Austin Community College (ACC) unveiled the state-of-the-art Fashion Incubator with a grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday, April 30. More than 200 people attended the celebration including Austin Mayor Steve Adler, ACC President/CEO Dr. Richard Rhodes, ACC Fashion Incubator Director Nina Means, and ACC Board of Trustees and administrators.
"We were approached by the city to help them build a fashion hub for the central part of the United States, and boy did we get excited," said Dr. Rhodes.
"We had a delegation travel to Dallas and New York City to see other accelerators and incubators and see how they were approaching it and building up emerging designers," said Means. "And then they came back here and said we actually need to bring someone else along this journey with us. We need a technology partner."
The result was the Fashion Incubator, a partnership between ACC, the City of Austin Economic Development Department, and Gerber Technology to provide a space that offers real-world learning opportunities, commercial design and manufacturing contract services, business incubation, and career-technical training to grow the local fashion industry.
"We are incredibly excited to take part in this project," said Elizabeth King Gerber's Vice President of Digital Solutions Community and Ecosystem. "Gerber is extremely proud to be able to train the next generation of great innovators by offering them a state-of-the-art fully integrated workflow to take their skills to the next level."
Fashion Incubator students and designers will have access to a Gerber Technology Z1 Cutter machine and digital solutions packages valued at $13.1 million. There is only one other school in the nation with this specific technology, which allows designers to create a production plan, cut, and produce smaller batches of clothes, saving the cost of test samples or outsource clothing orders.
"This program in particular is at the intersection of technology that is Austin, and workforce development; as we recognize that we are the city where so many things are going so well, the things where we are challenged stand out in stark relief," said Adler. "We have 30,000 middle-skill jobs in this city and 30,000 people looking for work and our success as a city is going to depend on our ability to match those two and it is a community college that we have the greatest hope and potential to achieve that."
A study commissioned by the City of Austin in 2014 found the Austin fashion industry held more than 1,300 jobs and contributed $86 million to the city, but faced challenges due to a lack of regional resources and business development training. The study suggested the development of a regional incubator to fuel continued growth.
"We have such a creative city full of people with great ideas. What we have lacked is the technical ability to realize the ideas in a tangible product," said Kristopher Stevens, a Fashion Incubator advisory board member and instructor and co-owner of Stitch Texas, a clothing and sewn product design, development and production company. "These are very marketable job skills; depending on what avenue you follow, you might make $20 to $80 an hour."
Stevens then introduced Jeff Calin, one of the students in his class working on earning his fashion design certificate.
"When I retired from the Army, I had a little bit of interest in sewing," said Calin, who earned his bachelor's from West Point, his master's from Texas A&M University, and his doctorate from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. "I don't need another degree. What I need is knowledge and skills. The college can lead a lot of initiatives and we can be on the cutting edge of a whole lot of things if we just keep looking for new and interesting ways to combine what we have here."
After hearing prepared remarks from speakers, attendees had the opportunity to tour the Fashion Incubator, which is divided into two sections — one for instruction and production and the other for studio space for designers-in-residence — and watch the Gerber machine in action.
View photos from the event here.
Applications are now open for the designer-in-residence program. To learn more about the ACC Fashion Incubator, visit austincc.edu/fashionincubator. To explore ACC's fashion programs, visit austincc.edu/fashion.
Read excerpts from each of the speaker's remarks below:
"What happens here is actually going to change the fashion industry in central Texas and the central part of the United States. When you think of fashion, you think of New York City, San Francisco, and now you're going to think about Austin, Texas." - Dr. Richard Rhodes
"This marks the beginning of a uniquely innovative program that we're really hoping will have a lasting impact here in Austin. The fashion incubator really does stand on three principles: it's about being highly inclusive, collaborative, and interdisciplinary." - Nina Means
"We have so much talent here. The students in classes with me are so inspiring. When we get together and start working on things, the creative give-and-take just amplifies everything we're all doing and that's because of the investment in the learning programs here behind us." - Jeff Calin