Supporting the City’s fashion industry

Twenty years ago, fashion apparel was, after tourism, San Francisco’s largest industry. In the last two decades however, as in many urban centres throughout the western world, the weight of the textile sector in the local economy has significantly diminished.

Since 2011 a number of initiatives have been kick started to help entrepreneurs launch and develop fashion businesses in San Francisco. Ahead of the Fashion is a private initiative which assists companies in finding development funds. FashionSF is a City Hall program to support the local apparel manufacturing. Help is also available through networking groups such SF Fashion+ Tech (organised by the SF Merchant Alliance) and   Digitally Chic  for fashion and technology, and SFMadeand PeopleWearSF  connecting designers with Bay Area manufacturers

This March six young fashion designers have been lucky enough to join the Fashion Incubator San Francisco (FISF). FISF is a non-profit organization formed in summer 2011 to help recent graduates and young designers start their fashion label in the city. This project initiated by Macy’s, is modelled on two previous successful Fashion Incubators in Toronto  and Chicago.

San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee declared: “FISF is an innovative way to drive creative design and entrepreneurial success in San Francisco’s fashion industry. By providing wrap-around business support to the City’s fashion designers, FISF will help keep our creative talent here while building an economic base for continued growth.”

Macy’s has contributed equipment and space, providing a total of 3500 square feet on the 7th floor of its executive building on O’Farrell Street. The space has been split into offices, a workshop room equipped for sample production, a classroom and a shared showroom. Each year from March onwards, six candidates will be selected to become Designers in Residence with full use of these facilities for a nominal monthly rent of $250. In addition, they will follow a curriculum focused on business and production and receive mentoring from industry professionals. Help is expected to extend beyond the first year with support programs and networking events.

The designers work closely with fashion industry veteran Jeanne Allen, who was appointed as executive director of FISF.  Allen was the co-founder of Jeanne-Marc, the venerable San Francisco design and production company internationally known for its distinctive women’s clothing.  FISF’s first six Designers in Residence moved into their new offices in March this year. They  are Justin Jamison, Tamara Jaric,  Bethany Meuleners  and Sabah Mansoor Husain (both MFA Academy of Art University) ,  Tony Sananikone ,  and Paloma Von Broadley  (MFA California College of the Arts).

To be eligible, candidates must reside in the Bay Area, be at least 21 years old, plan to start, or have already started, a fashion business in the City, and of course provide all required documentation between September and beginning of December. Fashion design students and designers established for over 2 years are not eligible. Candidates shortlisted at the beginning of January are then interviewed by a review panel.

Best of success to this worthwhile initiative and to the FISF Designers In Residence.  They are at the forefront of a local renaissance with some designers such as Tellason , Turk + Taylor , and Nice Collective  amongst others who already manufacture their garments locally.

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Written by Pierre Delarue