The Pratt Institute Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator (BF+DA) is a great example of how to help others that want to be in the fashion industry. We had the pleasure of asking Debera Johnson some questions about BF+DA to learn how this company was created and why. Heres what she had to say:
Your name and role at the BF + DA
Debera Johnson, Founder and Executive Director, Pratt Institute Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator
How and when was the BF + DA created (and by who)?
The Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator (BF+DA) is a vibrant hub of commerce and entrepreneurship launched by Pratt Institute to provide high-potential designers with the resources they need to transform their ideas into successful businesses. With funding from the State of New York, the Borough of Brooklyn, and Pratt Institute, the Accelerator occupies a 21,000-square-foot space in the former Pfizer building in Williamsburg. The Accelerator follows the success of the Pratt Design Incubator for Sustainable Innovation, which I founded and launched in 2002 in Brooklyn. The Incubator helped create more than 30 new companies and dozens of jobs in industries including fashion design, product design, social entrepreneurship, and green-consulting services. The BF+DA was the next logical step as it helps high-potential design start-ups to establish viable businesses.
Is there an overall mission that the BF + DA hopes to address?
Breaking into the fashion and design business can be extremely difficult, and many talented designers and artists get stuck trying to move from start-up to the next level of success. We envisioned the BF+DA to show young entrepreneurs the pathway to success and provide the full spectrum of product design resources under one roof. The facility offers resources ranging from traditional apparel production to computerized knitting, high-tech digital fabrication, and business-development mentoring. Beyond helping these companies achieve success, we want to be a resource for the larger community in providing new models for sustainable, socially-responsible design.
Can you explain how the Production services operate at the BF + DA?
The BF+DA has a micro-run production facility where designers can make from one to 50 units, including multiple gauge computerized knitting, cut-and-sew for knits and wovens, and digital printing for textiles. It includes a 3-D rapid prototyping center that includes laser cutting machines and textile and technology labs for research and innovation. The labs are suitable for experimenting and prototyping technology-enabled “smart” apparel, new dyes and finishes, and products that merge traditional production methods with digital fabrication to create sustainable production methods. It is open to any designer and you can find out more by visiting our website bkaccelerator.com/make.
What is the Accelerator program attached to the BF + DA?
The BF+DA is open to entrepreneurs throughout New York City who will work in the 21,000-square-foot facility. Its community includes Venture Fellows who are working to grow their start-ups into viable businesses and receive intensive business mentorship and expert counseling in sustainable strategies. The space accommodates up to 30 leasable studios with ample space and support facilities to meet the needs of design start-ups in fashion, product, or media design. We do what no other accelerator does by providing a full spectrum of services to growing design businesses; offering help from design concept through production, all in once space. We also have memberships for people who need workspace and rentable conference rooms and event space.
What Businesses are currently working with the Accelerator program at the BF + DA?
We have a range of businesses currently working at the BF+DA, which is exciting since we’ve seen a great culture developing where companies learn from their peers. For instance, we have The Dogwood Dyer, a company founded by sustainable educator, urban gardener, and educator Liz Spencer that uses locally-foraged, urban-grown plants to create textile dyes. We have a Sustainable Strategies Lab that provides designers with new models for sustainable production, which includes examples of Liz’s work. It is exciting to me to see our companies actively engaging and sharing their business insights with one another–from suppliers to shippers and beyond. In addition to menswear and womenswear companies, we have sustainable apothecary, toy, home goods, and product companies; and companies working in digital design and fabrication.
Does the BF + DA ever host events or other unique services?
In addition to BF+DA tours, we host exhibitions, events, and educational programs that highlight the environmental, social, and technological underpinnings of fashion and design today. We presented our first-ever exhibition, titled Cloud Couture: The Intimate Connection Between Fashion and Technology, this past February during New York Fashion Week. It explored the future of fashion as it relates to connectivity, intimacy, and the individual, and highlighted new materials and technologies that are redefining the apparel and manufacturing industries in the 21st century through garments, video, photography, and installations. We love when people visit us and gain new insights into the industry, as many did during the run of the show.
What sort of impact does the BF + DA hope to have on the Fashion Industry / Community?
The BF+DA underscores Pratt’s commitment to helping creative entrepreneurs succeed in starting new businesses. We want to show designers the path to success and help them grow their businesses with sustainability, social responsibility, and technology in mind. Our goal is to emphasize new practices in design and manufacturing while connecting back to the larger business and workforce development work happening within New York City and across the region.
Is the BF + DA / Accelerator only accessible to students of Pratt – or residents of NYC?
The BF+DA is accessible to anyone. Our Venture Fellows come from other design and business schools.
Where can people learn more about the BF + DA and how can they get in touch? (web, email, social media etc.)
A retail space in the Pratt Institute Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator highlights work by BF+DA Fellows
Production Coordinator Tara St. James in the apparel lab
Venture Fellow Suzanne Rae works on her ready-to-wear line in the BF+DA
Venture Fellows at work in the BF+DA space in South Williamsburg