A fixture of Arizona Fashion and fashion incubator F.A.B.R.I.C.
By Laura Madden
If you know anything about Arizona fashion (or even if you don’t), you’ve probably heard the name Angela Johnson. Johnson has been on the fashion scene here since, well, there practically was a fashion scene here. This Arizona designer cares about building an Arizona fashion community, and most importantly, making it sustainable.
While Johnson may have started out as a fashion designer, today her resume runs deep, most notably as a teacher, business consultant, co-founder of the Tempe-based fashion incubator F.A.B.R.I.C. (Fashion And Business Resource Innovation Center), and co-founder of the non-profit AZ Apparel Foundation.
You are known as an award-winning eco-friendly designer, a pioneer for Arizona fashion, and the co-founder of FABRIC, a zero-waste, no-minimum factory. FABRIC is filling a much-needed void to do good for the planet and transition the industry to a more sustainable model. How is FABRIC putting Arizona sustainable fashion on the map?
FABRIC provides all of the resources that an emerging fashion brand/ designer needs to design, manufacture and market domestically, right here in Arizona. Apparel manufacturing is not very sustainable, and when we re-shore manufacturing, we are making it much more sustainable in a lot of ways.
With domestic manufacturing comes laws around labor and environmental factors. To add another layer of sustainability to this, we provide education and consulting to the emerging brands who are using our resources so they have a better understanding of what makes their products more sustainable. We provide a free sourcing library and wholesale sourcing assistance that can help them find these resources.
Additionally, by creating AZ Eco Fashion Week, we also provide them with a platform to celebrate and sell their sustainable products at no cost. We also give all discarded scraps that are left over from manufacturing for hundreds of local brands to a group of designers who have collaborated under the name reFABRICate. These designers re-engineer these scraps into one-of-a-kind, unique clothing that is sold year-round at FABRIC, and show the items on the AZ Eco Fashion Week runway. We try to make every effort possible to provide a sustainable solution to the unsustainable model that is currently the norm in apparel manufacturing.
FABRIC just celebrated its third anniversary—a huge accomplishment, especially since it is the only fashion incubator in Arizona and it is entirely community-funded. What is your greatest vision for FABRIC?
The mission of our non-profit AZ Apparel Foundation is to provide Arizona’s emerging designers and brands with innovative, small-batch manufacturing and strategic business resources, so they can build sustainable fashion businesses locally. Our vision is Arizona as a leader in sustainable, innovative fashion design and manufacturing. Currently, we are assisting over 400 brands with their design development and small-batch manufacturing so they can start affordably and grow. By allowing these brands to make small quantities, we are allowing them to test the market and sell direct to niche market consumers. This is very different from traditional manufacturing, in which product is pushed onto the market in very large quantities in order to achieve lower price points.
We feel that the only way domestic manufacturing can compete with these lower overseas prices is to employ technology along the entire design and manufacturing process so that some of the human element can be removed from the process. This reduction of manual labor not only allows for the human to use their cognitive skills instead of their hands, but also reduces costs.
What have been the greatest challenges?
To figure out how to prove our model, fulfill our obligations to the city, and achieve our mission without any funding. In three short years, we have assisted over 400 emerging and smaller niche brands with design development, marketing, sourcing, and no-minimum manufacturing. We’ve provided free and discounted consulting and education that allows these brands to save tens of thousands of dollars. We’ve given back over $1.5 million to the community in free and discounted classes, events and opportunities, and we’ve helped create countless jobs.
We’ve accomplished all of this with no real corporate sponsor or donor. This has been a labor of love, fueled by the passion of the co-founders and the community. Now that we are in our third year, we qualify for grants and other funding. Our biggest challenge is finding the time to apply and ask while we are so busy delivering all of these programs and services.
This has become a bigger economic development piece for the state, and we need help solving it. We have a vision of a higher-capacity factory that employs the latest technology so that we can provide sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective manufacturing in higher volumes here in Arizona. This would require more financial support and partnerships with visionary corporations, government entities and possibly our local university.
Things are changing here and you are playing a big hand in that, but eco-friendly and Arizona aren’t exactly known to commingle . Do you see eco-friendly fashion having a future in Arizona?
Our vision is to provide a replicable model that should exist in every city nationwide. With the fashion industry finally starting to follow the farm-to-table model in the food industry, there will need to be fashion incubators in every state that help local designers with the design development, tech packs, and no/low-minimum manufacturing.
FABRIC is unique to the country, and there aren’t any other incubators that do everything we do. We believe we are setting an example. If we can get the right funding and support for our vision, AZ could actually be known for setting an example for the rest of the country on what sustainable apparel manufacturing should look like in the 21st century.
Keep up with all of Laura Madden’s articles with Green Living by visiting our website.
Laura Madden is an advocate for fashion, art, and sustainability through her work as an influencer, stylist, writer, model and artist. She reports on the intersection of style, sustainability and self-esteem on both her blog, the ReFashion Report, and various conscious lifestyle publications. Madden also serves as a global ambassador for non-profit Remake, is a board member with San Francisco Fashion Community Week, and is the founder of ReFashioned Art, her brand of upcycled art. For more sustainable style, art and shopping tips, check out www.iamlauramadden.com and follow her on instagram @iamlauramadden and @reFashionedArt.