Fashion Incubator Houses SF’s New Innovative Designers
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
For more information on the Fashion Incubator program of San Francisco, visit their website at: https://fashionincubatorsf.org/