At Hinge we have been studying Visible Experts℠, people who have attained high visibility and expertise in their industry, creating a personal brand that is recognizable industry-wide. We study them because we want to understand how they attained that status and what we can learn from them. This profile focuses on Staci Riordan, a Visible Expert for fashion law.
Growing Up in the Fashion World
Staci Riordan learned about the fashion business at her family’s kitchen table. With a mother who made and sold children’s clothing, and a grandfather and great-grandfather who were also in the garment industry, learning the fashion business was as routine as eating dinner and doing homework. Staci could sew by the age of five, and was running her mother’s tradeshow booths by age 10. As a kid, “I learned to buy for the store, and how to talk to dealers,” Staci says. “I learned the business from the inside out at a very young age.”
Based on Staci’s background, it was not a big surprise when, as she was about to graduate from Emory University, her mom called and invited her to move to Los Angeles to help launch a new clothing business. Staci got her degree and moved west. Almost immediately, the fledgling company won a huge order from the retail clothing giant, The Limited. As excited as they were, they had to tell The Limited that they could only handle a smaller order, and then they scrambled to make it happen. The new relationship made their business an overnight success.
Becoming a Fashion Entrepreneur
The new business tapped into Staci’s entrepreneurial side. Working with her mother, Staci managed the business while her mom and her partner handled the design and development. Since she had grown up inside the industry, Staci found herself with the unique ability to understand both fashion and business. “In an industry like fashion, you will generally find people who can do either the creative side or the business side,” Staci says. “Most people can’t do both creative and business.”
Staci’s unique skills made it possible to climb the fashion industry ladder, signing on to bigger and bigger firms over an eight-year period, and becoming a professor at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Eventually she found herself hitting a ceiling. “I was about to turn 30, and I wanted more,” she says. “I looked around, and I realized that all the major fashion companies were being run by MBAs or JDs.” As a child, Staci had always thought about being a lawyer, but fashion had seemed like her inevitable destiny. It occurred to Staci that no one had ever combined the two sectors, so she enrolled in the Loyola Law School, in Los Angeles, with the intention of forging a new niche: fashion law.
Creating the Fashion Law Sector
Staci recognized the huge need in the fashion industry for lawyers who intimately understood the business needs of fashion and garment companies. “Fashion is the second biggest industry in the world after food,” Staci says. “It was just nuts that no one had established a law practice around it.” After law school, she was hired on at the law firm Thelen, LLP. There, she worked as a business litigator, building a book of fashion clients on the side. In 2006, she founded the firm’s fashion law practice group— the first in the country.
In 2008, Thelen entered bankruptcy and Staci received an offer from Fox Rothschild to join their firm. She accepted the offer, bringing all of her fashion clients with her and founding the firm’s Fashion Law Practice Group. “Fox Rothschild is a perfect fit,” Staci says. “It’s a very entrepreneurial environment, and they foster creativity.” Most of all, the firm encourages Staci to do what she loves: helping clients in the fashion industry build their businesses. A little more than seven years after becoming a member of the bar, Fox promoted Staci to equity partner—a rare occurrence in today’s market.
In the spring of 2013, Staci began teaching a class on fashion law at her alma mater, the Loyola Law School. “I met the dean at dinner one night,” Staci says. “He said he wanted to offer a class on fashion law, and I said ‘I’d love to teach it!’ So we made it happen.” With Staci’s class, Loyola became only the second university in the nation to teach the subject.
The class was so popular that they expanded it to two classes in the fall of 2013 and the university gave the topic its own academic sub-concentration. They also launched The Fashion Law Project, a center for the study of law and fashion. Staci has expanded her role to become the Director of Loyola’s program, where she will spearhead the center, manage the faculty, and continue to teach a class each semester.
Using Content Marketing
In the legal world, Staci was an early adopter of technology and content marketing, which she credits with helping her build her book of clients much faster than relying on traditional marketing channels. She writes weekly articles for her blog, and she posts frequently on social channels like Twitter, where she has over 2,000 followers. She also delivers keynotes or speeches for at least one industry event per month. At the end of the day, Staci says, “People want to work with people they like—someone who resonates with them. And because of blogging, social media, and public speaking, people feel like they know me although they’ve never met me.”
A major difference between Staci and other attorneys is that she spends time networking in the fashion world, rather than the legal world. Why? “That’s where my clients are. I don’t want to go to lawyer events, I want to go to fashion events,” she says. “I built a different practice. Fashion law didn’t exist, so I had to go around traditional gatekeepers.”
“Being a Good Lawyer is Not Enough”
Staci believes that the world of legal services is undergoing a major shift in how it does business. “Times have changed,” she notes. “No one does anything the way their parents did. So why would you continue providing legal services the old way?” Today, “being a good lawyer is not enough. Lawyers need to be entrepreneurs. As the way people buy professional services shift, you have to shift too.”
For Staci, that shift has meant meeting her clients where they are, and connecting in ways that are meaningful to them. “My clients want to text me, not call me,” she says. “And if you’re not meeting clients where they are, then how can they find you?”
To find out more on becoming a visible expert in your industry, check out our book, The Visible Expert.