Fashion Incubators Could Lead The Way Forward For The Industry

Written by: Synzenbe

Getting started as a new brand in the fashion industry is no easy feat. The industry has suffered immensely this year as a result of the Covid pandemic, with many brands holding on to their businesses for dear life. Incubators could lead the way forward and this article will explain exactly what they are and how to join one in your area.

What are Fashion Incubators?

Incubators exist in many industries. A fashion incubator (or what is sometimes known as an accelerator) is an enterprise that helps new and start-up fashion companies to develop by providing numerous services. They enable individuals to share skills and expertise to develop their brand further, with cutting-edge facilities and technical services. More importantly, they facilitate networking with other creative entrepreneurs. Many offer low-cost design work-spaces, mentoring, educational programmes making it ideal for those who thrive in community settings.

This year has also seen the rise of remote incubators, such as the one offered by the Brooklyn Fashion Incubator (BFI). Their remote programme allows participants to receive customised attention designed to help them scale their business without having to physically be at the Brooklyn address. There is individually tailored guidance and direction focused on their niches, relating to production, planning, managing finances, growth projection, social media and online presence, business plans, online marketing, selling and so on.

Most fashion incubators are not an alternative to fashion school, in that they mainly focus on business, not design. Some are more business oriented, with guided business programmes. This usually includes a 6 month to 2-year time commitment, access to mentors, funding and a great network of experts. However, if you already have an established business, and simply wish to collaborate with others, it is best to focus on incubators that have free or discounted studio and office space.

Examples of Incubators

In 2017, a French luxury conglomerate named Kering partnered with global innovation platform Plug and Play on “Fashion for Good”, an accelerator programme to reinforce its long-term sustainability efforts. Kering and Plug and Play select 10-15 textile start-ups yearly, for a three-month intensive mentoring programme, during which they receive support in improving their technologies, methodologies and business models. There are no fees and no equity required, and they provide free office space, working alongside other innovators at their Amsterdam hub. They have since branched out and now offer other programmes such as the “Scaling Programme” which supports companies that have a market-ready product and are ready to grow towards commercial scale. Their “South Asia Innovation Programme” aims to advance the transition towards a circular economy and to expedite the necessary innovative solutions.

Kering’s head of sustainability Marie-Claire Daveu has stated: “This collaboration is a solution, amongst others, to reach our sustainability ambition by bringing disruptive innovations to the table.”

A few years back, Asos, the British online fashion retailer, launched two programmes: “Asos Fashion Discovery”, a competition for designers from which two were chosen to receive a 50,000 pounds grant, 50 hours of mentoring and business support, and an edit of their collections sold on Asos; and “Asos Supports Talent”, providing funding and mentorship to eight designers whose projects had some sort of underlying social cause.

You might wonder, what is the advantage to large corporations to provide funds and mentoring to start-ups? These programmes and incubators neatly assist large corporations to stay at the forefront of the latest trends.

How to join a fashion incubator?

Whether you are looking to take advantage of an incubator’s business programme or co-working space, an application process is involved. Look at the intake cycle and give yourself enough time to submit a strong application to have the best chance of securing a space.

Also, it is worthwhile to note that many incubators are companies, which means they are for-profit. They offer a service in exchange for equity in your company. So be sure to read the fine print so you know if it makes financial sense for you to pursue an incubator with investment options. Alternatively, some incubators are government-funded, so you should be able to find details from your local business support section. If you can’t access a fashion incubator in your area, you can also broaden the search to join general business incubators that aren’t focused on fashion.

Six US based incubators to get you started

New York City

The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) fashion incubator is the most well-known and prestigious incubators in the country. Backed by well-established design mentors and working in collaboration with fashion names such as Vogue magazine, designers who get accepted into the CFDA programme are exposed to huge opportunities in the industry. Since 2018, they have rebooted their accelerator model into a more democratised digital platform called "The Network," open to all active CFDA members.

Chicago

The Chicago Fashion Incubator (CFI) hosts shared offices for resident designers, a manufacturing resource centre and showroom space along with equipment resources for designers. It is headquartered in Macy’s, whence the supportive creative environment offers the opportunity to network with buyers, retail executives, and other design professionals.

San Francisco

The Fashion Incubator San Francisco (FiSF) offers Designers in Residence programmes for six designers a year. It was formed in 2011 to help with mentorship and business resources for designers.

Seattle

The Seattle Fashion Incubator (SFI) offers a few different opportunities for designers in the city to access tools to start or grow their fashion business.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia Fashion Incubator is in collaboration with the City of Philadelphia, Macy’s Center City, Center City District and other educational institutions in the fashion design community. The Incubator is a great go-to resource for designers to find out what’s going on in the city.

St Louis

The Saint Louis fashion fund is a non-profit dedicated to enriching St Louis through the “business of fashion”. The fashion fund supports emerging designers, hosts a countless education and outreach programmes, and strives to bring economic development to the Downtown St Louis area.

This article has not been edited by Fibre2Fashion staff and is re-published with permission from synzenbe.com