Headlines keep including more of the same fashion buzz words: “bespoke,” “Made in the USA,” “traceability,” all linked to a broader engagement designers are creating for themselves- that of self-owned or local production facilities that offer apparel production accessibility.
Recently, at the Made Fashion Week Kickoff, NYC Mayor De Blasio pledged $15 Million to the local fashion industry, giving a huge jolt to local manufacturing and tech.
“In very real economic terms, this industry is more vital than ever,” De Blasio told the NY Observer, adding that fashion employs 180,000 people, providing $11 billion in wages and generating $2 billion in annual tax revenue. “When you believe in something, you invest in it. The city of New York is tripling our investment in fashion initiatives.”
Other high profile fashion organizations like the CFDA who have collaborated with the New York City Economic Development Corporation have created their own business development program to support emerging designers in New York City. Through this fashion incubator program, the CFDA hopes to grow and sustain 10 brands over the course of two years through the program.
More high-profile incubators through Macy’s in Chicago , San Francisco and Philadelphia and other smaller incubators and accelerators all over the U.S., including the Denver Design Incubator and the Seattle Fashion Incubator, the Good Clothing Company on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Factory45 in Boston are also hoping to grow brands needing guidance outside of design schools and often offer small run production or access to it.
And then there are the designers taking matters into their own hands, like Nicole Bridger.
Nicole Bridger is a Canadian fashion line for women who want to look effortlessly chic while maintaining a commitment to the earth and its people (not to mention Bridger would like to keep running a sustainable, locally run business).
In addition to craving a space for experimentation having her own facility and focusing on small runs, Bridger says quality control and being able to test run a garment was huge when she considered buying the space she manufactures in.
“This factory is 20 yrs old and I’ve been using it for 5 years. The owners wanted to retire and I’ve always wanted to have my own factory so I saw it as an important step in making my own company successful, both financially and technically,” says Bridger.
Nicole Bridger’s apparel production facility in Vancouver, BC
“Knowing who is making my clothing. I love knowing the sewers and actually seeing how their being treated-for me its all about relationships and about figuring out a better way for the apparel industry to exist. Both for the environment and the people working in it,” says Bridger.Houston, Texas based designer David Peck is another pioneer who took control of his production and then utilized the story to augment his brand’s approachability about 4 years ago. Peck says the decision was a response to not having manufacturing options in Houston that were able to do the quality of finishing for which he was looking for.”It was very small at first and it took training and patience to get to the quality level that we desired. It wasn’t until we had really been manufacturing for ourselves for a season or two that we opened up our services to other designers and private label,” says Peck, adding that having his own manufacturing facility has most definitely impacted the way his business has grown and changed.
From David Peck Fall/Winter 2014The designer says not only is he now able to experiment with different fabrications, he can also alter production schedules based on what is selling and what our customers want.”I also feel like we have been able to perfect our fit in a way that would not be possible if we were outsourcing. Smaller runs of specialty fabrics as well as custom sizes for customers has also differentiated us from our competition,” says Peck adding that if there’s a style that is working particularly well and is selling out, he can easily do another run or version of the style.”Our quality has also gotten constantly better. We are able to address manufacturing issues right away rather than waiting for a season to come and go before a problem is fixed,” says Peck.”One of the barriers that I see to designers being able to do what we do is that there aren’t a lot of programs left that give you the kind of education that you need to run a factory and train workers. It’s a difficult business and can be difficult to scale without purchasing expensive, specialized equipment. That being said, I hope that more designers do go back to this way of working. It’s very “old school” in approach, but I think that the quality of the work is innumerably better and the customer gets a much better product as a result.”
Samantha Black, a Brooklyn Fashion+Design Accelerator Venture Fellow, Project Runway All Stars designer as well as founder behind the eponymous line Sammy B says re-creating her own apparel production has from the start felt very different. Black says creating even just one jacket with the BF+DA’s production team has made her feel like she “was being handled with care, even though I was only working on one style at the moment.””Other times, I feel like my process gets rushed and if I miss the smallest detail, past factories won’t say anything even though they know suggesting something other could make a world of difference,” says Black.
Sammy B designs
Does Black foresee this trend of designers seeking out small run production houses becoming more prevalent?
“Yes! This type of expertise in the process and the level of communication would help emerging designers because you’re getting some knowledge as you go along, making each time easier as well as having you think differently when designing and the process to make an item. Also the feeling that they want your design to be great as much as you do helps a lot.”