On Saturday, March 17, 2018, I was so honored to receive the FASHION HUMANITARIAN award from The Garment League at their On Central Fashion And Art Weekend that was part of Artlink's Art Detour 30. After 17 years of working to unite the local industry and provide a place where all local fashion designers can find the resources they need to start, grow and stay in Arizona, this award has given me a renewed energy to stay motivated in these efforts. I am truly humbled and feel so privileged to have been recognized. When I learned that I would be making an acceptance speech as part of the opening to the On Central fashion show, I was excited to have a platform in which to share my thoughts on the local fashion industry. So, I took the opportunity to write a speech and I'd love to share it now with you...
Thank you so much to The Garment League, Tricee, Artlink and the City of Phoenix for this humbling honor and for organizing such an important event like this one.
Celebrating and scaffolding our local arts and fashion industry is so important. I know I’m speaking to the choir on this, but I’d like to take this opportunity to say a few words about why.
We are seeing a huge disruption in a lot of industries. The farm to table movement and the tech industry are two obvious ones. With millennials leading the way, consumers now want responsibly/sustain-ably made products. So, the days of manufacturing hundreds of thousands of the same disposable garment overseas by questionable factories is dying. Consumers want pieces with a heart and with a story. They want uniqueness and they want to connect with the artist who created their clothing. You can see this disruption in the news as we watch big retailers close their doors almost every day.
The emerging designer, making limited quantities of unique goods domestically, responsibly and sustainably is the new black. However, the old model of overseas manufacturing in bulk is still the only option for apparel manufacturing. So, emerging designers are challenged with how to produce smaller quantities locally. Where can you find wholesale fabrics/trims? Pattern makers? Pattern graders? Production cutters and sewing contractors who are willing to sew small quantities? All of the things you’ need to operate a clothing brand. How can they find the resources they need to fill orders for the beautiful items we will see tonight or that we see nearly every week now on Arizona runways? And what about all of the other emerging designers all over the nation facing the same problem? If that brand isn’t located in LA or NY where there are still a few factories left, they are simply out of luck.
So, what’s the solution? How do we lead the nation to disrupt an industry? For 17 years I’ve been asking this question when I had to close my own LA based fashion brand down when I moved back to my home state of Arizona due to lack of resources. Back in the year 2001 I met Dennita Sewell from the Phoenix Art Museum and she put me and other local designers in a runway show at Monorchid. After meeting other designers with the same issue, I was inspired to start LabelHorde….a directory of local fashion business…so that I could try to unite the local fashion industry. My hope was to attract a manufacturer to Arizona. Fast forward about a decade later and we had a lot more brands/designers, fashion weeks, fashion programs, fashion organizations and celebrations but still no resources. That’s when I knew, if I really wanted to help solve this problem, Arizona needed more than my online directory. In 2016 I partnered with a woman named Sherri Barry and we formed a non-profit called Arizona Apparel Foundation and opened a fashion incubator called FABRIC the Fashion And Business Resource Innovation Center to help provide the resources Arizona has been lacking including industry education, manufacturing, design development/prototyping, fabric/trim sourcing, technology and more. It’s been about a year and a half since we opened and we’ve helped over 200 local fashion brands start up, develop their products and manufacture in realistic quantities. These are 200 brands who would have had to leave our state for LA or NY to find these resources or simply wouldn’t have been able to start at all. And many of these brands are on their 4th or 5th production runs with us.
I’m so proud of this and today I want to share this award with Sherri. I set this in motion over 17 years ago, but it wasn’t until I partnered with Sherri that we were able to make a giant leap together to create a physical resource like FABRIC. So, today I’d like to thank the hundreds of volunteers who have dedicated thousands of hours to AZ Apparel Foundation’s mission, to my family for putting up with my persistence, but mostly to Sherri for partnering with me to help provide the things that Arizona needed.
And now we have a bigger issue. The brands that are growing out of our facility need a higher capacity factory in Arizona. We don’t want to now send successful brands outside of Arizona to spend their money. So, this is an important economic development issue for our state. We need events like this and partnerships between Arizona cities, politicians and philanthropists that want to join us in leading the nation to disrupt this industry. Look how far we’ve come with just the efforts of a few passionate community members. Can you imagine if we had some serious support?
Thank you so much again for this exciting recognition. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.