Fashion design is more than coming up with a creative idea and running with it. To be a successful brand, designers must figure out how to conjure up a loan, attract investors, develop a marketing campaign, plug into the retail world and hang onto customers.
With that in mind, Stateless Inc., a New York fashion design and development company that has launched 85 designers since 2017, is starting the Stateless Fashion Incubator, a Stateless Group program that will extend a helping hand to up-and-coming fashion creators trying to break into the business with limited capital.
The incubator program is an open-application platform specifically for underrepresented entrepreneurs with mission-driven brands. “Our goal with the incubator is to lower the barrier to entry for founders as much as possible and to help build brands that affect positive change on our industry, planet and society,” said Evan Polivy, Stateless’ director of brand development. “What makes our program unique is that we are accepting brands that are pre-revenue, and we aren’t just giving founders guidance and money. We’re giving them a full team and structured program to expertly executive their visions.”
Stateless’ incubator program will support two new apparel brands per year through a one-year program that includes brand and product design/development, production management, access to a global network of manufacturers, marketing, public relations, business mentorship, and capital strategy.
While the program is free, Stateless will ask for a negotiable amount of equity from each incubator participant.
“We’ve really [homed] in on an efficient system for professional product development, built a wide network of reputable third-party factory vendors around the world and gained a deep understanding of what it takes for emergent brands to have the best shot at success,” Polivy said. “But even with the efficiencies and expertise Stateless provides, it’s expensive to get an apparel brand off the ground and extremely difficult to raise capital at the pre-revenue phase, especially for apparel brands.”
Included in the fashion incubator program is a first-look deal with Neiman Marcus Group, where selected brands have access to luxury retail giant’s merchant team to review their line.
Other partners include Pursuit, which will help selected brands secure more than $100,000 in small-business loans; Investable, which aligns funders with founders; Smile.io, which sets up customer-reward programs; Squareshot, which specializes in product photography; Forte, which does photo and video production; Bella + Canvas, a Los Angeles T-shirt and elevated basics producer; Vox, which concentrates on fulfillment and logistics; Fifty Six, an e-commerce and digital marketing company, and Small Girls PR, which does public relations.
Most fashion incubators are organized by fashion groups, business-development groups and retailers that have extended a helping hand to novice designers.
One of those is Fashion Incubator San Francisco, which was started in 2012 with the help of Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. It has been supporting designers in residence since Betty Nelson, a former vice president of media relations and cause marketing for Macy’s West Coast regions, launched it in 2012.
She began the program because she noticed that designers graduating from fashion school had plenty of fashion ideas but no idea how they were going to make money. She wanted to bridge the gap.
Also, finding new designers gives a leg-up to retailers searching for fresh looks not available to their competition.
In the beginning, the San Francisco incubator was headquartered in Macy’s Union Square store in downtown San Francisco. But a few years ago, it moved a few blocks away to the Bloomingdale’s location inside the Westfield mall on Market Street.
The program is extensive. Fashion Incubator San Francisco finds industry experts and business development professionals to give participants individual mentoring sessions. Educational services are offered to stay on top of current trends and networking is established among the design community. Design studio space is offered to create and showcase new lines.
In New York, the Council of Fashion Designers of America launched its own fashion incubator in 2009 that lived on for almost a decade to mold the next generation of American designers.
The program selected up-and-coming labels to take part in a two-year residency program, offering mentorship, business advice and subsidized studio space in Manhattan’s garment district.
By 2017, its fourth and final class was ready to graduate. CFDA rebooted its program into a digital platform called “The Network,” which was open to all CFDA members.