A Letter from DG3’s President: Why Detroit Desperately Needs a Fashion Design Incubator

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Business incubators are nothing new. In fact, the first U.S. incubator opened in 1959 (and is still operational today). However, fashion design incubators are a more recent development, with the most well known, created by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, only running for a handful of years. Today, fashion design incubators are cropping up all over the country, but I could argue that no city could benefit from its own fashion design incubator as much as Detroit.

If there is one thing I have learned about our fashion design community it's that it is much, much larger than anyone realizes. The problem? Our fashion designers are so spread out across the area – with the bulk of them working out of their homes – that with a few exceptions, the national fashion world and the national media have no idea that Michigan has serious fashion game.

DG3 keeps a regularly updated spreadsheet of legitimate Michigan designers, and our count is more than 100. This number does not include any of the college students currently enrolled in fashion programs around the state.

So, you may be wondering, if we have more than 100 fashion designers actively designing (both part time and full time), why aren’t there more success stories? More of them becoming familiar names/brands? More national attention?

Because while these designers may be able to design well, the bulk of them don’t know the first thing about running a business.

  • Fact: Fashion design programs teach fashion design. They don’t teach business.

  • Fact: If this were New York, the students coming out of the fashion design programs would intern for fashion-related companies in New York. They would secure entry-level jobs at fashion-related companies in New York. They would move up the ranks at these companies and make careers as fashion designers for well-known brands. Or creative directors. Or pattern makers. Eventually, after gaining enough experience in the industry, they may elect to launch their own design companies.

  • Fact: This is not New York. We don’t have all of these high-level fashion brands readily available for internships and employment.

  • Fact: Michigan fashion designers tend to go straight for launching their own design companies. Not having any business knowledge or proper guidance, they struggle quickly, and many resign themselves to fashion design being their “side project”. Something they squeeze in when they can amidst their full-time jobs, and family and personal obligations.

  • Fact: No one is going to find success as a fashion designer without the right resources and serious commitment.

The solution? A fashion design incubator in Detroit. A place that brings together vetted designers with the passion, vision and dedication to succeed. A place that provides, not only workspace and access to industrial machines, but also business mentorship (think financial, legal, marketing) and continuing business education. An incubator that takes a fashion designer from concept and development to making sales and delivering on-time, quality products.

There is currently one fashion design incubator in the state. The Runway, launched in 2014, is located in downtown Lansing and is doing a good job with its first cohort of designers. If you are a fashion designer or have a fashion-related business in the Lansing area, do consider The Runway as your next step to success. However, if you’re in the metro Detroit area, there is nothing in place to help fashion designers build their businesses, outside of DG3’s FashionSpeak fashion conference, which, while amazing and useful, if I do say so myself, is only one day a year and not even close to enough business education necessary to making a real go at launching a company.

DG3 plans to launch its fashion design incubator in Detroit in the city’s soon-to-be Garment District. This month, designers and other fashion-related entrepreneurs will be apply to apply for admittance to the incubator. We are excited for what will be our biggest – and surely most important – program to date.

But building a fashion design incubator is expensive. And we need help. It will cost us no less than $60,000 to build the incubator, from the actual build out: walls, doors, locking doorknobs to the purchasing of industrial sewing machines, cutting table, desks and chairs, software and business equipment, etc. For a full list if needs, click here. We need funding.

You can become a benefactor of DG3’s Fashion Design Incubator Benefactor. Select one or more of the needed items to fund and contact us via email to secure your donation. We'll put your name (or company name or in memoriam name) next to the item you've funded, and will also provide a small plaque that will be attached to the item you have funded, once it is up and running in the incubator.

If you are in possession of any of the needed items and can donate them to the incubator, we'll happily take those in-kind items, too.

We are a 501(c)(3), so your donation is tax deductible.

Thank you in advance to every individual, group and company who steps us to help us launch the Fashion Design Incubator. Your donation means supporting entrepreneurship, building a vibrant fashion industry, Keeping Michigan Talent in Michigan (our credo), and creating an exciting economic initiative complete with opportunity and future jobs.

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