Fashion city? How Nashville can compete with N.Y. and L.A. | Crain's Nashville

Fashion city? How Nashville can compete with N.Y. and L.A.

Nashville Fashion Alliance CEO Van Tucker presents an industry study to the city's fashion community. | Photo courtesy of Matthew Paskert

While Nashville often takes center stage for its dominance in the music, food and healthcare industries, it was the city’s flair for fashion that garnered national attention this month.

The Nashville Fashion Alliance reported that only Los Angeles and New York City boast more fashion companies per capita than Music City. The local fashion industry has quietly earned Nashville $5.9 billion in economic impact and that sum is projected to reach $9.5 billion by 2025, according to NFA’s analysis.

Led by Nisolo, Elizabeth Suzann, Ceri Hoover, Judith Bright and Han Starnes, to name a few, Nashville’s fashion brands and designers support at least 16,200 jobs. The jobs count is expected to hit 25,000 within eight years, according to the NFA.

“Nashville's fashion scene is growing by leaps and bounds and is a collaborative community. Very much like our music industry, it's supportive of one another,” Nashville Fashion Alliance CEO Van Tucker said in an interview with Crain’s Nashville. “While they are all competitive and focused, it is never a petty environment. They love seeing each other be successful. This is unique to our community. Frankly I think it's embedded in Nashville's DNA — whether it's the healthcare or music industry. I think in many ways it's part of its secret sauce.”

Emily Eggebrecht, founder of Consider the Wldflwrs, said she chose to launch her brand in Nashville because of its Southern charm and community support.

“I've lived in St. Louis and Dallas, and there's a sweet spot in Nashville. Everyone seems to know each other and support each other and everyone is trying to do something creative and different,” she said. “There's a lot of community support in startups, and it still has its Southern charm.”

But Nashville’s fashion industry still faces its own set of challenges. The most daunting hurdle, according to industry leaders, remains a lack of related infrastructure.

“Some designers have small runs and only need two or three pieces of each style, so big companies won't talk to them because they need a minimum, and smaller resources can't keep up with the demand. There's no place for people who need mid-level production to go. I feel like if we can crack that code, then we're going to figure it out,” said Libby Callaway, founder of The Callaway, a Nashville-based fashion brand developer.

To reach its full potential, Callaway said, Nashville’s fashion industry will eventually require the emergence of a local manufacturing hub. If designers can have their clothes made locally, even more brands will be drawn to Nashville, she said.

Tucker, meanwhile, noted that while there’s certainly no shortage of creative talent in Nashville, the city lacks skilled workers and a certain amount of business expertise.

“Most of these companies are created by people with a creative mindset, and they don't necessarily understand business fundamentals or what's necessary in a company to grow it and scale it. Most successful fashion companies have both a creative director and a business director, because it's hard to be both,” Tucker said.

This infrastructure issue recently cost Nashville denim brand Imogene + Willie, which relocated to California to be closer to its manufacturers, according to the Nashville Business Journal.

But national prominence and a supportive community continues to draw in other designers.

“All eyes are on Nashville right now,” jewelry designer Judith Bright said. “I have people contact me all the time who want to move here to find work. They're moving from L.A. and from New York because they are looking for a place that is more intimate where they can shine brighter.”

January 30, 2017 - 11:07am