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Nashville Plots Path Toward Fashion Capital Status

Country music might have put Nashville on the map, but fashion may be the city’s next big export.

Or at least that’s what the Nashville Fashion Alliance hopes. The trade group released a report Wednesday outlining the ways in which Nashville is uniquely positioned to foster start-up and emerging brands’ growth.

The NFA, which is comprised of 368 members about of third of which are fashion brands, worked with Gherzi Textil Organisation, an international consulting firm specializing in the textile, garment and fashion industries, on the research and resulting action plan.

The findings indicate Nashville has the largest per capita concentration of independent fashion companies outside of New York and Los Angeles. Today, the fashion industry contributes $5.9 billion to the city directly and indirectly and employs more than 16,200 people. Those numbers could reach $9.5 billion and 25,000 people by 2025 with the right investment.

“From designer-led startups to emerging brands demonstrating traction and readiness to scale, the NFA is dedicated to creating the support network for fashion companies to grow, thrive and become solid employers,” said NFA CEO Van Tucker. “We believe our region belongs on the fashion map, and we are here to help make it happen.”

The biggest players in the region are Genesco, which produces branded footwear, VF Imagewear, a subsidiary of VF Corporation, which offers workwear brands, as well as distribution centers for Gap, UnderArmour, Macy’s and Warby Parker.

The report outlines several attributes that make Nashville an attractive headquarters for apparel-related businesses. Among them is the city’s position as fourth in the nation for job growth. The population is also growing at almost double the national average and boasts a high concentration of creatives. And the area is competitive in terms of design and retail wages, which are significantly lower than the national average.

Nashville’s central location puts it within a day’s drive of major markets that represent 70 percent of the national purchasing power.

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To achieve the NFA’s growth trajectory, the study found the city needs to take a number of steps. First, establish a small-batch production space where small apparel and accessories brands can create and experiment. Next, provide mentors and training courses to help fledgling entrepreneurs learn about accounting, marketing and retail. The group also needs to establish collective bargaining agreements to help link designers to the raw materials and specialized subcontractors they need. The NFA members will also need co-working spaces and legal and accounting services. And finally, as companies emerge from the startup phase, the NFA must be able to support the growing businesses by establishing an accelerator or helping to line up key investors.