On a crisp evening in November, an artsy crowd of 500 or so flocked to a gritty stretch of Brooklyn, where they sipped wine, mingled with designers and admired their creations, which ranged from furry cropped jackets and naturally-dyed scarves to 3-D printed skulls. What else would you expect at the opening party of the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator? Housed on the seventh floor of the old Pfizer manufacturing plant Williamsburg, the accelerator was created by Pratt Institute as “a hub for ethical fashion” in this design-obsessed city.
The BF+DA, as it’s known, is the latest addition to New York’s kaleidoscope of incubators, accelerators and other initiatives designed to turbocharge innovative local ventures. All told, New York has more than two dozen such programs, up from virtually none a decade ago. They range from tech stalwarts like TechStars to biotech incubators such as Harlem BioSpace.
In a way, that’s only fitting, since New York State claims the country’s first business incubator, the Batavia Industrial Center, opened in that upstate town in 1959 in a repurposed former manufacturing plant.
It’s not just New York. Accelerators and incubators are cropping up across the nation, from Chicago to Chattanooga, as cities look for ways to spur jobs and attract a creative class. As Pratt Institute President Thomas F. Schutte told the assembled crowd: “It’s about jobs, jobs, jobs.”
The Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator, or BF+DA, is funded by Pratt as well as Brooklyn and state funds. The accelerator is the brainchild of Debera Johnson, executive director of Pratt’s Center for Sustainable Design Strategies. Johnson also founded the Pratt Design Incubator for Sustainable Innovation, which today hosts a community of 15 startups. In keeping with that sensibility, the BF+DA is seeking designers with an ethical and environmentally friendly bent.
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The accelerator occupies more than 15,000 square feet in the former Pfizer manufacturing plant, which is already home to some of the city’s fastest growing food brands. The BF+DA will host 30 fashion and design startups who will pay cut-rate rent for work space and shared amenities such as a conference room and showroom. The entrepreneurs will also have access to a production facility that can handle micro-runs, a rapid prototyping center with equipment for laser cutting, digital printing and multiple gauge knitting, and wet labs for experimenting with textile dyes and finishes.