. and operating in general counsel positions for quite a while now. For me, fashion law encompasses these various aspects of the law and the nature of the business.”