By  on June 2, 1994

SAN FRANCISCO -- When designer Bekke Bruce needs fabric in a hurry, she calls up friends from the Fashion Forum. That's where Wyndie Nusbaum turns too, when she needs help finding a contractor. Designer Judy Masliyah relies on the Forum to provide her with low-cost exhibit space during seasonal markets.

Founded in 1989, the San Francisco Fashion Forum has about 60 members, most of them young Bay Area designers. Fashion students, fashion show producers, pattern makers and even a few garment-industry bankers round out the list. Run strictly by volunteers -- including current president Max Morales -- the group's goal is to promote local talents. Celia Tejada and William Flowers are among those who received exposure through the organization early in their careers.

The Forum serves a more important purpose, though, in many members' eyes: It gives them a chance to interact. "It just helps to know that there are people out there in my position who are willing to help others, willing to explore things together," said Bruce, who has been producing an eponymous line of contemporary sportswear since fall 1990. "It's a great place to meet people," Bruce added. "When I put on a fashion show somewhere, I call all my friends from the Forum who target the same customers to help me. There's not a lot of selfishness at the Forum."

The group meets on the second Thursday evening of every month to network. These sessions, held at the Forum's just-opened 400-square-foot permanent home, Showroom 4224 at the Fashion Center, are also educational. Morales lines up guest speakers to discuss topics ranging from how to deal with clients who don't pay their bills to retail marketing strategies.

Varunee, a designer in her first year of business, said that attending the meetings regularly has influenced the look of her line. "I go every month and I learn a lot from the guest speakers," she said. "Especially about [consumer trends]. People want things that are versatile nowadays, and they look for bargains. Forum membership dues are $85 annually for those working in the industry and $45 for fashion students. A year's subscription to the Forum's monthly newsletter -- crammed with news and features on Bay Area fashion events and people -- is $25. For $175 -- a fraction of what it would cost to lease a booth or showroom -- designers can exhibit their collections in the Forum showroom during market. For the upcoming Fall II market, a record 10 designers will display their goods there, including four members of the Women's Initiative for Self Employment -- a homeless women's advocacy group that goes by the acronym WISE. Morales recently extended the student membership rate to WISE members.At least one Forum member is getting something more than just exhibition space in Showroom 4224, though. Leopoldo -- a young men's wear designer here -- actually runs his small company from the room, cutting, draping and sewing during nonmarket days. Other members are encouraged to join him."It's less lonely that way," Morales said.

Forum members also regularly participate in Fashion Center sample sales. And last but not least, the Forum's first "Resource Exchange" event, at which designers will sell unused trims and yardage, is slated for June 4.

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