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FISF — supporting local talent in the design workforce

Sun, 30 Dec 2012 17:46:00
Article by:
Lindsay Adams
[L-R]Tamara Jaric, Bethany Meuleners and Justin Jamison are three of six designers awarded a fashion incubator mentorship at Macy’s. Photo by Claire Kirshner.

Twenty years ago, fashion apparel was the second-largest industry in San Francisco, just behind tourism. Gradually since then, however, the local fashion market has struggled to compete with larger brand names and offshoring practices.

In response to the decline in local business, the Fashion Incubator San Francisco at Macy’s Union Square — FISF — was formed in 2011 in order to provide support for San Francisco fashion designers.

FISF is a nonprofit 501c3 organization that functions as an educational foundation. Selected designers develop as entrepreneurs under the guidance of experts in the San Francisco fashion and economic development community. Since its formation just over one year ago, FISF has played a major role in turning the local San Francisco fashion industry back towards the direction it was headed more than two decades ago.

“It feels very much like San Francisco is on everyone’s radar,” Sheri Evans, owner of Metier, a popular San Francisco boutique, projected. “I think it’s the right moment right now. People are wanting to buy local, for sure. It’s a perfect moment.”

Evans was one of three “buyer” guest speakers at a “Meet the Buyers” panel hosted by FISF in November. Barrett Pardum, owner and designer for Taylor Stitch, and Lori Randolf — the district vice president of Macy’s San Francisco — were also in attendance. 

Senior Director Janet Lees of SFMade — a local nonprofit focused on building San Francisco’s economic base by developing the local manufacturing sector — counseled as well, promoting the benefits of local production.   

FISF organized the entire discussion with the intention to create a dialogue between designers and buyers, thus allowing local designers a chance to gain insight into the marketing aspect of fashion and to better understand how buyers make their purchasing decisions.  

“SFMade gives industry specific programs that cover subjects other than fashion. FISF does a broad curriculum of seminars on fashion branding, sourcing, legal issues, accounting and marketing for the six designers in residence,” stated FISF Executive Director Jeanne Allen. “We thought if we could combine our resources we could get the same information out to the entire Bay Area fashion community.”

The “Meet the Buyers” panel discussion focused on the initial marketing elements for local designers interested in selling their products to San Francisco buyers. “Buyer” speakers chronicled the buying calendar, emphasizing when they look for new products, as well as how they look for these products. The speakers explained how buyers preferred to be approached, and what is expected of the buyer/designer relationship.

“The relationship between a buyer and a designer is really important,” stressed Evans. “I can’t say that enough.”

Allen further noted why the particular speakers were selected. “We wanted to have three speakers who represent different segments of the market: department stores with Lori Randolf, boutique; business with Sheri Evans, and designer-owned retail with Barrett Purdum. Many small companies would like to sell to Macy’s, but Lori explained why this can be dangerous if the business is underfunded.”

“It was hugely successful!” Randolph said of the event. “We had hoped for 50 attendees. We had 75 seats. We sold out all of those and were selling standing room at the door. All in all, we had about 90 people there. We sent a feedback questionnaire after the event, and the reaction was excellent!”

Still a relatively new organization to San Francisco, FISF’s possibly most developed function is the Designers-in-Residence Program. Each year six designers are selected through an application process to take part in the year-long program. 

The chosen aspiring artists are provided workspace at Macy’s Union Square offices and are provided instructional courses in topics ranging from business planning, brand marketing and image creation to line-costing and design critiques with apparel buyers and department managers. 

Designers in residence are granted the opportunity to showcase their collections to a variety of merchants ranging from local boutique owners to national retailers.

FISF is made possible through sponsorship from Macy’s, Union Square, and Bank of America, along with donations from various organizations.

Due to the success of the “Meet the Buyers” panel discussion, FISF plans to continue organizing similar workshops in the future.

“We are planning a program on costing [in January],” predicted Allen. “Not a sexy subject, but essential for running a profitable business. It will be titled something like “Charging What You Are Worth.” We will have more chairs and allow time before the program for networking. We’d also like to offer some refreshments. This will be a PowerPoint presentation.”

More information about FISF can be found at www.fashionincubatorsf.org.

 
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