One of the few incubators in the United States at the intersection of fashion and technology, Stitch Factory is looking to help build the kind of hip, tech-savvy destination for entrepreneurs envisioned by Zappos.com CEO, Tony Hsieh, who is embarking on a SimCity-of-sorts project to reboot downtown Las Vegas. Modern Fellows spoke with Stitch Factory founders Jennifer Taler and Meghan Boyd to learn more about their efforts to support budding fashion entrepreneurs in Las Vegas and beyond.
Stitch Factory helps fledgling businesses take flight and acts as a hub for the Las Vegas fashion community. Jen and Meghan have also attracted a high-profile transplant from Los Angeles in Combat Gent, a menswear startup founded by Vishaal and Mo Melwani that has garnered positive buzz for its inexpensive men’s suits and tailored basics. (The company, which is the recent recipient of $1.84 million in financing from a group that includes Hsieh’s Las Vegas Tech Fund, will base production of its upcoming denim line from Stitch Factory.) Below is a lightly-edited transcript of a conversation with Jen and Meghan.
When did you get started?
We had our grand opening in January 2013, but started moving stuff into the space last July 2012. [Initially] we wanted to stage it. In September we invited designers to start working out of here for free to test the concept, get their feedback, see what other machines they want. Do you like working in this collaborative environment?
At first they were h hesitant, as a creative person they were afraid that someone would knock of what they’re doing. Then they found when they were all in this space at the same time that they were more creative and learned tips and tricks that they wouldn’t have otherwise known. When Vishaal [of Combat Gent] is here, he’s an amazing resource on the sourcing side of things. He’ll know who to talk to for this and that. It’s fun to see the energy of everyone working together.
What was the inspiration for founding Stitch Factory?
[Meghan:] We were originally inspired by co-working. Whether it’s General Assembly or Starbucks, you can go there and work but [as a designer] it would be pretty difficult to take [all of the equipment that you need] with you.
Then we started getting involved with the Downtown Project and were thinking about ways to bring something different to the fashion world in Las Vegas. Tony [Hsieh, Zappos.com CEO] had just started speaking about Downtown Project.
A woman emailed him and he connected her with me. We met, and she grabbed her bag and pulled out the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated and she said that’s me. This woman had about 10 swimsuits featured in Sports Illustrated. She was sewing them out of her spare bedroom in her 2 bedroom out in Henderson. She has the hard part down – the PR – and [because her suits were featured in] the controversial Kate Upton cover, the issue received even more press than it otherwise would have. Then I asked how much she had sold, and she had sold zero. She didn’t have the background on the business side.
Being a buyer for many years at Zappos, I figured there was a way I could help support them. That’s really where the idea originated.
The fashion and tech industries tend to be very silo-ed.
We haven’t found anything like this. We haven’t seen anyone else approaching this fashion community building and [merging fashion and technology] in this way.
It helps that we’re approaching it as a community-as-a-startup. That’s where the best innovation comes from, is the cross-pollination of industries. That’s what so great about the speaker series that we do the 3rd week of every month. [Stitch Factory’s speaker series brings together speakers like Jake Bronstein, Founder of Flint and Tinder, and Avery Bloom of Make It Good, for talks about fashion and technology.]
One unexpected side effect is the patterns and sample service we developed. We now have a one-stop shop and are able to offer design and pattern services across a broad range of products. There are a lot of sample houses that only focus on knits or denim or swim. We’re really trying to help in all of those areas. Including for menswear.
We haven’t done any suits yet, but not because we can’t. So far, we’ve made some bar pants, some trousers, some more casual wear in knit. One of our designers is Urban Munchkinz, who produces menswear on a smaller scale for little boys.
Another thing is that we’re not just an incubator offering space with in-house support. We have an educational aspect as well. From technical designing all the way down to the Pinterest DIY person who wants to create something butt doesn’t know what to do, we do workshops and refreshers and integrate people into the community. We can help people grow and develop mentors. It’s a life cycle – all the way from learning to actually creating and selling.
How many designers do you work with?
[As of August 2013] we’re working with 25 designers. We have 4 in-house designer residents. In our membership tiers, you can have dedicated space – for example, a single-needle is the most common, or you can rent shared space.
How do you get the word out?
It’s all be word of mouth so far. [Meghan] reached out to a few local designers and when Jen came back she reached out to more. Downtown Project is a PR machine in and of itself, so it’s fun to be downtown in this space.
The community here is really a startup city. It’s not insular. The whole community is about co-working and co-creating and cross-pollination. It’s exciting to see everyone working together to help build something. We’re really excited to have the team that we have in place and now to take it to the next step to go out and talk about it and start pulling more resources in.
How has downtown Las Vegas changed?
[Jen:] When I left for 10 months [to work with a startup in Australia] and came back, to see how much it changed was mind-blowing. Each month downtown Las Vegas keeps growing. The first Tuesday every month we have what we call the Lowdown. At the end is a 2 minute tell [where people stand up and talk about new projects]. The amount of new people that keep relocating to downtown Las Vegas is a testimony to what is going on here. People are just coming out.
[Meghan:] We just had a fashion company relocate from Iowa — no funding. They just heard about downtown Las Vegas and loaded up their inventory and came here.
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