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Clothed for Business: ACC’s Fashion Incubator

Creativity and technical training come together in a fashionable package at ACC Highland's 7,500-square-foot facility


Oh, that Gerber Technology! (Courtesy of Austin Community College)

Clothes may, as they say, make the person. But it's the making of clothes – the foundation of the fashion industry, after all – that makes Austin citizens turn to ACC's fashion design program and its fashion incubator to achieve what they desire in the realm of garment creation and marketing.

That's because ACC offers study tracks that teach the creative and business basics and beyond, resulting in, of course, a greater knowledge of what fashion is and how the industry works, but which can also lead to a Fashion Design Certificate, a Fashion Marketing Certificate, and – following a two-year course – an Associate of Applied Science in Fashion Design.

It's also because ACC Highland has the Fashion Incubator, a program modeled after their previous success with their Bioscience Incubator. This Incubator, housed in a 7,500-sq.-ft. facility, is engineered, from its softwares and hardwares to its mentors and guest instructors and community involvement, to help hatch whatever plans a designer might have for visiting their particular brand of fashion upon the world.

Softwares and hardwares: the infrastructure of any design and manufacturing industry, with specialized instrumentality required to perform whatever tasks the particular industry requires. And what ACC's Fashion Incubator has is Gerber Technology – several million dollars' worth of Gerber Technology, for use by those enrolled in the college's designers-in-residence program.


Nina Means, Director of the Fashion Incubator (Courtesy of Austin Community College)

"When this program started," related Fashion Incubator Director Nina Means in a recent episode of Coffee Talk, the department's weekly web series, "the city of Austin, ACC, and Gerber Technologies came together and said, 'We see that there's a lot of growth here, in the fashion industry in Austin, and we really want to support that.' And one of the things we're particularly excited about, with the Gerber system, we've got over 13 million dollars worth of equipment."

That equipment includes the industry-galvanizing AccuMark 2D and 3D Pattern Design programs and the Gerbercutter Z1 and more. And it used to be that you'd have to be right there, on-site in the classroom, to access the systems. But these are tricky pandemic times we're in, right? Yes, and that's recently been covered.

"We have the hardware and the software," said Means, "and the public will have a chance to learn it, because we now have remote licenses. So, where we were more focused on executing a lot of our content in the physical space, now – because, you know, COVID and other things – we can deliver a lot of this training virtually."

And all this tech is abetted and contextualized by ACC's industry-experienced faculty and mentors, and by guest presenters like Celestino Couture's designer Sergio Guadarrama, handbag designer Kent Stetson, sustainability expert Cory Skuldt, and fashion photographers Frank Curry and Todd White. The panoply of fashion-savvy instructors is not mere tech support.

"A lot of other small business incubators will pair up their students with mentors and industry specialists," said director Means, "but for the fashion industry, it's been a bit of a black box. Now, as we work with industry professionals who've been in the business for 10, 20, 30, sometimes 40 years, [our designers] get a chance to work with people who used to be a president at a major company, a general manager of a major department store, or who runs their own specialty store or is a marketing manager. And these insights are unique to any other place I've seen – we really leverage our community and their desire to see the local fashion design community grow, and we use our in-house staff, myself included, to support the development of the brands. Between the technology and the mentorships, we really wanna see you grow. We're focused on getting creatives to be commercial – and this is where we help take you from a maker to a seller."

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