October 10, 2016

"Blue Skies"

Attendees: Eileen French Jordan, Galen Privett, Brittney Theiroff, Marissa Fogel, Ashley Pletcher, Suzanne Mauro, Jay Barlow, Wadria Taylor, Elysia Purnell, Victoria Lopez


What Does the Ideal Fashion Industry Look Like in Pittsburgh? 

Brittney: Something that resembles a garment district in New York City would be ideal. The City of Pittsburgh has the space and it can do things at a low cost.

There is also a lot of innovation taking place in places like Carnegie Mellon. Producing things in Pittsburgh would create jobs for students that they can learn skills from.

 A garment district would also bring garments and fabrics that will create more interest and bring people here to Pittsburgh. The City of Pittsburgh should take advantage of its space and affordability. Production and manufacturing can create a sustainable model for growth.

 We have seen other industries (restaurants and tech) take advantage of these opportunities available in Pittsburgh, so there is no reason to believe that the fashion industry can’t as well.

Marissa: Yes, and it would be great if there was community support behind these projects. Crowdfunding has emerged as a popular form of fundraising, but it is frustrating because the return for the investors is so small. You also see investors coming in from other cities that are trying to shape Pittsburgh’s culture, and being from here, that doesn’t feel very good. Pittsburgh is not a very inspiring place to shop. We don’t have fashion that fully represents diverse styles. 

Wadria: What kind of an experience are you [and others] looking for?

Marissa: Beyond the offerings, it is the experience.

We should aim to create a project that the community is really interested in and can invest in, and then designers can move into these spaces (or use resources) and create things.

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Elysia: How do we create better experiences for those interested in fashion?

Wadria: For creators and shoppers alike, develop a platform where businesses can work together. The more people you draw into a project, the more you expand the scope. This would greatly help the fashion industry improve.

 Elysia: “Do we believe that this type of cross-collaboration is something that is widely needed/supported?”

 Consensus: Yes

 Galen: Idea of something like a garment district would be great for business owners and designers. We need more links to the fashion industry in Pittsburgh. That is, resources that we can use to grow – models, photographers, stylists, fabric providers, manufacturers, etc.

 Elysia: Would it be helpful to provide a platform or directory where people and businesses can easily find one another and connect – a network outlining everyone’s capabilities?

 Brittney: Yes, absolutely. NYC has done a great job with this in the garment district by providing a directory where you can easily find what you are looking for.

 Galen: Having things easily accessible here in Pittsburgh would enable us to gauge product quality – for example, being able to feel garments and fabrics before purchasing.

There was a general consensus that everyone would value collaborating with others within the City of Pittsburgh – personnel referrals and recommendations are always preferable. A directory is something that everyone generally supported enthusiastically. 

We need to educate others on the power of collaboration
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We have all of the amazing elements, but we need to pull in everyone’s resources.

How can we come together under an umbrella organization and have a broad base of stakeholders?

 Ashley: We need to educate others on the power of collaboration. People in Pittsburgh get caught up in the competition of wanting to be better than other boutiques, bloggers, and brands, but we must believe in power in numbers.

 As a blogger, collaborations can be frustrating when brands don’t have realistic expectations. You always want to create a relationship that is mutually beneficial, and this may be in the short-term or long-term. But, understanding this requires education.

Elysia: What kind of resources is the blogging community looking for?

Ashley: Local brands to work with, photographers, etc. Generally speaking, however, “all of us want to work with someone who understands our vision.”  We are in need of quality referrals.

 Jay: To be more inclusive, the fashion industry also needs to have better PR in general. The city is losing a lot of talent by not providing jobs within the fashion industry. Internships and jobs simply don’t exist in Pittsburgh for young designers. If you want to be a designer, where do you start? Pittsburgh doesn’t have the resources to teach you. Without designers and talent, we simply can’t build a strong fashion community.

Victoria: I agree with Ashley that so much is about education. To mention something we have not heard yet tonight – this is essentially an incubator. I would personally like to see a space in the city where we can provide education and resources for new businesses in the fashion industry. To facilitate connections between one another. To provide a space for manufacturing, etc.

The exact model of something like an incubator raises several questions. Where do we begin? Do we begin with manufacturing?

 Eileen: I think we start by thinking of ways to attract and retain young talent. We are a culturally rich city, but at the same time we must understand that the interest in fashion doesn’t compare to the interest in other industries like tech.

 We need to collectively think of who we know in the grant community, and not just plan for the interim period, but for the long-term.

 Jay: We need to identify how artists traditionally get funded and think of ways to make those connections. 


Suzanne: I sympathize with my students regarding the lack of opportunity in the city, but we must also remember that it is a lot better than it was 15 years ago. There has never been anything like an incubator in Pittsburgh, which I would really like to see.

An incubator and collaborations in the form of popups would really help designers and artists. I have also found that people are willing to share spaces, so we must get it together and do it right. Tapping into investors and resources is the first step.

Brittney: Yes, but you have to convince investors of the value that you are providing. This is usually by highlighting things like job creation, not fashion shows. 

Jay: On fashion shows, the City of Pittsburgh is becoming known for bad fashion shows because talented people are on the sidelines, waiting for others to do something.

Brittney: This is mainly because people simply don’t have experience and they think they are at a level where they are not.  You have to make them aware of what they do and do not know so that they can get better or ask for help.

Jay: Yes, so until that happens, I think that money being invested in the fashion community should be better managed. Invest in students and talent who can truly increase the level of quality – there is a lot of talent in the city. There are designers who are talented and have the potential to be great.


[Discussion about where to pull funding in from] 


Eileen: I think many of us would support something if it was worthwhile. Right now, there are not many known local designers. Many of us would love to have a wardrobe that is primarily from local boutiques and designers, but that’s simply not possible. Support can be either raising awareness or providing resources.

Jay: A significant problem for designers and business owners is a lack of funding.

 Wadria: This is a question that many of us have, “how can I make money?” You want to have an impact and also build something that is sustainable.

 Victoria: We need to not look at something like an incubator space as simply a resource to raise money. The incubator shouldn’t be to simply provide funding.

Elysia: It seems as if we all have a different idea of what an ‘incubator’ is and should be. Overtime this concept will develop and grow, but for now we need to break it down.  

Marissa: Incubators are closely associated with VC funding, and being an artist, knowing that someone else is making money off of your work doesn’t feel good. Creatives and designers should not have to give away what they are making.

Victoria: I agree, but an incubator does not have to encourage companies to go after VC funding. We can teach business practices and artists can be self-funded through traditional loans. We have seen fashion businesses like Trusst go the incubator/VC route, but also businesses like Moop take a more traditional approach. The incubator should simply focus on providing education on business practices so that brands can be sustainable.

Jay: Yes, and to make money and be able to pay off loans allows artists to maintain their creative freedom.

Marissa: Perhaps we should redefine what ‘incubator’ means. When the conversation goes towards business planning it is worrisome -- we don’t have to reimagine the wheel but “it is worth thinking about how to approach having creatives coming together.”

 Elysia:  We have several ideas that have been put forward [full list]. We will need to identify what we can do in the short-term.

General consensus that it should be the directory.

 Brittney: Very helpful discussion, felt like things were starting to move forward beyond just venting and talking to now making plans to change things.


All images courtesy of Sarah Collins Photography