Funding for Austin Community College's fashion incubator program has been renewed for another three-year term after City Council voted unanimously at a July 28 meeting to extend an interlocal agreement with the school.

The agreement—building on an initiative to foster Austin’s fashion industry while providing training for designers and business owners—calls for the city of Austin to reimburse ACC up to $55,000 per year for ongoing costs related to industry-specific technology provided to the incubator by software company Gerber Technology.

Molly Beth Malcolm, ACC executive vice chancellor of operations and public affairs, said she is pleased to see the agreement extended.

"This has been a great partnership with the city that we look forward to it continuing and continuing to see the fashion industry grow in Austin," Malcolm said.

Susana Carbajal, deputy director of the city of Austin Economic Development Department, expressed a similar sentiment in a July 29 statement emailed to Community Impact Newspaper.

"The city of Austin Economic Development Department looks forward to continuing our partnership with the Austin Community College Fashion Incubator, a partnership based on a mutual commitment to offer an inclusive, high-quality, and real-to-industry content to grow the burgeoning fashion industry in Austin, Texas," read the email.

The incubator's origin stems from an August 2014 council resolution calling on then-City Manager Marc Ott to facilitate an examination of Austin's fashion industry and avenues for developing it further.

An initial agreement establishing the incubator on ACC's Highland campus was finalized Sept. 29, 2016. The agreement was renewed for another three years June 20, 2019.

"[The] vision from day one was to fuel economic growth in an emerging Austin industry," Malcolm said.

The incubator has developed training programs and educational tools to train local fashion designers, business owners and students in the skills necessary to operate or seek employment in the sector. Designers and business owners are trained in product development, marketing and business strategies. Additionally, businesses without the requisite manufacturing infrastructure can contract with the incubator to utilize its production equipment.

An associate degree program that offers students the chance to use the incubator's resources is also available.

The incubator has also reached beyond Austin's city limits. In conjunction with the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the city of Austin Economic Development Department and other organizations, the incubator participated in the ATX+Egypt Entrepreneurship Program.

Now that the funding extension has been secured, Nina Means, ACC fashion incubator director, sees a digital-focused future for the program.

"In the last two years with COVID[-19], we have this whole digital acceleration in our industry where people are willing to work remotely. They're looking for designers to create product for gaming, for ecommerce, for a variety of different applications. Smart textiles, digital supply chain, all of those things are things that we have here at ACC," Means said. "But now those jobs, instead of them being $17 or $20 an hour, they're now, you know, more like $25-$50 an hour, and so now we're talking about a very different kind of workforce, gainful workforce opportunity by leveraging innovation."

Means also sees the incubator as a way for ACC to be a leader in navigating the future of the fashion industry and in increasing access to training and equipment for students.

"We're really proud of the equity that this program provides to the community," Means said. "It's really important that I think people understand that as we're looking at digitally transforming our industry that ACC is really at the forefront of doing that for Austin specifically."

More information about the incubator and the applications process for the designer-in-residence program can be found here.