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Business incubator aims to make Valley a magnet for fashion designers

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PHOENIX – Producing T-shirts bearing slogans such as “Chillionaire” and “Work Hard, Love Hard,” Scottsdale’s Michael Poulos hopes that his beach clothing line will inspire others to live their dreams.

Poulos has been able to make his company, Living Dreams, his top priority since June 2012, when being accepted into Phoenix Fashion Week’s incubator for designers connected him with four months of fashion shows, media exposure and lessons in marketing.

“It’s been, I’d say, full-time from that day forward,” he said, adding that the experience led to $4,000 in sales.

Phoenix Fashion Week, a company that organizes the annual fashion show and connects designers with buyers, is trying to make Phoenix a fashion hub through the Emerging Designer Program, which helped Poulos, as well as through its Fashion Hub co-working space.

Poulos, one of 12 designers selected for the 2012 program, didn’t win the $10,000 prize package that includes business consulting and a magazine spread. But he and the 11 others were still eligible for business training, promotion and placement in two fashion shows, valued at $1,295.

The Emerging Designer Program culminates at Phoenix Fashion Week’s October event, which draws dozens of designers to showcase their fashions.

Brian Hill, Phoenix Fashion Week’s executive director, said next year’s Emerging Designer Program will select 15 designers from a pool of about 300 fashion brands.

It was developed four years ago to prepare designers for Fashion Week beyond just designs, he said.

“In reality, young designers were really focused on their clothing and their craft. They weren’t focused on the business side of it,” Hill said.

Young designers need to target specialized retailers and bloggers who will love their products and evangelize for the brands, he said.

“You have to get the people who will drink your Kool-Aid,” Hill said.

The program originated as a way to build sustainable clothing brands in Arizona, he said.

“If you gotta go to LA or New York to run your fashion brand, you can’t hire a great marketing person from NAU,” Hill said.

From June until October, designers meet online every other Wednesday to learn business skills like marketing, writing press releases and developing appropriate profit margins, he said, noting that the designers only need to be in Phoenix three times during the program.

Los Angeles-based brand Shawl Dawls expanded from being in one store to 110 retails across the country because of the program, Hill said., the online shoe and clothing retailer, now carries four brands from the program, he said.

In addition to the Emerging Designer Program, Phoenix Fashion Week’s Fashion Hub, workspace located in east Phoenix, allows designers to collaborate and hone their skills while renting cubicles for $250 a month, Hill said.

Designers who use the Fashion Hub can take advantage of Phoenix Fashion Week’s weekly classes on topics like branding and profit margins, and they can immediately apply the knowledge to their brands, he said.

Hill said Phoenix Fashion Week plans to expand in 2014 to let designers cut and sew their fashions as well as adding a photography studio.

Elizabeth Norris-Baines, an aspiring fashion designer from Northern California, said the Fashion Hub has helped her develop contacts and learn about business while she designs a line of business shirts for women.

“So it’s really given me a platform to succeed,” she said.

Norris-Baines, who owns a construction company in Oakland, Calif., said that despite having success starting and running a company she still has much to learn about the fashion industry.

“This is retail. This is completely different than what I’m accustomed to,” she said.