Tulane Law students and their entrepreneurial law professor Elizabeth Townsend Gard have unleashed a grass-roots “army” studying the role of creativity and law in stoking the transformation of quilting from a folk-art craft into a multi-billion-dollar industry. On Tuesday, Townsend Gard’s Entrepreneurship and the Law class launched a research-based audio Podcast called Just Wanna Quilt, a series of in-depth interviews with quilters and quilt-industry entrepreneurs exploring their creative passion and challenges, alongside the history and art behind the craft. The Podcast is hosted by Tulane Law’s Townsend Gard, an intellectual property law professor whose interest in quilting led her to interview nearly 75 quilters, artists, designers, historians, inventors, collectors, fabric-makers around the country who make up the $3.7-billion-dollar quilting industry. She hopes complete 200 interviews in the next year. The audio interviews, sometimes homespun and quirky, cover a vast array of stories about quilting, tools, and the VIPs who shape an industry that is growing at about 5 percent a year. Along the way, said Townsend Gard, law students are helping gather research that teaches them about entrepreneurs and their struggles, legal concerns and spirit. “Law school is a balance between doctrinal courses and opportunities for experiential learning. By engaging and immersing them in the practicalities of getting a Podcast, a business, or even a project up and running, they see first-hand the struggles and energy it takes, and helps them be more empathetic to their clients,” Townsend Gard said. “They also see the IP issues in a new light. It's being an entrepreneur that helps them advise entrepreneurs later.”
“Part of the project is experiencing the quilting world to better understand how intellectual property interacts with many of its components. It turns out to have a lot of interesting copyright, trademark and patent challenges,” said Townsend Gard. “It also has a ton of really cool entrepreneurial activity, both as its history, and currently. The big players often began as mom-and-pop ventures. And now, with the Internet, some of the most influential people began the same way. So, we’re studying that too.” Students have taken their roles in the project seriously; some work to promote the event via social media and other channels, some handle the technology efforts, others have done the research necessary to legally launch the project. “Having the opportunity to really feel what it is like to be an entrepreneur—the pressures, the details, and of course, the legal issues that arise—has made me think about the role of an attorney with entrepreneurs in a much more complex way, said second-year law student Corrie Dutton. “ You have to be there to help them, and understand that they are juggling a ton of things at once. Legal is just one aspect, but it’s important. And also lack of sleep. That’s huge.” The campaign is fully student-run. They have a Facebook page, Just Wanna Quilt. There is also a website, where the episodes can be found: www.justwannaquilt.com. The Podcast will air on Itunes at iTunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1341376118. It will feature two interviews, twice a week, Monday and Wednesday. A second season will begin in June.
Tuesday’s launch dropped 10 audio interviews. Among them are conversations with Bob Ruggiero, who runs Quilt, Inc., a business-to-business marketplace entrepreneur and organizer of the Quilt Festival, which draws thousands each year; Vanessa Vargas Wilson, owner of Crafty Gemini who quit teaching law to quilt full-time (and has more than 76,000 followers on Facebook alone); Heather Kubiak, an attorney and quilter; and Cheryl Sleboda of Muppin.com, a quilting industry influencer who works in the comic book industry by day. There is an ultimate goal for Townsend Gard. She wants to grow the Quilting Army -- hoping that other quilters, designers and others join the Facebook group and become part of the collaborative exchange of ideas about the role of creativity and law in the entrepreneurial quilting community. “The Army is growing, and in some ways, it’s the best part,” says Townsend Gard.