Economy of Design

Fashion incubator provides essential resources for new designers

A few years back, building a successful career as a fashion designer in Arizona meant hopping on a plane to New York City, Los Angeles or Paris. With few resources or employment opportunities in the Valley, emerging designers and graduates from local fashion programs fled to prominent fashion hubs to seek recognition on the world’s runways.

But that was then. Now, with the recent launch of a fashion industry incubator in downtown Tempe, the fashion landscape is having a big moment. Housed in F.A.B.R.I.C. (Fashion and Business Innovation Center), the collective is sewing opportunities for apparel designers to launch and sustain businesses in Arizona.

“Our mission is to provide emerging designers with innovative, small-batch manufacturing and strategic business resources so they can grow their brands sustainably and locally,” says Sherri Barry, who co-founded F.A.B.R.I.C. with Angela Johnson, a prominent fashion industry educator in the Valley.

With digital retailers taking the place of many brick-and-mortar stores, Barry says the time is right to help small brands establish businesses outside of traditional fashion hubs. F.A.B.R.I.C. is there to help them take their ideas from design to production, while having access to the materials and manufacturing services they need to be successful.

“As I sit inside F.A.B.R.I.C. today, I am more than excited to be able to provide all the things emerging designers need under one roof,” says Johnson. “I used to have to send designers to L.A. or New York City or overseas to find the manufacturing resources they needed. And I watched as hundreds of them failed because it is nearly impossible to manufacture apparel when you aren’t in the same city where your garments are being made.”

Launched in October 2016, F.A.B.R.I.C. serves as the headquarters for a number of organizations that have joined forces to create a unique business model. The collective was made possible through a partnership between the City of Tempe; the nonprofit AZ Apparel Foundation; apparel manufacturer AZ Fashion Source; and fashion industry directory and consulting firm LabelHorde, as well as other tenants and co-licensees providing fashion business support services.

F.A.B.R.I.C.’s creative professional environment nurtures promising fashion talent by providing apparel manufacturing, low-cost design studio space, education, business mentoring, consulting and design services, and abundant networking opportunities all under one roof.

“F.A.B.R.I.C. was built to help these smaller, emerging brands by providing the no-minimum manufacturing resources they need along with the consulting and education they need in order to manage their production,” says Johnson. “We haven’t found anything else quite like it in the U.S. The combination of equipment, work space, skilled labor, education/consulting, library, fabric store, photo studio, runway and fashion directory makes this a very unique model that offers everything a small brand needs from A to Z.”

Barry was motivated to launch F.A.B.R.I.C. after attempting to start her own fashion line and running into supply chain difficulties.

“I spent 17 years in retail running 350 stores and that didn’t seem as hard as starting a fashion line,” she says. “So I thought if I can build a shared resource, not only can I help with my line, but I can also help anyone else who has the same problem.”

Barry met Johnson when Barry was pursuing her MBA and preparing to launch her brand. Deciding to devote their energy full-time to F.A.B.R.I.C., the two rolled up their sleeves and began planning how they could make Arizona the next fashion state.

“I love fashion, I love design, I love helping people,” says Barry. “The fact that we have an opportunity in Arizona to create an industry that didn’t exist, that we have a ton of talent, and that we can do it responsibly and sustainably, it’s beyond exciting.”

To date, more than 300 designers have used F.A.B.R.I.C.’s services. The collective has produced 14 full-time jobs ranging from pattern maker, to events coordinator, to production technicians. An additional 15 jobs have also been generated by the 10 designers and other entrepreneurs renting space in F.A.B.R.I.C.

In keeping with its focus on responsible, sustainable manufacturing, F.A.B.R.I.C. is proud to support a top-quality working environment.

“Fashion should not have to come at a human and environmental cost,” says Barry. “We’re proud to not only be a zero-waste factory, but also provide a place where our workers can do what they love in a great environment.”

With sustainability always at the forefront, Barry looks forward to providing more jobs and building a thriving industry from scratch.

“Fashion is a $400 billion industry,” says Barry, who is excited to help build a budding field where graduates from fashion institutes throughout the Valley and from ASU’s new four-year fashion design program, can benefit. “We have a lot of big goals. I’m confident that we’ll get there. It’s the right thing to do at the right time in the right place.”


Leigh Farr

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