Why fashion needs to embrace technology, and vice versa

As part of the NYC Social Innovation Festival, the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator hosted a conversation about how to make fashion more sustainable.

At the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator event.

(Photo by Brady Dale)

One of the problems with fashion-based mobile apps, whether they’re directed at consumers or designers, is that they have been mostly built by people with no experience in the industry.
That was the consensus of Rob Sanchez of Manufacture NY and Tara St. James of the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator. The two led a recent conversation about how the fashion industry can create more jobs in New York City, as part of the NYC Social Innovation Festival. The event took place at BF+DA’s space on Flushing Avenue.

"There's a stigma around sustainable fashion being more expensive. It's not more expensive."
Tara St. James, Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator

As fashion becomes a more high-tech industry, both institutions are finding that designers are trained to come up with cool designs, but they don’t have the technical training to communicate effectively with factories.
Manufacture NY, for its part, won’t help a designer connect with a factory until that designer can either show technical proficiency or goes through a two-day bootcamp with experts in house, to get their skills and thinking up to speed. The head pattern maker at Manufacture NY now has three apprentices, Sanchez said, learning about systems such as Gerber, the leading software for making clothing patterns.
St. James said that there are so few American factories and enough makers wanting to use them that factories are guarded about taking on clients right now. “The industry is almost set up so you have hurdles,” Sanchez explained, adding that factories are relationship based. They take on work based on trust. Which both illustrates the importance of getting new brands ready to work with them and the opportunity for more factories to grow in this country, perhaps in New York City.
Here are some technologies they listed that are helping to move fashion in a more sustainable direction:

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  • Nike Making (yes, that Nike), a tool for helping makers choose materials better.
  • Source Map, a supply-chain visualization solution.
  • Tennaxia, which enables mapping against a variety of benchmarks like environment, health and safety.
  • Microlending organization Kiva is providing low-interest loans in the U.S. to help new ventures get started.
  • Open source has been important to fashion as the brands remaining here have moved from competition to cooperation.

“There’s a stigma around sustainable fashion being more expensive,” St. James, BF+DA’s production coordinator and owner of STUDY NY, explained. “It’s not more expensive. What’s expensive is emerging design.”
As these organization work to bring fashion manufacturing back to New York (and, more specifically, to Brooklyn, where there is more room for it), they understand that they have to work to push back against the perception of factory work. Sanchez said, “Most people think dimly lit factories and carpal tunnel; they don’t realize how awesome these jobs are.”

BF+DA

The fabric library at the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator. (Photo by Brady Dale)

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