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What exactly is an incubator? The term has been used as a fashion buzzword over the past few years in reference to organizations that help "nurture" emerging designers. But what does that "nurturing" really mean?
To find out, we asked Manufacture NY, a Midtown-based self-described "hybrid fashion incubator and factory," exactly what it is they do. For Director of Designer Relations Seth Fridermann and his team, an incubator adjusts to the brands it deals with. Specifically, that means they meet with brands and from there, assess their strengths and weaknesses and decide—in bespoke process—what they need and how to work with them.
They also decide whether the designers should be brought into the "incubator" component of the organization—more on that later—or if Manufacture would operate as a consulting firm.
Of course, Manufacture NY isn't the only organization hoping to help out; marquee names like the CFDA and luxury goods conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey have already joined the foray, with projects like the CFDA Incubator program and the LVMH Prize—the latter of which offers twelve months of support from the LVMH network.
The key difference? "The CFDA wants four years of existence, several major accounts and lots of press, which is fine, that's their paradigm," said Fridermann. "LVMH just said you had to be under 40 and have done two collections. Ours is, 'we want to help.'"
That's executed in four main areas: production, business development, branding, and marketing. Put simply, the incubator does everything from assistant work to physically creating garments, as well as managing and growing the business and working with retailers. The result, for the nineteen current incubator design members, is a fairly holistic approach that addresses each brand individually and engages with them at different intensities depending on their needs.
"Designers have things in their heads, but even if they are designers that sew, many times they need someone to go back and double check them. [Or they'll say], 'I can't get this shape right,'" Fridermann explains. For those designers, Manufacture provides in-house pattern makers, like Margaret May and local factories that can help with double-checking and retooling pattern designs.
For other designers, things are more business focused. Emerging designers who easily understand the creative aspects of the business may not be able to manage a budget, handle investments, or other administrative tasks. To help, Manufacture has hosted workshops spanning topics from the intricacies of programs like QuickBooks—taught by the company's COO/CFO and former Goldman Sachs employee, Nelis Parts—to "10 Things Not To Say In an Investor Meeting."
"Our designers are here from 11am to 2 in the morning" said Saba Gray, another member of the Manufacture team. "And then we have the other ones who have a day time job and come here and work until 3 or 4." Gray, a former buyer, says that above all, sometimes the designers really just need a sounding board and outside viewpoint. While in the space, designers can use the office's sewing machines, computers, and the in-house patternmaker.
Whether the incubator decides to bring a brand to the group, or just work with them on a consultant basis, isn't a question of taste. "There's not an aesthetic curation, it's a qualitative curation," Friedermann said. He went on to explain this qualitative curation "isn't about what I like—it's about, 'Are you executing what you're going for well.'" Because of that, brands have ranged from basics and petites to couturiers.
What Fridermann does look for are people who understand the process of fashion and who are teachable. Likening the decision to have a career in the creative industries to slamming one's hand in the car door repeatedly, Friedermann says that he's looking for designers that are down for the fight—By Mikelle Street.
· Manufacture New York [Official Site]