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The best story you have is your own

The best story you have is your own. You innovate because it is necessary for survival.

the best story - gerber

Initially, when I thought about fashion technology, I immediately feared that some cold, unfeeling algorithm was going to take away the need for a fashion designer like me.  It would take all of the heart and soul out of the creative process and reduce it to a series of events most likely to occur at check out – completed purchase for one blue shirt, size medium, long sleeve, button front. As designers, we do this as designing to metrics, but then there’s room for interpretation and freedom of expression.  What’s more, there is the human emotion, the gut check that signals the way to the next best trend, not simply a rehash and remix of your previous choices.  Technology where it has its benefits, may not signal the way to true innovation--or does it?

So, what could fashion technology really be good for? Well, a lot of things. The cost to design a new collection can be astronomically high especially if you develop your product from scratch in the US and rely on a bevy of other experts to realize your ideas. What’s more, the fashion poles of New York and Los Angeles make getting your product made in the US that much more difficult especially when you reside in the heartland hundreds of miles away from “the industry”. As a designer, the product development costs were almost insurmountable.  Even after efficiently and effectively managing my production, my product development costs were looming out there in the background sucking my hard-earned revenue dry. The ability to reduce these development costs upfront would have had a dramatic impact on my ability to have the capital to hone in on the product that was really performing and improve my return on my investment.

Fast-forward to an opportunity I came across through one of my buyers of my namesake brand, Nina Means. She told me “you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I think you should put your hat in the ring for this new position”. The position was for the Director of a Fashion Incubator at Austin Community College in Austin, TX. Now, I had already been working away trying to build a brand in Austin with many pain points from the logistics of development, quality control, managing timely deliveries and the list tumbled down. I got it done, but not without exorbitant shipping fees -- shipping everything from fabric to patterns to product all over the continental US to land in a small specialty store on time. Enough already! And what about this job?

As it turned out, the City of Austin had approached Austin Community College to create a Fashion Incubator to solve the issues that designers like me were having with creating gainful business from Central Texas. They teamed up with Gerber Technology to provide state of the art equipment to startup fashion businesses in the Central Texas region – a complete digital solutions package. This technology makes it possible for designers to slash their product development cost by allowing designers to realize an entire collection digitally in 3D before a single piece of fabric is cut. It also makes it possible for those patterns to be housed and manipulated digitally for future use eliminating the need to keep racks of paper patterns.

the best story - gerber

A quick aside: did you know that fashion was the world’s biggest polluter after oil and gas? Sustainability is getting a huge opportunity through this digital solution. Startup designers are taking note of their global impact and insisting on making a smaller footprint as the fashion industry moves forward, and the technology helps us do that. More than that, the customer is looking for it.

Furthermore, the Austin Community College Fashion Incubator gives access to the Gerber Technology Z1 digital cutter that will quickly cut as many (or as few) garments that are needed to meet sampling and lower minimum needs. It could even pave the way for on demand market strategies in the future. 

If that were not enough, Designers-in-residence also receive access to product lifecycle management software, similar to what I used when I worked as a designer in New York City – the kind of software that saved multibillion-dollar companies millions of dollars in efficient product development, production and sales management.

There are so many wins to working this way, so my initial fears about technology were all but dead. Designers get to test their concept and their initial kinks in a 3D digital space. Potentially, they do not waste money on paper or fabric working and reworking their collections.  Where normal fashion business practices dictate that designers pay exceptionally high sample prices or face having to make more product than what is needed to get a more reasonable price per piece, they can now cut-to-order on smaller quantity buys that are common for young design businesses selling to specialty stores all facilitated by the technology.

The technology allows the young designer to avoid all of that and focus on the product that is absolutely needed. As they grow their business, they can meet standard industry requirements and keep their revenue where it belongs, in the bank.

The Innovation:

  • Technology decentralizes and democratizes the fashion industry
  • Technology makes it possible to facilitate accurate design
  • Technology is what we need to drive sustainability

Fashion technology isn’t that bad after all; it’s actually pretty wonderful. There’s real opportunity for a much higher return on investment for young startup designers as well as a greater opportunity for long term sustainability.

By the way, did you know you could apply to be a Designer-in-Residence at the Austin Community College Fashion Incubator? Apply here.


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