Seattleite Q&A: Seattle Fashion Incubator’s Steven Matsumoto

Photo: Steven Matsumoto

Seattleite’s exclusive Q&A session with the co-founder of Seattle Fashion Incubator.

It’s time to go local with fashion finds. We hear about fashion labels from New York and Paris all the time, but Seattle’s fashion designers are definitely worth that closer look! Seattle Fashion Incubator wants to increase the visibility of the fashion scene in Seattle by providing our “emerging fashion brands … the ideal environment to develop and grow their business.”

Photo: Steven Matsumoto

Seattle Fashion Incubator was co-founded by Steven Matsumoto, who sat down to chat with Seattleite about his business and our local fashion industry.

Seattleite: Where did your interest in fashion start?

Steven Matsumoto: For me it started in high school, when I began buying my own clothes. If it weren’t for a very patient personal shopper at Macy’s (it was the Bon Marche then), I probably never would have found my own personal style. Introducing me to Kenneth Cole was probably one of the best things she ever did!

S: How do you feel about the style and fashion scene in Seattle?

SM: We have a proud apparel history, the focus just shifted over to tech in the 80s. Our fashion scene now is kind of a come-as-you-are party; I can go around in a three-piece suit when it’s 80 degrees outside, and some people may wonder why I’m not in shorts and a T-shirt, but for the most part, it’s accepted. I think a lot of people confuse fashion and style; fashion is the industry, and style is more personal — an outward expression of the style and how we feel internally. Fashion is wearable art. Artists are supposed to push the limits, be irreverent. Some are classy, some are avant garde.

S: Why did you start Seattle Fashion Incubator? What did you want it to do for the Seattle fashion community?

SM: While I was working in marketing consulting, I ran into some folks who explained what a business incubator was. In Chicago and other cities, they had fashion incubators so I thought it would be great to have one here. One of my biggest goals has been to create a garment district in a Seattle neighborhood, like Georgetown. Ultimately, we want to become the premier business incubator and definitive force for innovation for the fashion and apparel industry in the Northwest.

S: What is a business incubator? What are the benefits?

SM: A business incubator is an organization designed to accelerate the growth and success of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services that typically include physical space, capital, coaching and network connections. Business incubators provide entrepreneurs the opportunity to improve or enhance their existing efforts. Participants in the Seattle Fashion Incubator will have access to affordable design space, capital, specialty goods and equipment, professional mentorship, and industry-specific presentation space.

S: What is your assessment of the challenges from the economy for the Seattle fashion scene?

SM: It’s been more fear-based than anything else, but that sense of fear is starting to fade. People are starting to make luxury purchases again, or at least buy the essentials. Fashion buyers at Nordstrom and the rest used to have local buyers, but they have retracted to headquarters on the East coast. So there’s less manpower, and since they don’t have a lot of time to deal with new and untried designers, they just stick with what’s safe and what sells. Designers have a tough time getting into retail stores.

S: What does Seattle Fashion Incubator do to encourage and help local designers?

SM: Seattle Fashion Incubator is focused on being an industry advocate, generating awareness, and that kind of thing. We plan to start doing regular workshops and seminars to invite designers, fashion buyers, and other people who can share their experiences or just share insight. We’ll also have equipment and software to make the designer’s life easier. The main goal is to provide things and experiences for these designers to take advantage of in order to grow their business.

S: How would Seattle Fashion Incubator help Seattle’s fashion industry to grow and change? What are SFI’s goals?

SM: By providing the necessary resources and coaching, SFI will stimulate business growth and reduce the barriers to success in the local fashion market. I mentioned the creation of a garment district as a goal, and I also want to increase the number of designers in Seattle. We also need to get fashion shows out of the night clubs and into something designed for them. Fashion needs proper presentation, somewhere where people can have an appreciation for the art of it.

Seattle Fashion Incubator has support from Fashion Group International’s Seattle chapter, the Nolcha Organization, the Pacific Northwest Apparel Association, local designers, and a continually growing number of other supporters across the country.