Austin's fashion industry is poised to grow should it receive additional resources and focus more on wearable technology apparel, according to a city-funded economic development report released Oct. 2.
The city’s Economic Development Department initiated the study following an August 2014 City Council request to learn the fashion industry’s local economic impact—estimated to be $86.3 million annually—and potential ability to grow. The report proposes creating a fashion industry incubator to help facilitate such growth and identifies specific opportunities to expand based on Austin’s convergence of health care and technology initiatives.
“Now is an optimal time for the city to serve as a … center of the design and production of wearable technology,” the report states, citing the incoming University of Texas Dell Medical School and surrounding Innovation Zone as reasons for merging Austin’s fashion industry with other existing efforts.
As one example, Under Armour, a fitness apparel company based in the East Coast, intends to open its first “Connected Fitness” digital headquarters in the Seaholm Power Plant redevelopment site, according to the report.
TXP Inc., Austin-based economic development strategists hired by the city to conduct the report, hosted focus group discussions and surveyed local fashion industry workers as part of its research. Based on feedback, the consultants also proposed a fashion incubator similar to those in New York City, Philadelphia and Seattle to help provide more resources to local aspiring fashion entrepreneurs. TXP Inc. placed particular emphasis on a facility that has academic ties with UT, Austin Community College and other learning institutions.
Such a facility could help improve what survey participants perceive to be a weak fashion labor force and lack of training resources locally. More production space and resources could also help increase capacity among existing fashion businesses, according to feedback compiled by TXP Inc.
“The majority of the comments provided were something to the effect of, ‘[This] doesn’t exist,’ or, ‘We need [this] to grow,’ with regards to whichever issue the respondent selected as the most critical facing the industry,” the report states.
The industry’s local workforce shrank 21 percent from 2009 to 2013 to approximately 880 workers, based on federal data. Employment in the apparel and textile manufacturing industries is also down nationally since 1990, according to the report, because of global low-cost, high-volume supply chains that make it difficult to compete domestically. Furthermore, 75 percent of designers work out of New York or California, the report states.
However, local industry interest has increased, with Austin Fashion Week attendees increasing from more than 1,000 people when the show debuted in 2009 to 18,000-plus attendees last year. There is also increased demand globally in artisan goods from small businesses and merchants, according to the report, and that trend extends into Austin. The report claims the city could benefit from increased domestic production of more high-quality, limited edition and customizable artisan fashion goods.
No timetable has been announced as to when City Council might be presented the study, according to a city spokesperson. The next step is for the city's Economic Development Department, Austin Convention Center and Austin Convention & Visitor's Bureau to engage fashion and apparel stakeholders to identify recommendations that could further grow the industry.
Article has been corrected to reflect the proper number of Austin Fashion Week attendees and to include follow-up information provided by a city spokesperson.