Where are the Production Facilities?

October 30, 2009 Fashion

Model Tasha strolling down Washington Avenue, Broooklyn

Fall has announced herself with a bang and the phone is ringing with designers for an inkling: are they moving in the right direction or not? Show producers are calling for designers’ information and press kits; customers are asking who’s showing, when, where and what’s new? These days, I send them to the designer’s web site and MySpace. Suddenly, I am caught in a loop for this article: information has not been forwarded. Yet, again. What’s with Brooklyn’s black designers? Pleasantries, be damned; it’s time to take on my fashion colleagues.

From the words of an elder in the press community: “This ain’t your Mama’s business! We are in modern times, and designers are expected to have a certain level of marketing sophistication and media readiness.”These words were uttered in reference to a complaint about a lack of black designers in magazines by an elderly designer. The problem, he continued, “is due to the lack of media training, press kits, pictures and complaints of loss of market share, from designers who refused to be proactive about their marketing and pr.”

Enterprise and micro businesses tend to be generational. This September, I celebrate thirty years in the fashion industry. My mom actually had a sewing business for as long as I remember, as did her surrogate mother. My mother taught production and pattern making professionally. Skills were respected and there were fewer avenues for all. But she produced, and when she needed production, she had a training program and always had production staff. I remember walking into the dress shop my mother shared with an evolving selection of tailors and dressmakers; it was filled of beautifully dressed ladies selecting their styles, or in desperation trusting my mother’s skills. I never remember her taking an ad, but she had an extremely active social life that assisted in expanding her clientele.

In her space, there was always room for fabric, and it became a neighborhood information center, as parcels and messages would be left for relatives and friends to pick up later. The local “Sou Sou” would be dropped off and eagerly picked up by a housewife whose bill for her new appliance was due.

Today, that space would be called a co-working facility, and Silicon Valley would herald it as “new”! Those sewing classes would be dubbed “Do it Yourself (DIY) Workshops”, and the rave on online blogs. The “Sou Sou” is now called funding while social networks, emails and twitter have taken the place of paper.

Fabric is still threatening to take over and designers still seek loans, financing, production and marketing, but there is more of a tendency to wait for it to be provided. Designers are relying more on hype, pr and media personnel and online networks. While the numbers in the design network are larger, the relationship and community is surprisingly weaker.

What is going on? Which direction is Brooklyn Fashion going and what do designers need? Simple: ask the designers. To a core group, they need financing to support their production. They need production facilities, access to buyers and fulfillment services to deliver the goods.

Now, ask the organizations that supply these services and they will tell you that designers need to organize their businesses, keep proper records, understand their business models, prepare their web sites and cards and then get it to the editors or buyers. I dare ask: what happened to the end users here, the consumers?

In 2004, I began studying Brooklyn’s creative industry. At that time, designers asked for the formation of a Brooklyn Fashion Week. We committed to it, bought the relevant web address, and just launched the site.

I will be honest, I am not a fan of the traditional Fashion Week, nor for runway style presentations. They are notoriously costly. And from my experience, the real winners are the promoters, the press and the organizers. What usually gets lost are the designers, who seldom get compensated and frequently end up with no orders from these events.

One of the only few black designers who seem to make these shows work for him is Courtney Washington (see his website at www.CourneyWashingtonStore.com), one of Brooklyn’s most successful design labels. As he can attest, during market week, he gets garments to buyers.
Brooklyn’s design industry has an abundance of designers, but little if any production capacity. Yes, funding is beginning to flow into the industry from outside sources, but it is not going to the creative workforce. Some would argue that I have taken the role of advocate on behalf of Brooklyn’s fashion sector.

So you’ll have to excuse me if I get miffed when the Borough President’s office called a meeting of designers – during the summer – to decide what form of support is best for Brooklyn designers, and significant segments were not represented.

A faux pas – several industry professionals were overlooked because “their strong ethnicity is not design.” I am even more miffed when designers sit by quietly at these meetings, then call to gripe and complain after the fact . . . or rush to claim promised glory rather than pool their resources to define and advocate their “independence.”

Fashion, like many Brooklyn businesses, is feeling the impact of social and economic change. Covering up the issues with pleasantries and silence may feed rather than still the flames. I, however, support my fellow designers.
Yes, I am a designer, have been trained at FIT, worked with master craftsmen and women from England, Italy, Greece and Russia with a volunteer project, Brooklyn Fashion Gallery (BrooklynFashionGallery.com) consisting of passionate and talented Brooklynites who are working to expand and grow Brooklyn Fashion. Our next project, dubbed “Prelude,” explores new media, tools, applications and strategies for fashion designers. Please visitwww.brooklynfashiongallery.com.


Bonnie Sandy Sterling is an avid fan of Brooklyn, as a shopping destination. She runs A-liners, a project documenting Brooklyn’s fashion designers, www.brooklynfashiongallery.com and www.atoguna-tv.comonline portals to support creative independent enterprises. She can be reached at fashion@calabarmag.com


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