Over an evening workshop, a dozen fashion business enthusiasts gather at the Nova Fashion Incubator, discussing what makes a brand iconic. Worktables, sergers and irons, fill the 1,600-square-foot studio along with clothes horses and mannequins adorned with half-finished garments.
The Branding Workshop is one of several initiatives organized by the non-profit at 1531 Grafton Street. Amanda Kincaid and Laura Corkum are co-directors.
“As fashion designers, you are creating a fantasy for people to buy into,” says Beau-Brandon Cleeton, the chief creative officer of Napkin Inc., who has been invited to lead the discussion. “Once you know what the fantasy is, it will define the lifestyle you are selling.”
Cleeton is one of several industry experts invited to share his experience over a series of workshops and future events at the incubator.
The aim is to nurture and retain rich local talent through access to the machinery and manufacturing services necessary to build and sustain a fashion line, ongoing educational events and bazaars, as well as opportunities for members to network, collaborate and share skills.
The incubator offers daily drop-in rates, weekly, monthly and associate memberships and access to private studios. This fall, Kincaid and Corkum are exploring opportunities for companies to sponsor up-and-coming talent, and are planning a fashion “kick-starter” program which will include a new series of design and business workshops.
“We want to be a platform and a voice, because if you are standing alone, you don’t have much to say,” says Corkum.
The duo sees the incubator as a meeting place for current students and graduates from the three local fashion schools at NSCAD, da Vinci College and Dalhousie, which teach important but different skill sets. “We get to be the go-between, where it doesn’t matter which school you come from,” says Kincaid.
The incubator is shaping to be a force in fashion, not only for Nova Scotia, but all of the East Coast. While Toronto has had an incubator for almost thirty years, and with similar models existing in the United States, the East Coast scene has been fragmented in comparison.
“It’s astonishing how many people in Moncton and Saint John don’t know what is happening here, and vice versa,” Kincaid says. “In the East Coast, we’re a little different. We have a couple of different provinces with little pockets, and it’s really important to bring them together. We basically have a huge area that we can pull from in terms of talent.”
Relative to other cities, the incubator has had a quick ascent. The duo first met in 2013 through Corkum’s former instructor and mentor at da Vinci College, Michelle Kulyk, who knew that both women were interesting in forming an incubator in the same vein as other fashion hubs. They spent the summer and fall of 2014 securing a location and funding, and by January 2015 began holding their first workshops. Membership has been growing, slowly but surely. They now see a significant interest in their professional custom work for cutting, pattern grading, designing and a variety of sewing services.
“Together, Amanda and I have the fashion and business sides covered. I think that’s why we’ve been able to get as far as we’ve gotten with it,” Corkum says.
With her fashion label Lady Lamb, and having been in the same shoes as so many recent fashion graduates in Halifax, Corkum recognized the immediate need for an incubator. “We need a stepping stone after school,” she says. “The infrastructure, the equipment—the costs are too high for most single designers to afford on their own. It’s so important to have a professional meeting area and space where designers can talk to one another. You really miss this once you are out on your own.”
Kincaid, who has a background in journalism, founded Line Magazine in 2012 to spotlight the local fashion industry. While she has put the magazine on hold to work on the incubator, she made several valuable contacts in the industry during this time.
“Inspiration for me is being around designers,” says Kincaid. “Through them I met Laura and all these other people. It’s amazing to think about the things they are doing, and what they want to do. For me, it’s about giving back to that and helping them get to where they want to be.”
Although the local industry can be small and challenging at times, there are several talented entrepreneurs that remain tied to the East Coast, many of which are closely connected to the incubator. These include the technical designer James Awmack, who has set up his services at the studio full-time, and Conni Zafiris of Zafira Apparel.
The incubator is open not only to current students and graduates, but to countless other professionals with complementary backgrounds, and anyone with an interest in the fashion industry. “It is exciting to see what is happening now that we have all these people in the same space,” says Corkum.