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Manufacture NY Turns to Tech to Revive US Fashion

Fashion deserves to be at the forefront of the wearable technology revolution, declared Bob Bland, founder and chief executive of Manufacture New York (MNY), a Brooklyn-based fashion incubator.

She was speaking Tuesday at Product Innovation Apparel, discussing the convergence of the fashion manufacturing industry, technology and embedded sustainability.

It’s not surprising, then, that MNY is playing a major role in the Advanced Functional Fibers of America (AFFOA), a public-private partnership aimed at keeping the U.S. front and center in fiber and textiles innovation. Part of MNY’s participation will include hosting skills-based training and registered apprenticeship programs across the fashion textile manufacturing supply chain.

“This is really what it’s going to take to create a true revolution that actually has an impact on American manufacturing,” Bland said.

That’s essentially the core of MNY: process innovation through collaboration.

“It’s amazing how bringing people together is a game changer,” Bland continued. “Even in a city like New York where everything is very compressed, providing people with space to run their businesses and sharing resources has been a real game changer.”

Currently, MNY is building a fashion technology R&D center, the idea being that combining research and development with what’s already being done on-site as well as with the work of other institutions—including AFFOA—will help pave a path to the future.

“R&D in the technology world takes much longer than our R&D cycles in fashion. This is a good thing in a lot of ways because it will allow us time to not catch up but to adapt, and to embrace what works for us as companies but also be able to have the wisdom to discard some things that might seem like a flash at the time,” she said.

It’s all about combining traditional manufacturing processes with innovation. In fact, something that Bland admitted has surprised her of late has been her own openness to the idea of automation and the need for robotics.

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“Three years ago I would have said no way, if we get too much robotics we’re going to lose all our jobs. But what we’ve seen is that even with the intense pace that we pour money into workforce training in the U.S., we’re not getting the skills level or interest from the new generation that we were hoping for,” she said, adding, “We need to acknowledge that and embrace automation where it makes sense, and ensure that the high-level jobs like patternmaking and technical design are nurtured but also integrated with new skills like 3-D rendering.”