Byline: Nina Farrell

LOS ANGELES — The Fashion Business Incubator is recruiting young designers into the downtown apparel business here with the tenacity of an army draft board. Who can blame them?
According to co-founders Frances Harder and Sandy Bleifer, there is enough untapped local talent to give the city’s Fashion District a well-deserved makeover. This member-funded project, started last September, is aimed at nurturing small apparel players and helping to establish start-up ventures.
They’re on the case.
By launching a full-service Web site on April 26, with the help of consulting and design firm Little Red Wagon, the Fashion Business Incubator hopes to extend its reach in the area’s design community. The destination, at, features a list of its members, with links to their sites; an education and business resource guide, and contact information, as well as links to other fashion groups in Southern California.
“We think that the Internet is a great marketing and public relations tool,” Bleifer said. “It’s a way to publicize our activities, rather than using print, which saves money. Our mission is to approach the apparel business in Los Angeles in a very extensive, hands-on way, and the Web is something that facilitates that.”
In addition to operating the site, the Fashion Business Incubator regularly hosts a number of panel discussions on the fashion industry, and offers a network of programs, contacts, resources and special events, as well as access to health insurance through an affiliation with the California Fashion Association.
“We’re teaching young design students and start-up companies everything they need to know to run a fashion business,” Bleifer said, “from licensing issues and forms, to the overall cycle of business here in Los Angeles.”
The idea for the project started when Bleifer — a downtown realtor and artist — thought her surroundings could use some revitalizing. She had long known of the fashion industry’s substantial presence in Los Angeles, and wanted to leverage that sector to help renew the downtown area.
“I thought that if I could occupy a lot of this empty space with interesting, young design firms, it would really boost the downtown economy,” she said.
About two years ago, she met Harder, who was a designer herself and teaching a class, at the Otis School of Design, on how to start an apparel company. They soon gathered their resources and launched the project, hoping to create a ripple effect with the new talent emerging, in part, by moving them into the Fashion District.
“We are serving our members by giving them opportunities to network and by putting them in touch with resources they wouldn’t ordinarily find,” Bleifer offered. “When someone becomes a member, for example, there is a one-hour consultation to find out how we can best help them reach their goals.”
Currently, there are 60 active members in the Fashion Business Incubator who pay an annual fee of $100. Partnerships with consulting, design and fashion institutions such as the CaliforniaMart, Little Red Wagon, the California Manufacturing Technology Center and Capitol Factors have also helped the project to gain ground.
With donated office space located on the second floor of the NewMart, the project is increasingly reaching out to the fashion community with panel discussions, held each month in the Mart, as well as heavy involvement in Market Week.
Upcoming events include an on-site panel discussion at the Knit West and Sew Conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center on May 22, and a benefit fashion show in June sponsored by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.