Austin— Though small, Austin’s fashion-technology community is growing. Not only have more businesses started moving to the city, now a new program at Austin Community College is hoping to further drive innovation in the industry.
“We are looking to create a full pipeline (of resources) for promising designers,” says Nina Means, director of the newly opened Fashion Incubator at Austin Community College.
The program was launched at the end of April and provides both students and local-to-Austin fashion designers services like studio space, training, and other physical and advising resources. Students at the college can earn credits and degrees, while local designers can apply for a residency program.
The launch of the program follows notable moves by fashion-tech businesses in Austin. Since Under Armour bought Austin’s Map My Fitness six years ago for $150 million, the Baltimore-based company has established a “connected fitness” hub in Austin, where it is working to develop wearables such as “smart sneakers.” Outdoor Voices, maker of “athleisure” attire, relocated from New York to Austin in 2017. Even French fashion is taking up residence in the Texas capital: Chanel plans to build a manufacturing plant near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
“Fashion tech is the next stop definitely” in Austin’s startup journey, says Diana Murakhovskaya, a Houston-based investor who takes an active interest in e-commerce startups. “Austin is building a reputation in fashion.”
The ACC program is being funded with a $355,000 grant from the city of Austin and $13 million in donated equipment from Connecticut-based Gerber Technologies, which makes software and hardware designed for the apparel industry. In particular, the incubator features computer-aided design software with 3-D imaging capabilities, which enables designers to create personalized designs for individuals. The designers can “sew” patterns onto avatars made from customers’ actual measurements, Means says. “You can ‘see’ it on a person before it comes out of the digital space,” she adds.
Customization is a top goal in the e-commerce industry, namely as a way to cut down on returns, which in 2017 cost $351 billion, or about 10 percent of total retail sales, according to consultancy Appriss Retail.
Murakhovskaya says finding ways to make the supply chain more efficient in the apparel industry is another goal of fashion-tech startups.
“Can they actually scale the product locally or do they have to find a relationship overseas?” she says. “Technology can help keep production local.”