Phoenix Rising as New Fashion Center
I spent part of last week on a quick jaunt to Phoenix, Arizona. The trip was part social—my sister lives in Tempe and it’s always fun to hang with her—but was mainly motivated by business. Full disclosure: after many years being a curator and avid supporter of independent designers, I am about to become a maker myself. Yes, my sister and I are starting up a small fashion/design business. More details on that to come—for now, I’ll just say we are planning to take over the world, one apron at a time.
Why Phoenix? Why not San Francisco? Well, for one, cost. News flash: Arizona is much cheaper than the Bay Area. But in addition to that, a new resource recently opened in Tempe to help independent fashion designers get their businesses off the ground. The story of LabelHorde, Arizona Fashion Source, and FABRIC is a unique model that can hopefully be replicated in other cities.
The story starts with fashion entrepreneur Angela Johnson, who’s worked in the industry for over 20 years. An independent designer herself, Johnson knew the difficulties young designers faced trying to get their lines started. Tech packs, markers, and minimums may not mean much to you, but for designers who want to stop sewing out of their kitchens, they are essential to know. The problem is, the apparel industry can be a bit opaque about this information. In 2003, Johnson started LabelHorde, an online directory of designers, production contractors, and other resources for the Arizona fashion industry.
Meanwhile fellow design entrepreneur Sherry Barry also saw the need. Barry had years of manufacturing and management experience to bring the table. While LabelHorde helped connect people, it still didn’t solve the needs of young designers for education and business guidance, as well as a place to get their lines manufactured with low minimums.
Together Johnson and Barry developing a vision of a fashion resource center that help would grow the fashion industry in the Phoenix area. They began pitching their idea. Before long, the City of Tempe took the bait and offered them a space—the former Tempe Performing Arts Center that used to house the Stray Cat Theatre.
Now called FABRIC (Fashion And Business Resource Innovation Center), the 23,000 square foot building is home to LabelHorde and the Arizona Fashion Source, a no-minimum, full-service apparel manufacturer. FABRIC also offers affordable spaces for events, studios, classrooms, and offices. FABRIC opened its doors in October 2016.
I took a tour of FABRIC on my visit and was blown away the size of the space and the possibilities it offered. The building was offered As-Is, meaning renovations will continue to be on-going. But already, Johnson and Barry have done magic with the space.
The ground floor provides a 4,000 square foot space with over 30 industrial sewing machines and a 40-foot cutting table for manufacturing. AFS intentionally put the machines and work area to one side, leaving the remainder of the space open for events such as runway and trunk shows. Adjacent to this main room are spaces for a classroom, conference room, and screen printing area.
The second floor houses co-working spaces with 11 offices available for rent at a starting price of $450/month. Johnson and Barry want to open pathways for collaboration among the tenants by allowing them shared use of the maker spaces and equipment at no additional cost.
Because the building used to be a theater, the basement area lends itself perfectly for backstage use during fashion shows. There are two dressing rooms with lighted mirrors, and two additional spaces large enough to use for seminar classrooms or backstage green rooms. There’s even a photo studio and two sound rooms can be rented by the hour or day.
The basement also has six additional office spaces and a sourcing library. Use of these offices is reserved for recipients of a new scholarship started by The Arizona Apparel Foundation—the non-profit arm of this venture. The scholarship was established to help local, up-and-coming fashion designers to start their business. Recipients receive office space, an upgrading listing on LabelHorde, and use of the industrial equipment free of charge for six months.
The partnership between AFS, LabelHorde, and the City of Tempe to create FABRIC is an exciting one that I hope other cities will watch and replicate. I am sure many will be grateful for the opportunities it will provide designers both young and old.