Austin Community College’s fashion incubator funding spanned three years

Funding for Austin Community College’s fashion incubator program has been renewed for another three-year term after the City Council voted unanimously at a July 28 meeting to extend an interlocal agreement with the school.

The agreement — based on an initiative to boost Austin’s fashion industry by providing training to designers and business owners — calls for the city of Austin to reimburse ACC up to $55,000 annually for ongoing costs related to industry-specific technology which is provided to the incubator by the software company Gerber Technology.

Molly Beth Malcolm, ACC’s executive vice chancellor for operations and public affairs, said she is pleased to see the agreement extended.

“This has been a great partnership with the city that we look forward to continuing and continuing to see the fashion industry grow in Austin,” said Malcolm.

Susana Carbajal, deputy director of the City of Austin’s Department of Economic Development, expressed a similar sentiment in a July 29 statement emailed to Community Impact Journal.

“The City of Austin’s Department of Economic Development looks forward to continuing our partnership with the Austin Community College Fashion Incubator, a partnership based on a mutual commitment to provide comprehensive, high-quality, real-world content for the industry to grow the growing fashion industry in Austin, Texas,” the email read.

The incubator’s origins stem from an August 2014 council resolution calling on then-City Manager Marc Ott to facilitate an examination of Austin’s fashion industry and avenues for its further development.

An initial agreement to establish the incubator at ACC’s Highland campus was finalized on September 29, 2016. The agreement was renewed for another three years on June 20, 2019.

“[The] The vision from day one was to drive economic growth in an emerging Austin industry,” Malcolm said.

The incubator has developed training programs and educational tools to train local fashion designers, business owners and students in the skills needed to operate or seek employment in this sector. Designers and business owners are trained in product development, marketing and business strategies. Additionally, businesses without the necessary manufacturing infrastructure can contract with the incubator to use its manufacturing equipment.

An associate degree program that offers students the opportunity to use the incubator’s resources is also available.

The incubator has also reached beyond Austin’s city limits. In collaboration with the US Embassy in Cairo, the City of Austin Department of Economic Development and other organizations, the incubator participated in the ATX+Egypt Entrepreneurship Program.

Now that the funding extension has been secured, Nina Means, director of the ACC fashion incubator, sees a digitally-focused future for the program.

“In the last two years with COVID[-19], we have all this digital acceleration in our industry where people are willing to work remotely. They are looking for designers to create products for gaming, for e-commerce, for a variety of different applications. Smart textiles, digital supply chain, all of those things are things that we have here at ACC,” Means said. “But now those jobs, instead of being $17 or $20 an hour, are now more like 25 -$50 an hour, and so now we’re talking about a very different kind of workforce, profitable workforce opportunities leveraging innovation.”

Means also sees the incubator as a way for ACC to be a leader in navigating the future of the fashion industry and increasing access to training and equipment for students.

“We’re really proud of the equity that this program provides to the community,” Means said. “It’s really important that I think people understand that as we’re looking at the digital transformation of our industry, ACC is really at the forefront of doing that specifically for Austin.”

More information about the incubator and the application process for the designer-in-residence program can be found here.

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