Next in Fashion: Influencers, IP, and Sustainability

March 15, 2023 | Podcast: Future-Ready Business

Outside of Jackson Walker, William Nilson and Courtney White are passionate about fashion. William runs a bespoke clothing consultancy, and Courtney reaches the masses through her Courthouse Couture blog and social media. In this episode of FRB, Erin and Art engage in a conversation with William and Courtney about fashion and the intersection of art and business. Tune in as they tackle the topics of how the pandemic changed things, what impact AI tools like ChatGPT will have on the industry, and the desire for sustainability in fashion.

Featured This Episode

Our Hosts:
Erin Camp

Erin Camp
Associate, San Antonio
Twitter: @BusinessLawyerE
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Art Cavazos

Art Cavazos
Partner, San Antonio
Twitter: @FinanceLawyer
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Episode Guests:
William NilsonWilliam Nilson
Associate, Austin
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Courtney WhiteCourtney White
Research Attorney, Dallas & Houston
Instagram: @courthousecouture
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Episode Transcription

Erin Camp: Hi, I’m Erin Camp, a corporate finance lawyer with Jackson Walker.

Art Cavazos: And I’m Art Cavazos, a corporate and finance lawyer with Jackson Walker. And this is Future-Ready Business.

Erin Camp: As always, we’d like to remind our listeners that the opinions expressed today are ours and those of our guests, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Jackson Walker, its clients, or any of their respective affiliates.

Art Cavazos: We actually really have a great show lined up for us today. I say that every time, but this time, it’s absolutely true. So, we’ve got Courtney White and William Nilson, attorneys at Jackson Walker out of our Houston and Austin offices, respectively. But more importantly, for today’s topic, just really outstanding people in the world of fashion. I’ll kind of throw it over to y’all to let you tell us a little bit about yourselves. Courtney, Will—

William Nilson: Ladies first, please.

Courtney White: Hi, everyone. My name is Courtney. I’m a research attorney in the Houston office. But online, I am known as Courthouse Couture. I do have my name trademarked. I’ve been a blogger for a while, since 2014. I got really, really serious about Instagram probably 2017-2018. I have close to 30,000 followers on Instagram and almost 20,000 on TikTok. It’s definitely a hobby, but it’s one that I’ve really gotten interested in. I’m so excited to be here with you all today.

Courtney White: Thanks for that, Courtney.

Art Cavazos: And my wife is a huge fan, by the way. She, like, it was mandatory for me to say that.

Courtney White: Thank you.

Erin Camp: And she’s a physician. She doesn’t even go to the courthouse.

William Nilson: I’m Will Nilson. I’m an associate at the Austin office, he already said. I do commercial real estate law. My crossover with fashion is I have a custom clothing company. We specialize in bespoke suit wear. So, mainly formal wear. It does go down into informal wear and sometimes casual, but we do kind of focus on formal inclusions. Courtney, you said something about—Oh, yeah, followers. So, I personally have over 700 followers on Instagram, which I’m super proud of.

Erin Camp: Big influencer over there.

Art Cavazos: You sold a bespoke suit to each one of them.

William Nilson: You can only follow me if you’ve bought a bespoke suit from me as a requirement. No, I would love to have that kind of following. So, Courtney and I are going to have to talk offline about some – or maybe online – about some strategies, because that’s fantastic. I love that you have all of that going for you. So, that’s cool. But yeah, I love doing it. I love being in fashion and in law. So, what’s better than that?

Art Cavazos: The way that I learned that about you is because I saw one of the suits that you were wearing and I was like, ‘That’s an awesome suit. Where did you get that?’, and he was like, ‘Oh, I made it.’ I was like, ‘Haha. No, really? Where did you get it?’ And he was like, ‘No, I really made it.’

William Nilson: I have that conversation, it’s like 80 times a week. Everywhere I go, it’s like the same conversation, and I have to make it feel like it’s totally normal, this has never happened before, but that’s our best way of advertising. It’s just getting out there and talking to people. Then if they like it, they’ll say something, and then I get to say that I made it. It’s really exciting, because I like doing it. Then if they don’t say anything, then I don’t know, I got this off the rack, whatever. But now it’s a lot of fun going out and doing that.

Art Cavazos: So, we wanted to talk a little bit about the fashion business and both of y’all are, maybe as side hustles or hobbies, both involved in that directly, which is really interesting. We also have attorneys here who practice in that area on the legal side. So, different avenues to approach it. My first question and, you know, either of y’all can jump in—what is fashion? And why—

Erin Camp: That’s so open-ended and I love it.

William Nilson: Great way to start a conversation.

Erin Camp: Yeah, I am ready to hear y’all’s answers.

Art Cavazos: Why do we care about it? Why should we care about it? And what’s the difference between those two things?

William Nilson: I’m feeling like Courtney should either go first to make sure the right things are said before the wrong things are said. So, Courtney, do you want to start us off?

Courtney White: Sure, I’ll kind of start with why I really started Courthouse Couture. One, I was bored at work and I told everyone—this is a long time ago, like I was a baby lawyer—and I said I should start a blog called Courthouse Couture. I started laughing and someone said, ‘Actually, that’s a really good idea.’ I sat on the idea, but when I was working as an insurance defense lawyer in Dallas, I was the only female that I saw. And so, I started taking selfies of my outfits at work. It really became a way for me to express myself.

I thought women who were attorneys were supposed to wear only one sort of thing. You know, when you’re in law school, you’re given a guideline. You’re told you need to have a navy suit, a black suit, and a gray suit or charcoal. I felt like that was all I could wear. However, I grew up watching Legally Blonde and Elle Woods loves pink. I personally love pink. And so I found that fashion was a way for self-expression. So, that’s what I would probably say fashion is – it’s a way for self-expression. I definitely think we can still do that and be professional. So, that’s my answer.

Erin Camp: That’s so interesting that you say that, Courtney, about the, like, certain color suits, because when I was doing like my OCI interviews back when I was in law school, I actually chose to wear like a, I honestly, like, very boldly wore a red suit just to kind of stick out. I had someone in the interview ask me, or say to me, like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s so bold that you’re not wearing black. Like, you’re wearing a different color than black.’ Needless to say, I did not go to that firm, I had no interest in going to that firm, because they clearly didn’t care or agreed with that perception that, like, women should only be able to wear three colors in a formal setting.

Have you encountered anything like that? Or have you met anyone that’s told you or reinforced that idea? Because, since I’ve been practicing, I feel like no one’s ever made that comment to me again.

Courtney White: It didn’t happen. But what I did have happen is when I was working as an insurance defense lawyer, I had another female lawyer tell me to be very careful what I wore to court, which I still think a lot of that is true. She said that I needed to be careful. I had on a costume pearl necklace, and she said that it was not appropriate, because if I were going to do a jury trial, a jury may view that one way. I do feel like while that perception isn’t fair, it is likely true. So, I do talk a lot about that on my blog. I even talk about why you may need to be careful what handbag you carry to work. Because I do think while it is a form of self-expression, everybody is not there yet. So, there are ways to do it. I think you can wear bright pink if you’re not doing a jury trial, but I know that there is a lawyer on TikTok that her whole persona is that she wears pink, and she wears pink literally every day. I love it, because she’s completely going against that stereotype.

Art Cavazos: You mentioned the word ‘persona’ there. That’s really interesting, because you also mentioned earlier about, you know, fashion being a mode of self-expression. Online, I think there is this interesting kind of intersection between self-expression from like an artistry sense and then kind of the commercial aspect of a persona and marketing and selling.

Will, you sell your bespoke suit. From a marketing perspective, what is fashion?

William Nilson: There are probably a lot of answers to that, but especially in men’s suits, you’ll find if you kind of study people that sell this kind of product, they tend to try to expose as many elements that they can provide in as few pieces as they can provide. So, if you have one suit, you want to be able to show like every little detail that you might be able to do. So, like the lining is going to be a little wonky. You’ll show like a custom signature as opposed to just embroidery of some kind. So, it’s like every kind of bell and whistle that you can embellish. Mostly, you’re doing that to encourage people to view something that they want on you the second they see you. So, another example of this is a lot of older companies, like a lot of fashion companies that started in the ’50s and ’60s that still have kind of glass front storefronts on affluent drives like Winter Park Drive in Orlando, you’ll see these strange outfits that have tons of different colors. It’s things that don’t go together. But the whole point of it is to say, what can I get here? What are all the options that I could get here so that you’ll walk in the store and say now I know I have, like, tons of options when I walk in here – this is a place of creativity. So, then, it kind of expands your mind. For the business owner, hopefully, I guess their perspective is that it would expand the wallet, too. It says like, ‘I’ll spend money here, because I know I can be creative.’ So, that’s definitely from the marketing and business perspective. There’s a lot of that that goes on.

As we shift away from mass retail into more, sort of, what people are doing now, which is customizing things, making them very unique to themselves, because we have more ability to do that as technology increases with fashion, and sustainability is starting to be a focus. We start to see fashion more as how can I express myself with pieces that I maybe modify or get modified. So, you kind of want to show a personality and who you are uniquely through your marketing if you’re a business owner or just through who you are by wearing clothes. So, from a marketing perspective, it’s all about showing who you are and creating your – we talk a lot about personal brands, right? So, it’s a lot of creating your personal brand is what I delve into from the visual perspective.

Art Cavazos: Yeah. I love that, you know, the idea of a personal brand. I think a lot of people online now are realizing that’s what they’re doing online is creating a personal brand. And then also the idea of, like, anywhere you look is going to be something that is a hook that, you know, I like that, I want that. That’s really interesting.

William Nilson: Absolutely, hook. That’s a good word for that. I’ve never thought about that. I’m a nerd for words, as we all are as attorneys.

Erin Camp: I do think it is really interesting in fashion, because I feel like with the age of information, fashion has come sort of this like age of individualism. And I think that is what’s kind of unique to our decade in this generation of fashion. So, I think that is really interesting that that’s kind of the business model that you chose to go after. But I also think that really, it’s kind of interesting to think about, right? Because at the same time, and we are all emphasizing all this individualism, all these major brands and fashion houses are starting to move away from like commercial marketing, and really start focusing on these, like, Instagram influencers and individuals, and people that want to incorporate the brand into their personal brand, rather than, you know, just models and straight up just like one designer. I think that’s a huge shift in fashion. I think it’s really interesting. Do you guys have any thoughts on that?

William Nilson: I completely agree, but I’ve talked a lot. I would love to hear from Courtney.

Courtney White: In terms of influencer marketing, I think the reason that it’s such a big thing right now is that people really want to see someone who looks like them in clothing. There was not a lot of diversity in terms of the models that were used with a lot of different fashion companies, in terms of size, in terms of race and ethnicity, and even ability level. So, you have now seen all of those things, especially during the pandemic, when companies did not have a way to formally put on marketing campaigns, they really utilized influencers, one, because influencers were cheaper, and people could show how they were wearing items in their real environment at home. That really, really resonated with people. The influencer marketing industry, I think, is only going to continue to grow because of that. And TikTok has brought a new element into that because now video content really seems to be growing. People love seeing people do “get ready with me” videos and talk about how they’re styling outfits, even what undergarments or whatever they may be wearing. So, it’s just, it’s fascinating. But I think what brands are realizing is that they can rely on individuals to help them market.

I think the area that we need to probably grow in in terms of business is there’s not a lot of regulation of the influencer industry. That’s definitely something that I think Jackson Walker, even I’m happy to work on, but I definitely think there needs to be more regulation in the area. There’s not a lot of regulation in terms of contracts. A lot of businesses are trying to create their own contracts on the fly. People are stealing people’s intellectual property, there’s just a lot of things that are going on, because this area is so new, so companies are still figuring it out.

Erin Camp: Totally. I really think like with all this, and as companies are figuring out, I mean, I think it’s also really influencing how these design houses are progressing in their style and how these new seasons are coming out. I mean, I really feel like there’s so much more emphasis, at least, especially in women’s clothing, on like utility. I feel like it’s just very recent. It might partially be due to the popularity of those trials and stuff, because now people are debating whether or not they’re going to buy things based off whether they’re actually useful, not based off of just what they look like in a picture. I just think, like, influencers have had and just that marketing style have had so much influence, you know, from how they mark it to even like how the designs are progressing and evolving from season to season.

Courtney White: Yeah, because people during the pandemic really wanted washable clothing. So, people were constantly asking me, ‘Hey, is that washable? Is that washable?’ People didn’t want to dry clean, and dry-cleaning prices went up tremendously after the pandemic. I still think that’s something that people care about. I do think to bring up something that Will said is that sustainability is definitely something that’s important. A lot of brands have been called out – Coach being one of the main ones – because apparently when handbags aren’t you know being sold, they’re cutting them up, which is awful. And other brands got in trouble during the pandemic, because people found out they were burning their merchandise instead of selling it and putting it on sale. Burberry was a big culprit in that, as well.

Erin Camp: I’ve noticed a shift in red carpets and fashion events with that and sustainability. Less and less people are, well, I guess more and more people are coming to these events in like capsule collections or reward items instead of, you know, things that were tailor-made for that event. The fashion industry really is influenced by—I feel like we opened this up, like, what is fashion? Is it important? Is it related to this topic of future-ready business? And it really is. It is a business, it is an industry, and it is truly touched and evolves exactly how like the rest, you know—kind of like our politics and socioeconomic everything is evolving. It’s all interconnected. I think that’s so interesting.

William Nilson: Somebody has a quote on this that’s way smarter than me. The idea that fashion and art always precede changes in thought. Like, the rational spirit is preceded by the art that was driving towards the rationalist period, and then innovation comes after that. So, it’s obviously, all of our tech is always going to fall kind of behind what our fashion is showing we want to do. I think that’s where we’re headed is individualism is such a focus now among everybody in terms of fashion, especially. The more we have that focus on it, the more drive it’s going to be towards having a sustainable way to create clothes that are ours. It’s not really about trading it for the next style, it’s more about creating my own closet, so that I can have something through my life that tells my story, and that’s a much more sustainable practice. Actually, it was a much older practice when people could not, there was no innovation that allowed this mass production that we have now of clothing. Mass production of clothing has created lots of life-saving things. So, it’s an important step, I think, along human progress. But now we’re the I believe the next step is to make things more individual more long-term minded, less exchangeable, less freely throwawayable. Just like Courtney was saying, with, like, cutting things up and all that. There’s never one enemy. It’s really a mind-set that’s changing overall, I would say.

Art Cavazos: I think a lot of those points were, you know, fantastic and spot on. When I think about the personal image, personal brand, the individualism that is happening, and the economy that’s moving on to the internet, and more and more commerce is done virtually, and people creating their online brand is increasingly the kind of foundation of many different industries, right? So, what about when you introduce AI into that, right? Like, you look at what has been done with ChatGPT and, you know, kind of similar, I think Google released Bard to great – what’s the opposite of fanfare?

Courtney, you mentioned the intellectual property, you know, being stolen. What about when someone can type into a software program: Create a blog post in the style of Courtney White, or, you know, style me an outfit in the style of Courtney White or William Nilson, or anyone, right? How does that change the game?

Courtney White: I think that’s huge. People can already do that to a certain extent if they go on Pinterest, since Pinterest is definitely searchable and I’m on Pinterest. That’s part of the reason I wanted to get my name Courthouse Couture trademarked, because I was very serious about the fact that people could be stealing what I was doing, and someone actually did steal an influencer’s blog posts and was using them. I don’t know if she used AI, but she was rewriting an influencer’s blog posts, and she made her whole presence until she got caught copying this person’s work. So, it’s already happening. But I – if I envisioned people on ChatGPT, what I’d hoped they would be doing is saying help me figure out how to style black pants three different ways or help me style a suit. I do think people could also use it to help write blog posts, but they’re already using people right now.

A lot of bloggers use, I believe it’s Fiverr. People are using services to write their blog posts because a lot of people think blogging is dead. I do think that’s the reason that a lot of influencers probably need to move toward owning their brand. They don’t own their online presence. We don’t own any of the platforms that we are on. I do own my blog. But if you look at a lot of influencers now, especially influencers that have a lot of millions of followers, a lot of them don’t even have a blog. So, they’re completely relying on TikTok, which we know could go on a ban at any moment. If there’s ever an issue, because TikTok comes from a Chinese-based company – not that we have anything against them – but I think in terms of business, if influencers want to move forward to become more viable and to be respected, they probably need to own their brand, having their own blogs, getting their names trademarked. Trademark is also a way to help you fast-track into getting verified on social media websites, as well.

William Nilson: Yeah. I think Courtney’s advice is much more practical than – I would probably just offer up the pie-in-the-sky other side of it, which is I definitely struggle with copyright, just generally speaking, from a philosophy standpoint because I went to music school, I grew up a musician and artist and all that before I did law school, and then I found out that people get totally messed up – right? – by bad actors. I mean, that’s really what it is. Bad actors will either try to trick others into saying that they are someone who has created value and then extort value from others by doing that – that’s one of the main protections. And then the other is using symbols that someone else has created or using content that someone else has created, calling it theirs, and monetizing it. Both of those are just stealing and how do we get past that? But then I struggle with the other side of it, which is how do we encourage creativity and freedom of thought, freedom of creation of new ideas, and place people into situations where it’s positive to create and to borrow from others? The hip-hop revolution was really critical, I feel like, to that in terms of the music side of things. But that greatly influenced me in terms of how I view fashion.

Fashion is one of the biggest grossing industries just generally, which I think there’s probably some problems with that. But part of the reason it’s not is because copyright is, just generally speaking, far less prevalent. The designs themselves, the patterns, it’s really hard to get down into patent work and copyright work when it comes to those patterns.

Erin Camp: Unless you’re like Louboutin or Tiffany blue. There’s some exceptions, but it—

Courtney White: It took forever to get there, right? It took forever.

Erin Camp: It took a huge lawsuit. It was like the contrasting sole. I feel like I read that in like an IP course in law school. Yeah, like we all — I think that’s like the token case.

William Nilson: It kind of exposes how much of a resource to someone in an art, it’s truly, it’s an art business. What kind of resources did they need in order to create some sort of value out of a restrictive covenant, basically, on what they’ve created? And if it’s not supporting those that are in the most creative space, then it will stunt development in the field overall. So, I don’t really have any answers on that. But I do think about that a lot. I think it’s a very important question for us to all be considering in terms of fashion and the way we’re proceeding into personal branding.

Erin Camp: Yeah, I mean, I completely agree. I think another part of fashion that’s really changed that we haven’t really talked about. Honestly, Will, you probably totally relate that to this is, like, it is so much easier to start a brand than it’s ever been. To have like a bespoke custom-tailored, tailoring company is easier, because it’s easier to advertise on all these platforms like Instagram. And so, we’re seeing like so much more diversity in brands. I frequently think about that – it’s like a conflict in what we’re doing. Because we want to protect people for their creativity, but we want to encourage people to still participate, and we don’t want to penalize people for participating. Especially if what they’re adding is just, like, the next step or something. It arguably shouldn’t be patentable, because if we patent that, then the next step on that step can’t be, you know, accessed by anyone except for the person that owns the patent. So, I mean, it is like a huge conflict, it causes a lot of problems. It could cause an increasing amount of problems if we were to ever change our thoughts on this, but luckily, you know, we are pretty loose on this in the U.S., and it’s very rare that you can have something. I just think it’s super interesting.

William Nilson: To give you an example that we had a client – he’s in Boston, he had researched his family lineage and his genealogy, everything, to find his crest of his last name. It’s a specific crest in Scotland that’s not—his last name is very prevalent in Scotland, but he has a specific family line that has that particular crest and if you go into, like, there’s a word for like crestology, but it’s not crestology. But it’s very complicated. He did all the research and said this is it, and I know that this is it. His father passed away, he wanted it placed as a memorial inside his jacket as the lining – such a cool idea – and we had to think through what are the copyright crossovers right now? Ultimately, as long as there’s a solution that’s reasonable, I think it all works. In this case, there was, thankfully. We bought a license for the image. But then I was conflicted again, thinking this is this guy’s family crest. Why should I need someone’s – why should he, more specifically, need someone’s permission to use the family crest that is his lineage to place something inside of a jacket that’s only his? It’s not mass produced, he’s not making a profit off of it. I am, so I have to be sure that I’m doing it right, but it’s interesting as a question. I love that we’re running into it on an individual basis right now, because it’s getting people to think really deeply about what their copyright, what am I as a copyright? How am I copywriting myself and my content? Does it matter or not? And if it doesn’t make anybody any money or nobody else is making money on it, maybe it doesn’t matter? But we know other people are going to make money on someone else’s labor if we don’t stop that from happening. I’m getting a little passionate.

Art Cavazos: Speaking of modern treatment of, you know, traditional things – one of the premises or questions that we’re asking on Future-Ready Business is, is this kind of a transformative time for the economy and for business? I think the conventional wisdom, you know, the pandemic has changed a lot of things, but we’re kind of exploring on this podcast in the different industries, how is that true, is that true, and in what ways is that true? Do y’all see that being true in the fashion industry? Is this kind of a transformative time, and what’s going to be different going forward if so?

Courtney White: When I initially wrote my blog post about people wearing athleisure after the pandemic, it was because a lot of companies really were shifting what they were selling in stores, because people were no longer wearing suits. A lot of people said their employees – and this was really to help get them back to work – could wear more casual attire than they had pre-pandemic. However, I’m now seeing on the runways that that’s kind of shifting back and kind of this maximalism is kind of floating back in. So, I think we may see a mix of both.

I do think that a lot of companies and just America in general is much more casual than other parts of the world in terms of what we wear. But I also think what’s happening is that brands are being forced to listen to the consciousness of the consumers, meaning people don’t just care about the fact that they liked our clothing, they also care about what you stand for. The Black Lives Matter movement was a definite example of that. Also, you have people asking questions about sustainability and about MeToo, and lots of other questions about people who own companies, who are on the boards. Are your boards diverse? So, people are becoming much more educated because of Google, and people can look up everything and find out everything they want to know in a matter of minutes and start questioning it. There are also sites that are dedicated online to holding fashion brands and companies accountable.

Art Cavazos: Yeah, I think you’ve been speaking about one on your Instagram recently, the Birkin Slayer.

Courtney White: People have really enjoyed that. So, someone started a page – and they only do stories on Instagram – called The Fake Birkin Slayer. This page is dedicated to calling out influencers who are making it seem like they have Hermès Birkin bags but they do not. It’s also brought up that apparently these influencers are also linking products. They’re showing the fake product, but it’s a super fake because there’s levels to fakes. These are super fakes that look and feel almost exactly like the actual whatever designer item, and they’re linking it to items that are real. So, there’s this whole seediness of people buying into a lifestyle from influencers and they don’t really own it. It’s been really, really fascinating. But I think a lot of people just fundamentally don’t understand that selling counterfeit items is illegal. A lot of people are comfortable with buying them, but a lot of people are not. A lot of people have followed this story because they said they felt like influencers were living fake lives and there’s no way that these people can be buying 10 Birkin bags when Birkin bags – a plain Hermès Birkin bag may start at around $8,000 to $10,000, depending upon the letter that you’re using, starting at on the very low end. Also, they want you to have an extensive purchase list with them, meaning they want you to purchase their blanket, a bracelet, a scarf, all of these other things, before you can even be offered a Birkin. I don’t know if you all remember several years ago, they actually turned Oprah—Oprah of all people—away from an Hermès store. So, the entire topic has been really, really interesting.

Even when I try not to be a lawyer online, I still end up becoming a lawyer online, because people end up asking all of these questions like, how can people do this? And it’s really because U.S. law allows inspiration, which really means you can be inspired by another design, but you can’t steal it. There’s a lot of brands I can think of that I won’t necessarily mention that often lift the designs from other more expensive designers. They’re maybe contemporary brands – and that’s okay, but outright stealing and stealing somebody’s logo is not. I just think people are fascinated by that now, because now they can look everything up. But also DHgate and AliExpress are sites that are becoming huge because people can buy these fakes very easily. They don’t have to go to Canal Street like you used to do in New York to buy fakes.

Art Cavazos: Yeah, I’ve been there. Those are not very convincing fakes usually.

Courtney White: They’re not. Unless you get taken into the back room, Art. They had a back room that, you know, I’ve heard – I can’t confirm or deny.

William Nilson: You shouldn’t go into backrooms as a principle, I think.

Art Cavazos: Will, what is your take on the future of the fashion industry? Maybe, I would actually be very interested in bringing it down to, you know, where you’re working in the bespoke suit space. What’s going on there? Is that something that is going to become a bigger part of men’s fashion?

William Nilson: I think it’s, yes and no. As a self-serving person, I should probably just resoundingly say yes, yes, it’s going to be the biggest thing ever. What I think is happening is people are figuring out that they can do things that they want to do for less money than before because of workstream advances, really. Shipping, the way international relations are going, has overall—there’s been a dramatic increase in efficiency and flexibility with respect to products from A to B. Materials are easy to get from A to B. I benefit from that directly, and so do my customers.

We’re in a different world now with respect to making clothes for yourself, by experts. So, the fact that we can even do that right now was already kind of a paradigm shift. It used to be only done by a kind of traveling salesman-style outfits. There, recently, there are things like three or four very big companies that do a lot of what I do. It’s a made-to-measure bespoke process where everything is not from an archive, an inventory, so it’s made for the client. But now people like me in smaller operations, in different cities are deciding that they have enough access to the market to make something that’s their ideas put onto people – more of what I do – people’s ideas put onto people. Because I try to focus on what people want to express themselves out. That’s where I think it’s going to win, which is people bringing their ideas to me and me being the applier of those ideas onto them in an efficient way, and then offering my consultation more on the side, because their ideas are the fundamental that’s creating the piece that I’m doing.

I think that’s the way that the market is going, because it’s more value to the client for them to get what they want rather than to be at the whims of a designer. I do love designing. So, I really relish opportunity when a client says like, ‘Hey, do you want to just do something for me that you make?’ I love doing it. But really, I know that the most value for someone is going to be getting them to, and they still want to have what they want, even when they asked me to do something that’s really just my creation. If I do something and then they don’t like it, they’re not going to like it even though they don’t like it. It’s still up to them. So, I think that’s the direction it’s going.

I think that the market’s cyclicity – if that’s a word – is interesting right now, because luxury markets are always kind of down when free cash flow is down. That’s where a lot of consumers are right now because we’re in recession fears and all that, so people are a little bit less likely to be spending money. That means that anything that’s seen as a luxury good, which could mean personal fashion, is always going to take a dive. That’s where I see a current market that would change up, probably within the next six or seven months. We’re getting back into the office. I have to upgrade my wardrobe. I have to present myself and my personal brand and get real with this. That’s probably my short-term outlook.

Art Cavazos: And maybe AI will make it easier for people to design their own custom wardrobes and that will become more and more the norm, you know, with all the supply chain.

Erin Camp: I mean the design-your-own-wardrobe things with AI, I don’t like that. I want the creativity part of putting your outfit together, I think, is, you know, what I really like. So, I really think fashion in my opinion is like one of the few industries that AI, like, just cannot take over completely unless we find a way to completely recreate human creativity, which I just – I think we’re a long way from that.

William Nilson: I agree it will not take over. I think it should be a tool. I hope we use it as a paintbrush. As soon as we get to that point, it’s going to be great. I think you’ll notice very quickly if people are using only AI. I mean, now, blog posts. When people are posting, that’s clearly AI-driven, you can tell the difference in value. It’s almost like a little Turing test, like, ‘Oh, yeah, this seems like an AI wrote this.’ Some people kind of talk like it seems like an AI wrote your conversation. Because they’re phoning it in. They’re not thinking. They don’t want to, you know. And that will be part of society, inevitably, but it already is. Because that’s how we are sometimes as people, is we try to phone it in to make sure we’re not really rocking the boat.

Art Cavazos: Well, you know, the time – there’s a lot of parallels for a lot of different industries, professionals in lots of industries – but the time that it takes a human designer to design a bespoke suit for a customer and create that is always going to be more than if you have—there’s already essentially video games where, you know, primarily marketed at girls, but where anybody could go on there and design. I mean, the marketing is funny. We didn’t get into like the gendered aspects of marketing. But for another episode, we can get into that a little bit. But you go in there and you design the outfits and everything. So, it’d be very easy, I think, to take these softwares that already exist and just start making real clothes with that. Not very easy, but in the sense that it is kind of doable, the technology is there. And yeah, the supply chain management aspects that you mentioned make it more doable. But I think there will always be a place for a human designer, but their time is limited. So, it kind of democratizes it in a way because, for the people who can’t all access a human bespoke designer, maybe have kind of that as a substitute.

William Nilson: Yeah. Consultancy always creates a certain amount of luxury. And that luxury is quantified by the extra time that it takes, which creates that lack of efficiency. It’s always going to be a step above to have someone else working with you on a design and working. I hope that that is the real value-add because, really, at the end of the day, the logistics – we want to simplify everything as much as possible. Speaking as an attorney, we want to simplify the law as much as possible for the benefit society. I mean, I know that puts me out of a job, but law in many ways, the simpler it is for people, the more efficient it is for everyone. Contracts are born out of the inefficiency of criminal mind-sets. So, we’re kind of at this idea of how do we create a fashion sphere that is efficient for people, but doesn’t ruin the value, the evident value of creativity? And that’s where law can be, too. I think we’re headed that way.

Courtney White: I do think that AI can be inserted into fashion. The more that people feel like they’re involved in the process, it will be fun for them. But maybe more of what I’m envisioning is AI being used to help us kind of eliminate some of the problems with fast fashion that have been brought up, figuring out better ways to produce items. So, maybe there are several people that want the same type of design. They don’t know they want the same type of design. But if we can all kind of quantify that and put that in one place, maybe there’s an opportunity to kind of streamline that process. I do think that, already, you’ve got companies testing this idea out. One of them I’ve worked with before. It’s a company that’s actually based in India, but they do their best to provide equitable accommodations for the employees that work for them. And you figure out who that person is when you get your item back. But you can change the sleeve work, you can change, you know, the color of your dress, you can change the length of your dress, you can put your height in, you can put in your measurements, and they charge you small upgraded fees for certain items when they’re shifted. So, you can already kind of start creating what is a custom garment.

I do think that more expensive design houses, they’ve always had an element of customization. I don’t think that will go away. But what I do think AI will provide is what Will has already talked about. It will provide people who don’t have access in terms of they don’t have the money to maybe go to Hermès and say I want to custom Hermès bag, but maybe a more contemporary designer has, like, a couple of designs that someone can use, which I think designers have already toyed around with that, and I think you may see more of that customization. People are already asking for it. You’ve already seen some brands adapt. Like Old Navy has started selling jeans, Good American does as well, that fit you, if your size fluctuates within three sizes. I didn’t think that was even possible, but the jeans are really popular especially with women, because they can kind of wear them before childbirth, after childbirth. There’s all these different things. So, I think you’ll just start seeing ways that customization can become a part of a normal shopping experience. Also, I think the way AI can be used is to maybe keep people from the inside of stores. Stores don’t want to hear this, but we know rent is expensive. We know that rent has changed post-pandemic. So, I think what you may see is allowing people to have some of those custom experiences that you had to go in a brick-and-mortar store to do. You no longer will have to do those. You will be able to do all of that online. That’s what I envision. Nordstrom has already experimented with what they call a concept store, and they pretty much have them in California – I don’t know if they ever expanded beyond that – where you literally went into the store, you can see, touch, and feel things, but you never took any items out of the store. The stores were smaller in square footage and footprint of a normal Nordstrom, and you would just get the items shipped to your house. That saves Nordstrom. They don’t have to be in a large mall and pay the same amount of rent that they normally would have to pay. So, it provides you still with the custom experience, and I just think AI will allow that. I think it will just allow more customization.

The only thing that I struggle with is that AI needs to also be there on the production side. So, you can have all of this AI, but if the production side has not caught up with all of that customization, it still will not help the business owner’s bottom line, which means there’s going to have to be a limit on that customization because it just won’t make sense. Neiman Marcus, their, I believe it was their CEO or CFO, just came out and said that the majority of their business is determined by only 2% of their customers, which means most of the people that are coming in Neiman Marcus are not what’s driving sales. So, if Neiman Marcus is saying that, I can’t imagine that everyone will be that highly customized. They will have to put limits on it and production will have to catch up for AI to really work in concert with having more customization options and more freedom of design, which is why I agree with all of you that I don’t think AI is taking over anytime soon, but I could be wrong.

Art Cavazos: So, I think we had a great conversation today about fashion and the intersection of art and business, no pun intended. And Will, Courtney, thank you again so much for joining us. Y’all were wonderful. Did you want to say anything here at the end? Did y’all have any internet handles to share or anything like that?

William Nilson: Sure. I’m rebranding right now. It’s going to be Austin Bespoke.

Courtney White: I am @CourthouseCouture at almost every platform. If Courthouse Couture is too long, it’s Courthouse Court. But almost every platform, Instagram, Facebook, even YouTube, Courthouse Couture.

William Nilson: I’m adding you right now, Courtney.

Erin Camp: I already follow you, Courtney. Well, if you liked our show, please rate and review us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts and share FRB with your friends and colleagues.

Art Cavazos: Oh, yeah, normally I say that. That’s fine.

Erin Camp: You were taking too long.

Erin Camp: Thank you to our producer, Greg, on the ones and twos. You can find us on Instagram at @futurereadybusiness. And you can find me on Twitter at @BusinessLawyerE. E for Erin.

Art Cavazos: And you can find me on Twitter at @FinanceLawyer. As mentioned at the top of the show. The opinions expressed today are ours and those of our guests they do not necessarily reflect the views of Jackson Walker, its clients or any of their respective affiliates.

Erin Camp: This podcast is for informational and entertainment purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. We hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for listening.

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This podcast is made available by Jackson Walker for informational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice, and is not a substitute for legal advice from qualified counsel. Your use of this podcast does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Jackson Walker. The facts and results of each case will vary, and no particular result can be guaranteed.

In This Story

Arturo Cavazos, Jr.
Partner, San Antonio

William Austin Nilson
Senior Counsel, Austin

Courtney J. White
Research Attorney, Dallas