Austin aims to become fashion hub with help from ACC, city funding

Austin

Austin isn’t currently known for being a fashion hub, but if the City of Austin and Austin Community College have anything to say about it, the city very well could be. The ACC Fashion Incubator, which will launch in the coming months at ACC’s Highland Campus, received some of the equipment that will be used there: fashion industry-quality machines for the people in the incubator to use. 

The machines will allow people to cut and produce smaller batches of clothes in Austin, helping students or designers who are starting off get their ideas moving without having to pay to make test samples and massive orders that travel halfway around the globe.

Budding 22-year-old Austin fashion designer Sloane Lenz thinks this incubator sounds useful to people like her looking to start off in the fashion world. 

“I love the thought of the small batch or more made-to-order things [at the incubator],” Lenz said. There’s so much waste in the fashion industry, it’s baffling to think about. And for a lot of people, you don’t want to go into debt creating all this back stock that you don’t know if it’s going to sell and all of that. So I love that model of the more small-scale kind of thing — I think that’s awesome.”

Lenz enjoys making fashion for musicians and “stage wear.” She says Austin is the perfect place for her to hone her craft. She debuted one of her collections at Austin Fashion Week recently and explained that Austin’s fashion scene has been “growing exponentially.” 

Lenz makes her clothes in the front room of her Austin house. Despite her successes, she says she’d love more space to work and a chance to collaborate with other designers. 

ACC students, several economic development employees from the City of Austin, and local fashion designers-in-residence will be able to use these machines. They can also access classes, networking, tools like sewing machines and professional-level software in this incubator, which is housed in the old Highland Mall in what used to be an Express Store. 

This isn’t just a development at the community college — it’s part of a City of Austin effort to boost the fashion industry and jobs that might come with it. 

The City of Austin commissioned a study on the local fashion industry back in 2014. They found that Austin’s fashion industry fueled 1,326 jobs and brought more than $84 million dollars to the city.  The study recommended the city start an incubator along with an institution of higher learning, which prompted the partnership with ACC. 

For the city, this project is all about creating jobs, says Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, Interim Deputy Director for the City of Austin’s Economic Development Department.  

“What’s key to us is that jobs along the incubator don’t necessarily require a four-year degree, but pay a living wage,” Holt-Rabb said. 

She made it clear that she thinks Austin has the potential to be known nationwide and worldwide for its fashion industry. Holt-Rabb believes this incubator will not only promote jobs in fashion but also in manufacturing. 

“I’m excited about the possibility of bringing small manufacturers here; that’s a good area for job creation,” Holt-Rabb said, adding that Austin has a lot of potential to work with manufacturers and fashion designers because of the medical school in town, the institutions of higher education nearby and companies like Under Armour that already have offices in Austin.  

Molly Beth Malcom, Executive Vice President of Campus Operations and Public Affairs at ACC says students and designers alike will be trained on this new technology, which may help bring in new companies to Austin. 

“We could even be looking at manufacturing companies working here as well because they can find trained workers for what they’re doing,” Malcom said. 

Malcom explained that in cities like New York and Los Angeles which are known for fashion, the garment manufacturing districts are being pushed out of the city. But she thinks Austin still has room to house manufacturing alongside designers in the city. 

Malcom said that hundreds of ACC students have expressed interest in this type of training. She added that resources at the incubator can be used by working designers, those pursuing continuing education, those pursuing an associates degree or even those who want to go on to a four-year degree.

“We assume people [who use the incubator] will be going to New York and LA, but what we’d really like to do is keep them right here in Austin,” Malcom said.

The incubator will be officially open in June and is already accepting applications. The designers can stay in the incubator for up to 18 months and will receive their own storefront space to design and sell. 

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