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Fashion Incubator Houses SF’s New Innovative Designers

Updated: May 31, 2022 07:58
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Last week in San Francisco, I headed to Westfield San Francisco Center for a pop-up shopping experience presented by the FISF (Fashion Incubator San Francisco). Fashion Incubator SF is an incubator program that help new fashion designers get to the next level of their career.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but upon reading that there would be not only shopping but also snacks, drinks, and an emerging San Francisco fashion designer meet and greet, I grabbed a friend and headed downtown for the after-work event.

The two founders of Venim pose in front of their sign and jackets display

Kaycee Houchin and Leslie Fong of upcycled denim brand, Venim

Located just outside of Bloomingdale’s in the old Tiffany & Co space, I was immediately taken aback by the sophisticated set up. As someone who has attended no less than one zillion pop ups over the years, what I expected was perhaps a few racks or tables here and there with some canapes and a choice of wine or two but what I actually experienced was something completely revelatory: nearly a dozen young SF Bay Area based brands, all with burgeoning potential, incredible backstories, and futures absolutely blushing with ambition.

Guests are pictured while they chat, mindle, shop, and sip on drinks at the event

The FISF pop up was fully catered by partnering restaurant vendors inside the Westfield. Photo courtesy of @fashionincubatorsf Instagram

Upon entering the double glass doors of the boutique located just outside of the Bloomie’s mall entrance I was immediately caught up by the buzz in the room: racks upon racks of chic and colorful clothing encircled tables full of unique and bespoke jewelry, handbags, and other accessories while a live jazz band modestly plucked away at the back of the room, creating a warm and inviting ambiance.

A participating accessories designer is shown with the pop up staff at the event

Accessories designer Tomide Awe chats with FISF founder Betsy Nelson at the pop up. Photo courtesy of @FashionIncubatorSF Instagram

Founded in 2011 by Betsy Nelson after a lengthy career as Vice President of Media Relations for Macy’s, Fashion Incubator San Francisco was started as a legacy project to ensure scalability for the Bay Area’s emerging fashion talent. Since then, FISF has graduated dozens of noteworthy designers from their incubator program, which maxes out for selected applicants after approximately 18 months of participation.

A Venim denim jacket with silver metallic dip dye treatment on display at the pop up

Venim jackets have a signature V-shaped cut out in the center back

Past Incubator participating designers include Jake Wall who you may remember from past seasons of Project Runway, the incubator’s first lingerie designer and Evgenia Lingerie founder Stephanie Bodnar, and recent 2020 program graduate and master Stanford Mathematician Diarra Bousso, who has since grown her Senegalese based label DIARRABLU into a global brand that has been featured in Vogue, Elle, The New York Times, and other major publications.

A wall full of framed photographs of past graduates of the incubator program is pictured

The FISF workroom features a wall of fame full of past program graduates

The incubator program itself is housed inside of Bloomingdale’s on the first floor, discreetly tucked away near the accessories department in a space that was repurposed from ingeniously enough, a restaurant. The high ceilings, deep corridor shaped split level main room plus “en suite” meeting/classroom space connects through a discreet entrance within the department store which one may never notice while casually shopping.

The glass double doors reading "FISF" leading into the workshop are pictured

The public entrance to FISF workshop at Bloomingdale’s in downtown San Francisco

As your local Broke-Ass Style columnist at large, I was fortunate enough to have a guided tour of the workshop by FISF Executive Director Rachel Fischbein. Past the glittering shoes and through the leathery fragrant goodness of the handbag department we went, into a room that reminded me very much of both the sewing and design classrooms I attended at my own alma mater, FIDM, and the more commonly recognized workrooms on reality show Project Runway.

Draping mannequins and cutting tables are pictured in the FISF workroom

The lower split level of the FISF workroom

The well lit room was filled with cutting tables, draping mannequins, heavy, steel industrial sewing machines, and an entire wall of framed pictures of past FISF graduates. Despite being empty that day, the buzz of creation was still lingering in the room causing my imagination to run wild, thinking of all the various designers at their stations cutting, sewing, and draping away.

The FISF workroom's sewing stations and adjacent kitchen area are featured

The sewing stations and break area at the FISF workshop

Now that I’ve introduced you to FISF, it’s only natural that I introduce you to their official 2022 class of designers in Fashion Incubator SF.

Venim designer Leslie Fong poses with a rack of her metalized denim jacket

Venim designer Leslie Fong throws up a peace sign next to a rack of her signature metallic screen printed jackets

Leslie Fong and Kaycee Houchin of Venim

“The next cult designer brand, by hand.” Founded in 2018 by art school comrades Leslie Fong and Kaycee Houchin, Venim is a progressive, sustainable, gender neutral apparel brand that utilizes a special screen printing process to create their signature metallic denim jackets with upcycled with designer material. With a passion for using innovative techniques to create high end streetwear, Venim has collaborated with a number of artists in the music industry and are also major alies in support of the LGBTQ community.

Deavan Gregori wearing colorful pants posing in front of her garments

Current FISF designer Devan Gregori poses in front of her color blocked designs

Devan Gregori

Devan Gregori’s label is a body positive brand inspired by her travels throughout Europe and Mexico. Striving to put the “fun” back into functional, she started off designing her signature color-blocked statement pieces in a small studio apt in Oakland in 2019 “with a mission of helping people become the best versions of themselves”, with most designs additionally featuring either ever handy deep pocketing or flattering sashes to accentuate any waist shape.

Acessories designer Tomide Awe poses behind a table display of her bags, wallets, and makeup bags

FISF accessories designer Tomide Awe was a big hit at the pop up hosted by Bloomingdales

Tomide Awe of Olori

Tomide Awe’s brand was originally bourne of the designer’s desire to share her rich African culture with her non-African friends. Her brand name Olori means “queen”, and all items are made in partnership with artisan women throughout Africa with a portion of each product sold donated to ensure tuition for underserved African girls, who have a 73% chance of not going to school in her home country of Nigeria.

FISF designer Chrissy Lam poses with a table full of her hand beaded and gold jewelry

FISF designer Chrissy Lam of Love Is Project poses with her selection of hand beaded accessories

Chrissy Lam of Love Is Project (alumni, 2020)

Accessories maven Chrissy Lam has scaled a project that started off as a single hashtag: #LoveIsProject into a thriving business worth over 2 million dollars today. Powered by a single word: “LOVE”, Love Is Project started by recruiting the talented women of the Maasai tribe in Kenya to create some of the delicate hand beaded bracelets pictured above, boldly emblemized by the word. That was in 2013; flash forward to today and the company now employs over twelve hundred artisan women around the globe, all who create their own version of the cult favorite beaded bracelets plus gold and silver jewelry and other hand crafted small goods. Despite already graduating out of the program, Lam deserves a nod as not only one of the most popular designers of the event, but also one of the most successful brands to come out of the FISF program so far.

The author of the story poses with a friend in front of the official backdrop of the event

Your author and co. on the step and repeat of the event

For more information on the Fashion Incubator program of San Francisco, visit their website at: https://fashionincubatorsf.org/

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Rose Eden

Rose Eden

Rose Eden is a punk rock grown up fashion vlogger, style writer, content creator, and PR firm
Creative Director residing in San Francisco on the Upper West Side. She additionally contributes to music industry website PunkNews.org as a staff writer and reviewer

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