By now, the disruption in the food industry that gave rise to the locally driven, farm-to-table concept is apparent even to the most conventional consumers. Much like the resulting creative restaurant concepts that have us all clamoring to try the latest multi-cultural fusion street taco truck or the hippest ice cream parlor that dares to offer flavors like bacon avocado, the emerging design community is seeing its own renaissance due to the disruption of the retail industry. Websites like Etsy and build-your-own-website templates like Wordpress and Wix have been providing emerging designers a platform that enables them to bypass traditional sales funnels and go direct to consumer since the early 2000’s. The result has been a world of consumers at an emerging designer’s fingertips and an endless choice of unique and authentic products made locally, responsibly and sustain-ably at a consumer’s fingertips.
But what would happen if chefs and emerging restaurateurs didn’t have access to locally grown food and had to purchase the same ingredients that are produced in bulk, in questionable ways, for large-capacity, fast food chains producing the cheapest ingredients in the highest volume? The obstacles and expenses would be insurmountable and creative chefs would never get past the idea stage. Luckily, the current generation’s interest in sustainability coupled with their driving need to fix a world filled with broken systems has paved the way for the sustainable and organic food industry as well as other industries like tech. The changes in these industries have been well-received which is evidenced by the endless investments being made in the tech industry and the public’s willingness to pay higher prices for food and products that prove to be unique and responsibly made. So, why don’t we see this kind of support in the fashion industry? As consumers, we have become accustomed to our clothing costing as much or even less than our lunch and being equally disposable. The average consumer is simply unaware of just how much skill is involved and how many environmentally impactful processes are involved in creating a sewn product.
What does this mean for the future of design? This new generation of designers are faced with insurmountable obstacles. They are forced to navigate a traditional and stale method of sourcing and manufacturing that was built for large scale methods. Long ago these sources moved off shore to satisfy the budget conscious culture that has evolved from the popularity of disposable fashion. Off shore manufacturing means high minimums, long lead times and a lack of communication that leads to inaccuracies due to language and proximity barriers.
There is a solution and it simply involves a partnership between local government, private business and community. Cities that embrace and support their local fashion communities are supporting an industry that is far reaching, economically fruitful and employs experts in countless related fields including beauty, marketing, merchandising, retail and more. This is a formula that has already proven to work just as in the tech industry where partnerships between government and private business provide incubators, co-working, education and micro-manufacturing to foster and support emerging tech entrepreneurs. In order for the fashion industry to become sustainable, the future of design will need to be a formula that includes local partnerships between government, community, non-profits, higher education and private business.
An ideal example of this formula working successfully is the partnership that the City of Tempe Arizona has with the Non-profit Arizona Apparel Foundation, the private business AZ Fashion Source and the community of LabelHorde inside of the AZ fashion incubator building F.A.B.R.I.C. The Fashion And Business Resource Innovation Center (F.A.B.R.I.C.) is a City of Tempe building. It sits on the campus of Arizona State University, one of the U.S.’s largest universities. It houses a variety of emerging Arizona fashion businesses in a unique business arrangement that enables them to grow, learn, share, collaborate and overcome obstacles while “giving back” to the community in exchange for use of the building. Inside F.A.B.R.I.C. you’ll find Arizona Apparel Foundation which is the non-profit that provides subsidized education, resources and opportunities for emerging and growing fashion brands and students. AZ Fashion Source, a for-profit, private business provides space use including co-working space, event space and studio space along with no-minimum manufacturing which is crucial to the success of an emerging brand. LabelHorde, a for-profit, private business that provides a local industry directory, education, design development, calendar, classifieds and news is vital to bringing the community element to the formula. Additionally, the F.A.B.R.I.C. building is home to many more fashion brands and related businesses who contribute to the community “give back” in the form of free classes, events and community resources and services. This clever arrangement enables emerging brands to find everything they need under one roof to start, grow and thrive while avoiding the obstacles that take most new brands down within the first year.
This model is proving to be a success. Since opening its doors in October of 2016 F.A.B.R.I.C. has helped hundreds of emerging Arizona designers and brands navigate the complex start up process and is starting to see a significant increase in out-of-state brands who are seeking similar resources. In order for a sustainable and responsible industry to grow, the future of design involves a similar arrangement between public, private, social and higher education entities to provide design incubators similar to F.A.B.R.I.C. in every US city.
FABRIC ribbon cutting with Tempe Mayor photographed by Ryan Walsh
This blog post is a part of Design Blogger Competition organized by CGTrader