San Francisco’s Fashion Incubator At Macy’s Heralds New Designers

If new San Francisco Major Edwin M. Lee has his way, your clothing will be getting a whole lot more local.

From the boom time of the Gold Rush when a young Levi Strauss began making durable denim pants for miners, the Bay Area has always been a hot bed for U.S. apparel manufacturing. Things have changed a lot just since 2002, (commonly agreed as the final death knell for Bay Area fashion), when Levi’s shuttered six U.S. plants including its historic Valencia Street operation in San Francisco.

“Twenty years ago, fashion apparel was the second-biggest industry in San Francisco, behind tourism. Today local fashion apparel designers struggle to stay afloat,” says Dennis Conaghan, Executive Director of the San Francisco Center for Economic Development.

Over the years there have been numerous efforts to breathe life into San Francisco’s struggling fashion scene, so it was a thrilling day for industry pundits when the announcement was made from Mayor Edwin M. Lee’s office on Monday that a new fashion incubator would launch next year.

Called the Fashion Incubator San Francisco at Macy’s Union Square (FISF), the group’s mission is to turn creative fashion apparel designers into successful San Francisco entrepreneurs. “We’re proud to be starting San Francisco’s first fashion incubator program, and I believe FISF will help reclaim SF’s legacy as a leader in the fashion apparel industry and keep creative talent in San Francisco,” added Conaghan, who will lead the incubator’s board of directors comprised of fashion, retail and business development experts.

Each year FISF will provide six Designers in Residence with premier workshop space in Macy’s offices at Union Square where they can create new lines and showcase their collections to merchants, ranging from local boutiques to national retailers. FISF also will offer business operations training from experts in the San Francisco fashion and economic development communities. The first class of designers is expected to move into the FISF workshop in March 2012 for their yearlong training.

In the last few years, locally made clothing has been at the forefront of the green fashion movement. San Francisco is but one of many cities seeing the trend coming to life. Surfacing in a world dominated by globalization, many brands are reconsidering oversees production due to the measurable preference for and quality of U.S. goods, a strong fashion trend for heritage brands and the discovery that they can produce here with only a minimal end price difference.

FISF expects to announce plans for the Designer in Residence program in September at Macy’s Fashion’s Night Out events, with hopes that incubator graduates will be showcasing their lines at the event in the future. At least that’s what Macy’s is betting considerable resources and PR leverage on.

“Macy’s has long been a supporter of up-and-coming fashion designers. FISF was developed from the blueprint of the Chicago Fashion Incubator at Macy’s on State Street, where 83 percent of the program participants have opened apparel businesses that are thriving,” said Betsy Nelson, vice president of media relations and cause marketing for Macy’s northwest and southwest regions. “Through FISF’s incubator program, we can identify emerging local talent, provide the environment and materials to develop their collections, and introduce participants to the broader fashion community.”

Ecosalon will update you on this developing story in September when the program officially kicks off and the program begins accepting applications.




Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.