Fashion Gets Fast Tracked at New Design Accelerator

BF+DA provides an interdisciplinary work space that encourages designers to invent, collaborate, and innovate new enterprises. Rendering: Vicky Chan/Avoid Obvious

BF+DA provides an interdisciplinary work space that encourages designers to invent, collaborate, and innovate new enterprises. Rendering: Vicky Chan/Avoid Obvious

When 3rd Ward abruptly shuttered last month, Brooklyn’s design community found itself in sudden need of a new creative hub–and the Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator looks to be its most likely successor.

The Accelerator isn’t just interested in fashion designers–product designers, filmmakers, photographers and media artists are also encouraged to apply–but it is looking for highly ambitious and talented people.

 BF+DA is set to launch in early 2014 and is currently accepting applications from environmentally and socially responsible startups. The Accelerator, which will occupy 15,000 square feet in the old Pfizer Building on Flushing Avenue on the South Williamsburg-Bed-Stuy border, was spearheaded by Pratt Institute, with additional funding from the city and state. It’s intended to help designers turn great ideas into viable business ventures by giving them access to workspace (both co-working and private studios); digital-manufacturing capabilities like a 3D rapid prototyping center, laser cutting machines, digital printing for textiles and multiple-gauge knitting machines; a resource library of sustainable materials; and a production facility where they can have one to 50 units of their products manufactured at a time. BF+DA will also have a plaza space, which can accommodate everything from lectures and conferences to runway shows, as well as on-site business development and legal services, industry mentors and classes in entrepreneurship.

The hope is that by combining digital and traditional production practices, startups will become successful and socially responsible at the same time. Designers will be asked to develop sustainable business practices like local sourcing, zero-waste production and upcycling materials.

The Accelerator isn’t just interested in fashion designers–product designers, filmmakers, photographers and media artists are also encouraged to apply–but it is looking for highly ambitious and talented people “who have been in business long enough to know what it takes to succeed,” said Debra Johnson, Pratt’s executive director of the Center for Sustainable Design Strategies and the founder of BF+DA, in an email to BB. “The BF+DA expects companies to take two to three years to reach viable scale, and we hope that they will expand their businesses in the Pfizer building, so they will remain our neighbors.”

In many ways, the Accelerator is a logical extension of another initiative founded by Johnson: the Pratt Design Incubator for Sustainable Innovation, a mentorship program that was launched as a way to help the school’s alumni transition into creative fields. “The BF+DA has selected about five companies already, a few from the Pratt Design Incubator who are ready to scale up, and a few new companies,” Johnson said. “The ideal candidate will also be committed to producing an ethical and environmentally responsible product.”

If you apply and don’t make the cut for the 30 studio spaces available at the Accelerator next year, it’s not the end of the road–the space will also offer workshops, internships and events that’ll be open to the public, as well as a membership program that will offer discounts on services and access to shared workspace, and anyone can pay to use BF+DA’s production facilities at any time.

“Entrepreneurship is now a mainstreamed option for creatives,” Johnson said. “With e-commerce sites like Fab.com and Etsy, rapid production tools like MakerBot, and pathways to global production sources and local marketplaces like The Brooklyn Flea, designers can realize ideas and get them to market without the overhead faced by larger businesses. But it’s a tough landscape to navigate–this is what makes Pratt’s BF+DA timely. It’s an easily accessible resource for design entrepreneurs that helps bridge the barriers to viable scale.”

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