A new collaborative space dedicated to sustainable fashion design has welcomed its first occupants. Spearheaded by Pratt Institute, the Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator (BF+DA) aims to provide small businesses and start-up designers with the resources to grow.
The accelerator, which occupies a floor of an industrial building that previously housed Pfizer, gives resident designers access to a range of shared resources. For example, the space has a “micro-run” production facility, with computerized knitting, a shared cut-and-sew space, and digital printing for textiles. This allows designers to manufacture a run of garments that’s as small as two or three items, whereas conventional producers typically take orders no smaller than 500 or 1000.
There’s also a 3D rapid prototyping center, conference rooms, a retail space and a large event space that can be made into a catwalk. Designers must apply to become “venture fellows,” and the studio spaces range from $300 to $700 per month.
BF+DA Executive Director Debera Johnson said the goal is to help “turn small businesses into slightly larger small businesses.”
Alder New York was among the first companies to become a venture fellow at BF+DA. Co-founder Nina Zilka said that for her, the small run production facility is a game changer. Joining a creative community was also a big appeal. “Everyone is very generous,” she said, which is not always the case in the fashion world.
Liz Spencer is another venture fellow. The founder of The Dogwood Dyer, Spencer makes natural fabric dyes, often from foraged and locally gardened plants. She said that joining BF+DA will give her access to more tools for building her business strategy.
In addition to allowing designers to share space and equipment, helping designers work more sustainably is central to BF+DA’s mission. “One of the things about sustainability when you’re a designer is that you want to do it, but you don’t necessarily know how,” said Johnson. “It comes at you like a wave.”
That’s why a Sustainability Lab has been set up at the accelerator, to help designers learn about the materials and processes that are available to them. The lab is a bit like a material library, allowing designers to touch and learn about many different sustainable fabrics. The accelerator also provides consulting services, and Johnson said the sustainability roadmap for any designer that wants to come in, not only those who rent studio space at BF+DA.
In addition to the more established designers, the accelerator also has work space for junior venture fellows—recent design school grads. Currently, Aza Ziegler and Caroline Kaufman are two such fellows, and occupy a particularly colorful studio space (pictured at the top of this post). Ziegler said that in addition to the work space, the accelerator provides junior fellows with mentorship.
The 21,000 square foot space currently has about 30 studio spaces, not all of which are filled. BF+DA also plans to host events and educational courses that will be open to the public, all focused on topics surrounding ethical and environmentally sustainable production. It’s sure to be a space to look for the exciting designers of the future.