Ten years of nurturing fashion start-ups

At the end of 2018, Nicole Muhammad launched Sew Elevated, a modest fashion brand for women who seek more coverage for personal or religious reasons.

“It can be isolating to manage a brand like this,” Muhammad told WWD. “I don’t have any staff but I have a bunch of contractors, pattern makers, sample makers, from different factories that I work with. There aren’t many like me coming from this kind of approach. I focus on women 30 to 60 years old. This age group is neglected. There is a large part of the population who want to be fashionable but maybe don’t want to dress too provocatively. “

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Muhammad, a clinical psychologist by training, now creates what she called contemporary but modest two-piece sets, outerwear, tunics, dresses and accessories, with lots of colors and luxurious fabrics.

To better connect with the fashion and business communities to take Sew Elevated to new heights, Muhammad is a Designer-in-Residence at the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator Program, a 501c 3 nonprofit, operating a refurbished studio space of 800 square feet inside the Macy’s Center City of Philadelphia.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator is organizing an interactive and merchant retrospective of 23 designers in residence, past and present, entitled “Illume” at the Crane Arts Building in Philadelphia until September 10.

The fashion incubator also marked its pivotal year by launching a weekly online series called “Fashion Thursdays” featuring fashion personalities and business leaders, and “Fashpreneurs”, an educational subscription model in online with over 50 hours of business-focused content for fashion. entrepreneurs with 60-minute interviews with industry insiders.

“The incubator has been very instrumental in broadening my approach to the business both mentally and strategically as it focuses on the business side of fashion,” said Muhammad. “One of the huge benefits is the opportunity to engage with program alumni, other founders and industry leaders, and professionals in sales, marketing, branding and finance. . These things are important to me. The incubator has a design studio, with sewing machines, and we can do photo shoots. You can do all kinds of things there. During the pandemic, we met at least once a week on Zoom, sometimes two to three times a week. I have had several mentors, in logistics and business systems, marketing and sales, helping me in terms of branding, developing the way I engage and attract customers based on my social media, sending emails, blogging and exploring the next step in getting products in stores and wholesale.

Nicole Muhammad, right, flaunts one of her colorful, contemporary and modest styles.

Nicole Muhammad, right, flaunts one of her colorful, contemporary and modest styles.

“We’re like an MBA for fashion designers,” said Elissa Bloom, executive director of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator. “We are a dynamic one-year residency focused on the fashion industry. “

The program begins in March each year and welcomes five or six Philadelphia-area fashion entrepreneurs. “To be eligible, you have to be in business for six months to three years,” Bloom explained. “These designers have already built a foundation. They need to have a product, sales, website, and some understanding of who their customer is. In many ways, we function as an accelerator. Many of our designers in residence need help with manufacturing or production, with branding or their sales strategies. Many of them need help with their pricing and digital marketing.

Participants pay a monthly fee of $ 300, although the incubator is primarily supported by the Center City District (a business improvement district), the City of Philadelphia, QVC, the law firm Ballard Spahr, and Macy’s Inc. .

Program participants can use the Macy’s space seven days a week and attend workshops and discussions with business leaders, designers and educators. They heard from Barbara Kahn, Patty and Jay H. Baker professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania; Gary Wassner, CEO of fashion factoring company Hilldun Corp. and chairman of Interluxe Holdings, and Lee Sporn, former attorney for Michael Kors, among others. Earl Boyd of Entrepreneur Works meets Designers-in-Residence as a consultant.

“When we launched, we were focusing on recent graduates starting businesses,” Bloom said. “But the demographics have gone from most millennials to now a lot of women and minority entrepreneurs in their second or third careers. A lot of people have re-evaluated their priorities, which is what their passion really is. They rotate.

“The other big change is that before, brands all wanted to make clothes for women. However, each of these brands has very specific targeted sectors, such as modest clothing or safety boots. The candidates we attract are different. Former Manhattan architect Mamita Raddy now has a saree upcycling business. Nancy Conner, who previously did business development in the dental industry, now creates smart tailored clothing, including men’s and women’s shirts with Velcro, ”for those whose conditions make it difficult to dress. “Many of the designers who participate in our program focus on underserved markets and deliver stylish, quality products. “

According to Bloom, 50 people graduated from the program and 70% of them are still in business, two of which generate multi-million dollar volumes. She added that incubator graduates who run businesses provide business to photographers, models, stylists, manufacturers, graphic designers, printers and others in the Philadelphia area. “The incubator is truly an economic development initiative for the city of Philadelphia,” Bloom said.

Elissa Bloom, Executive Director, Philadelphia Fashion Incubator.

Elissa Bloom, Executive Director, Philadelphia Fashion Incubator.

“When I first applied to the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator in 2017, I was in the early stages of clothing development. I hadn’t fully developed my collection, ”said Amy Voloshin, co-founder with her husband of PrintFresh, a sustainable sleepwear brand and program graduate. “I was really looking for support – a peer group to learn and experience things with, to be more connected to the Philadelphia fashion scene.”

She said she attended weekly group meetings with guest speakers covering technical design, production and other topics and was able to attend Philadelphia Fashion Week. She also had designer Danny Noble as a mentor.

“It was so great to have him as a mentor, to have someone who had been there and who could provide a keen sense of design and business and advice on all the things that I had to overcome.” , said Voloshin, who designs nightgowns. , embroidered bathrobes and long pajama sets, priced at $ 98 to $ 158. “He really made me realize that the brand just has to have a strong point of view, that you have to be able to see it from across the room and know that it’s all yours because there are so many people in there. competition. … The pure learning aspects and the mentoring have been incredibly helpful.

Amy Volochine from PrintFresh.

Amy Volochine from PrintFresh.

The incubator’s other current creators-in-residence are Elle Tobin, creator of the designer clothing and accessories label Danielle Tobin; Deborah Ann Mack of the eponymous women’s outerwear brand; Namita Penugonda Reddy, founder of women’s brand Samsara Sari which recycles vintage sarees, and Emily Soloby, who designs safety boots under the Juno Jones label.

Soloby said she joined the incubator to take Juno Jones “from an idea to a powerful reality. It’s about more than shoes. It’s stylish safety boots for women in jobs. like engineering, architecture, construction and all kinds of hazardous industries.

Soloby, who operates a truck driving school with training in heavy equipment that she and her husband bought from an uncle, launched Juno Jones via Kickstarter in 2020. Her first style of safety boot appeared in March. latest and more styles are coming for fall. “Our first design was outsourced, so we found out what women were looking for. We sent out surveys and sketches.

The Philadelphia fashion incubator gave her “a sense of community” and the feeling that there is a team behind her that supports her. “You can get instant feedback on everything from business to contracts to marketing. The second thing is networking. It’s amazing that you can talk to the kind of professionals they provide.

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