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Friday, April 15, 2011

FASHION Buzz: Seattle Fashion Incubator- Taking Steps to Create a Garment District in Seattle

Today I attended “Local Designers Need Local Manufactures” hosted by Steven Matsumoto, co- founder of the Seattle Fashion Incubator (SFI).  You’re wondering what in the world does this forum have to do with Seattle “fashion”?  And my answer to you, plainly put, is EVERYTHING.  With the outsourcing of most of the U.S.’s manufacturing to China, local fashion designers have found it hard to find local seamstresses to make their pieces.   They want their pieces made in the U.S., and specifically, in Seattle.   But finding a manufacturer is difficult and the process is extremely time consuming.  
Jesica Milton Piece at Vancouver Ecco Fashion Week
Image Credit: Peter Holst
http://www.holstphotographic.com/
Photo Courtesy of Jesica Milton Facebook
Upon arrival to the forum, the room was clearly divided, designers on one side, manufactures on the other.  It was a little bit awkward, kind of like a junior high school dance with boys on one side and the girls on the other. Both sides are passionate and have a story to tell, and both it seems are at wits end with each other.   This is where Seattle Incubator comes in, as “Switzerland”, to mediate between the two, with the hopes of putting Seattle on the International fashion map as its final goal.
Before I get into this highly complex issue, let be clear that I am by no means a fashion expert. I don’t have a fancy degree in Fashion, and I’m not a designer, fancy department store buyer, or anything special.  I’m just a girl who loves fashion and who wishes she could more easily buy local fashions.  I’ve been to a handful of fashion shows in Seattle, ohh’ing and aww’ing as the threads hit the runway. Never did I stop and wonder what in the world the designer went through to get their designs up there. Seems simple, design it, sew it, go? Right? No way.

Jessica Milton Asymmetrical Wrap Dress
Wrap dress with batwing sleeves and asymmetrical hemline.
Snap closure. 100% silk crepe de chine.
Photo Courtesy of www.jesicamilton.com

First group on the agenda is the designers.  They mention that getting threads and fabric in Seattle is a major problem, with lengthy application processes, credit checks and paperwork that takes months to clear.  Why not just order from China, when you can get a similar product, similar quality, without all the hassle?  But, that is almost the least of the designers concerns. Once they get their threads that have taken months to acquire, it’s now off to find a pattern maker, which is a dying art. Oh and by the way you can’t just Google “Seattle Pattern Maker”, nothing comes up.  There’s no Garment District in Seattle, no official fashion database (which Incubator hopes to create).  More on a fashion district later. Now, once the designer’s pattern is sized and production ready, they are ready for a manufacturer and the designers are not shy about expressing how frustrating this process is.  Local designer Jesica Milton mentions that often times, manufactures are so jaded; they won’t even call her back. Others mention that minimum orders are always a problem; the little fish feel like they get bumped by manufactures when larger orders come in.  Ordering samples is wildly expensive, and manufactures don’t like to create them as they are time consuming.  There is no trust from designers to manufactures, they claim that orders are often late and promises are made and never kept.  
The other side of the room, the manufactures counter that designers are flakey and disloyal. They are tired of working with local designers who order a few pieces, then outsource their larger orders to China. It takes a lot of time to take a design concept and get it production ready, and the manufactures feel like they are wasting time walking designers through this process, only to have them make their final order from China.  The manufactures are tired of poorly planned patterns from the designers, and as one manufacturer put it, “Garbage going in, garbage coming out”.  The manufactures talk about how they have to protect themselves, and evaluate each and every piece they produce, taking into careful consideration, “Does this item even stand a chance of being commercially successful?” If they believe it’s not, then they turn the designer away.   Their last complaint is that often very capable designers have zero business plan and zero idea what to do once their product is complete.  
So where do we go from here? Both sides make good points, and the problem is not easily solved. In comes Seattle Incubator.  Their goal is to provide emerging fashion brands with the ideal environment to develop and grow their businesses. More specifically, to revitalize a Seattle Garment District, a la pre-China outsourcing days. Where a designer can find a decent pattern maker they can trust, purchase fabrics with cash, have samples cut and made, and finished products manufactured, all in the same area.  The designers would be able to turn pieces out faster and much more affordably, and inevitably the manufactures would be able to keep more designers as clients, and prevent them from going off shore to produce.

Steven Matsumoto
Photo Courtesy of
http://seattlefashionincubator.org/home

Re-creating this district is a very lofty and large goal. But, if anyone can do it, it’s Steven Matsumoto. He’s determined. He’s a man on a mission, and he’s not going to stop until he see’s banners in SoDo marked “Seattle Garment District”.  Seattle Incubator is not the first of its kind, as like groups in LA, New York and even Chicago operate efficiently.   If you ask Steven, he’ll tell you that this fashion district is absolutely necessary to take Seattle to the International fashion map. I agree and sincerely hope that Seattle’s divided fashion community can rally together, to give Seattle designers the district and the tools they need to be able to compete and be recognized on an international level.

Want more information on Seattle Incubator? Visit http://seattlefashionincubator.org/home

Maile is a founding partner of Cabral Edwards Management, C.E.M.  She blogs for Girl Power Hour (http://www.girlpowerhour.com/) managing their Celeb Buzz Seattle blog. Her bi-monthly GPH blogs will not only focus on celebrities, but on their passions and the positive impact they have on the world. She will be covering female celebrities of all kinds that visit the Seattle and Pacific Northwest area.  Cabral Edwards Management is a Celebrity booking & event management company. Follow her on twitter at @mailehager, @CEMManagement and @SeattleCelebBuz.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you Maile for this wonderful account of our event yesterday. We appreciate you bring your readers a behind the scenes account of what true economic development is. As much as I would like to be able to take full credit for yesterday's event it would not have been possible without the help of Marilyn Young Skogland of the Manufacturing Industrial Council of Seattle and Stephen Garritson of enterpriseSeattle.

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  2. Just received an offer from an Italian Manufacturer to make my bags, with no hassles. I was biting my fingernails. I had to let this opportunity go, because I want my bags made in Seattle.
    Very tempting....,however, We are not giving in.
    I enjoyed meeting everyone at the event.
    Thanks a bunch

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  3. Thanks for reading A Martin & Steven Matsumoto. I'll be at the next meeting for sure and would love to write again. If I am missing an angle or you would like to contribute, please let me know. Cheers, Maile

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