'The Lab' offers support for local fashion designers

Abby Phillips, Memphis Fashion Week founder, has opened an incubator to kickstart the newly created Memphis Fashion Design Network, which supports and cultivates local designers and artists in the industry.
Located in a Quonset hut at 64 Flicker Street tucked behind the Shelby County Board of Education offices, The Lab held its grand opening weekend on August 19 and 20. During the two days, designers from Memphis Fashion Week’s Emerging Memphis Designer Project and other local designers offered jewelry and apparel for sale to the public.
 
Memphis Fashion Week founder Abby Phillips opened The Lab as a permanent incubator space for fashion designers and related entrepreneurs, after operating a temporary space on South Main Street.
 
The Lab will provide six month leases for up to eight applicants. In addition to single and shared studio space, the incubator includes a cutting room, conference room, resource library, discounted workshops and space rental, access to the computer lab and Adobe software, shared use of office equipment and sewing machines, business assistance and mentoring, a photography studio, and the ability to showcase wares during trunk shows and events.
 
Custom men’s apparel outfitter Monte Stewart is the first official incubator tenant. Other designers will join Stewart in October.
 
“We hope to bring in local stylists and boutique buyers looking for options for local clothing,” Phillips said.
 
The 3,400 square foot space last previously housed the David Lusk Gallery, before it moved to its current home at 97 Tillman Street, near Poplar Avenue. Phillips said that she only repainted the space before occupying it.
 
The weekend trunk show also served as a kickoff for the Memphis Fashion Design Network.
 
The main mission of the MFDN is to support and cultivate local designers in the fashion industry by bringing and keeping the region’s top emerging designers in the city so that they can use their talent to help fuel economic growth. The network’s tenets are education, workforce development, and manufacturing infrastructure.
 
Memphis Fashion Week will serve as the fundraising arm for MFDN’s missions of education, workforce development, and manufacturing infrastructure.
 
The incubator having a stable location represents the first new facet of the network now in place. Next up is creating a graduate level curriculum at Memphis College of Art, in hopes of offering the first Master in Fine Art in Fashion Design in the city. Over the past four years Memphis Fashion Week and MCA have partnered for community education courses in sewing, draping, and sketching, with another beginning sewing class to start Sept. 13.
 
The network eventually also would like to offer classes in fashion, sewing, and design skills, from the elementary school level all the way up to college in the Memphis area at other institutions.
 
In workforce development, the MFDN has goals of teaming with local colleges and training institutes to develop a program to train individuals in sewing machine usage and repairs, as well as connect them with job opportunities.
 
For the manufacturing piece, MFDN plans to create a small batch manufacturing space in Memphis where local and regional fashion designers can meet and work with plants and personnel face to face, taking advantage of the Memphis logistical industry to offer better shipping and turnaround times, as well as create jobs for workforce development training centers.
 
As of now, network membership offers benefits such as members only events, access to a member directory, and job postings. Membership, which has varying annual rates, is open to designers, bloggers, stylists, makeup artists (MUAs), and other related business owners.
 
Designers’ studio space in The Lab will be open to the public by appointment and during quarterly trunk shows.
 
“This is our sixth year with Memphis Fashion Week and cultivating where we are now,” Phillips said. “It’s nice to have a space where everyone can come to have a home base. It’s nice to close that circle and showcase what Memphis has to offer.”

Read more articles by Elle Perry.

A native of Memphis, Elle Perry serves as coordinator of the Teen Appeal, the Scripps Howard city-wide high school newspaper program. 
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