New York City has long been a hub of fashion, with some even arguing that it is the number one fashion capital in the world. Whatever the ranking, NYC has long had a place among the Big Four fashion cities alongside Paris, Milan, and London. It holds the title by having some of the best and most influential designers, world famous brands, some of the biggest fashion events globally, and…some of the best fashion innovation. Not content to continue with status quo, the city has seen a revival among fashion startups and has seen the return of fashion manufacturing. This is due in part to the various incubator programs and initiatives run by City as well as private organizations and institutions.
In 2010, to support the industry’s growth and to keep up with innovation, the City of New York started a fashion initiative called FashionNYC2020. The City realized that to keep up with the quickly changing fashion world many aspects of the industry would need to be restructured. A focus on sustainability meant re-shoring fashion manufacturing; the rise of new media and the increasing influence of social networks meant that marketing strategies needed to be rethought; and the intersection of tech and fashion meant that new methods of tech innovation needed to be fostered. Since that study, the city has continued to focus on bolstering the industry, with the most recent changes coming February 2015 as Mayor deBlasio announced a $15 million suite of new fashion initiatives including the launch of madeinnyfashion.nyc.
Now, in addition to the City’s initiatives, other institutions and organizations are stepping up to make NYC the place to be for fashion innovation.
Pratt Design Incubator Manufacture NY
The most recent incubator focused on fashion in NYC is Manufacture NY. The 160,000 square foot facility is set to begin construction this month in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, and will focus on apparel, textiles, and wearable tech. The choice to open Manufacture NY in Brooklyn was a strategic one, as the borough is not only rapidly growing as a center for tech innovation, but the location also aims to spread the fashion industry beyond Manhattan’s garment district. Upon completion the facility will be able to house up to fifty designers and thirty businesses.
Begun in 2002 with the school’s entrepreneurial alumni in mind, the incubator is now open to the public and offers support and mentoring to startups in fashion, textiles, clean tech, and social entrepreneurship. Startups in the program receive mentorship and coaching, office space, access to training materials, and access to capital. The incubator’s fashion alumni include Eko-Lab, an ethically and ecologically driven clothing company, The Twentyten, a functional avant-garde fashion line, and Dargelos, a garment and accessories line that encourages bicycling in the city.
Not strictly for fashion, this incubator is open to designers of all types. It is an economic development program of the City University of New York (CUNY) at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, Queens. In addition to valuable workshop space in the 5,000 square foot fabrication lab, the incubator also offers free office hours with experts in financial planning, accounting, and other areas in which startups often need assistance.
CFDA Fashion Incubator (CFI)
Launched in 2009 by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the New York City Economic Development Corporation, this is one of the city’s oldest incubators. The two-year incubation program offers low-cost studio space for the next generation of fashion designers in NYC. Business mentoring, educational seminars, and networking opportunities are also included. CFI is in the midst of its 2014-2016 program.
NY Fashion Tech Lab
A collaboration between the Partnership Fund for New York City, Springboard Enterprises, and major fashion retailers, this accelerator accepts four to six companies each year into its program. The accelerator is focused on “early and growth stage companies that have developed innovations at the intersection of fashion, retail, and technology.” Throughout the four-month program, participating companies receive mentoring from entrepreneurs and VCs, participate in panel discussions and workshops around industry trends, and get access to product feedback from user groups. The program culminates in a demo day where each of the participating companies can showcase their products.
What started as an e-commerce platform for emerging designers has morphed into an education and support platform in order to meet a need in the market for accelerator programs focused on fashion design. This four-month program focuses on helping emerging fashion companies build their business and saw its first class in January 2014. The accelerator provides brand building opportunities and mentorship from a group of dozens of experts in fashion, PR, and marketing as well as connecting companies to potential funding.
Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator
Focusing on sustainable strategies, local manufacturing, and ethical supply chains, this accelerator provides production and workspace for designers and makers in the fashion industry. The program is run by the Pratt Institute and includes mentorship, small-run apparel production, digital fabrication, and showroom space. Sample room and production facilities as well as 3D printing services are available to aid designers in bringing their ideas into reality.
Fashion Business Accelerator 360
Not a traditional accelerator program, FBA360 is an online education platform aimed at helping fashion entrepreneurs launch their businesses. The online courses are each four weeks long and are available on a variety of topics including launching your fashion line, social media for fashion, and how to approach getting funding.