I had the very good fortune of spending a few days in New York. I am sure that my small town, Midwestern roots are showing when I share my fascination with The Big City. I love the energy and the endless options of things to see and do. This recent trip was, however, completely focused on the fashion industry. I was in New York to attend the 5th Annual Fashion Law Symposium at Fordham’s Fashion Law Institute, and while in town I attended a “Fashion at FIAF Talk” by Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler, had lunch with designer Daniel Vosovic, discussed re-branding with a young designer on a walk through Central Park, shopped at MOOD, met with the founders of The Trim Lab, and checked out the Halston exhibit at The Museum at FIT. I will be sharing some specifics regarding these recent New York happenings in future posts, but I would like to first share a general observation and how it will, I hope, translate into things to come in Michigan.

Although I was in a very big city, I was taken with the small, interconnected world that is the fashion industry. Sure, designers are competing for recognition and buyers, every player in the fashion industry is looking to make a living in a city that is not cheap, and they all suffer from the increasing number of “seasons” and design piracy. Despite those stresses, there is such a genuine sense of community and so much generous mentoring. The more senior members of the community love to share garment district history, while the young up-and-coming share stories of success and failure. They all know each other – not just by name, but through shared experience in the industry.

In Michigan, we are on the cusp of creating a garment industry that will, if we do this right, share that same sense of community. We won’t have that one, big city experience and will instead build our industry across the state. We won’t have the history of New York’s garment district, but we also don’t have to shoulder its burdens of pricey real estate, out of date factories, and barely livable cost of living. We don’t have a lot of established designers and manufacturers, but the few that we have are strong. We don’t have Parsons or FIT, but we do have colleges across the state with very strong design programs and will soon have three junior colleges with the cut and sew programs that we need to expand the garment manufacturing workforce. We have one fashion design incubator and one on the way. This is the start of a beautiful thing.

So how do we get from the start of a fashion and garment industry to a well-established industry that keeps Michigan talent, attracts more creative and resourceful folk to our state, and fills vacant commercial space with the hum of commerce? We all need to remain generous - with our ideas and our time. As is true when anything is built, someone will want to “own it” … resist that temptation. We will accomplish so much more if we work together and value the community that we are building.