So you made it through design school, have an arsenal of skills under your belt, and even started a kickass new fashion or design company - now what? Perhaps you have an order in from a major department store but the quantities are so small that you'd have to produce it at a loss. Or maybe you need showroom space that isn't the living room of your apartment. Enter Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator (BF+DA), a newly launched space offering mentorship, state-of-the-art equipment and community for designers looking for that extra boost to get their fledgling businesses to the next level. Inhabitat recently had a chance to tour the new, 21,000-sq-ft facility in the repurposed Pfizer building in South Williamsburg/Bedford-Stuyvesant. Click through our gallery to see some of the valuable assets the BF+DA is making available to New York design entrepreneurs, and learn how you can gain access to all of the vibrant new hub's resources.
Located on the seventh floor of the old Pfizer factory at 630 Flushing Avenue, the new Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator is an airy and open space characterized by massive windows, the hum of machines and the electricity of creativity in the air. It’s difficult to summarize what the BF + DA is and what it does because the services it offers add up to much more than the sum of their parts. But after walking through the space with BF+DA Executive Director Debera Johnson, I would describe it as a clubhouse for designers by designers. It’s sort of like being invited to share a workspace with a group of cool, older friends who are willing to share their snazzy, top-of-the-line equipment that you’d never be able to afford on your own. And imagine if said friends also happen to have years of business, sustainability, and design savvy to disseminate and want to help you incorporate all of these things into your brand to make a positive impact on the world. Perhaps that’s not the most spot-on analogy, but that’s pretty much what it’s like.
The BF + DA is still building up its sustainable fabric samples library but there are already some fascinating swatches to choose from including this one dyed with rusty, found nails by The Dogwood Dyer‘s Liz Spencer.
Johnson, who has been a driving force behind the BF + DA after founding Pratt’s Design Incubator for Sustainable Innovation in 2002, put it a lot more eloquently. “Breaking into the fashion and design business can be extremely difficult, and many talented designers and artists get stuck trying to move from start-up to the next level of success,” she said. “We envisioned BF+DA to show young entrepreneurs a pathway to success and provide the full spectrum of product design resources all under one roof.”
Johnson holds up a sweater printed on the facility’s SHIMA SEIKI computerized flat knitting machine. “The sweater pretty much just comes out like this,” she explained.
The BF + DA solves many problems that young designers face when trying to find success following the traditional mold. While most NYC apparel production houses would turn away any order less than 100 units, the BF + DA gives designers the ability to run just one unit if necessary. Their robust digital fabrication lab offers laser cutters, 3D printers, innovative textile printers, and a sample library of sustainable fabrics complementing a Sustainable Strategies Lab (s.LAB) to create new models for sustainable production. Because members can fabricate prototypes in smaller runs, waste is minimized and entrepreneurs have the option to save money and materials by sharing resources.
“You can even imagine that one designer might use the fabric dyed by another designer for their next collection,” explained Johnson.
In addition to the fabrication labs, the hub has showroom space, retail space, conference rooms, 30 on-site studio spaces, and a communal space for networking, brainstorming and events. The BF + DA also plans to host a program of fashion shows and educational workshops to enrich the local community.
Currently, the BF+DA is home to 16 Venture Fellow companies, two Junior Venture Fellows, and five Research Fellows, but plans to expand its occupancy in the near future. Venture fellows are selected through an application process and are accepted on a rolling basis. Those interested can apply here (the next review round closes on November 16, 2014). Paid membership to the BF + DA will also be available starting in January 2015.