For Cindy Keefer, CEO of Fashion Tech Works, sustainability has always been a way of life. The woman behind Downtown Los Angeles’ new coworking incubator for designers and artists grew up a far cry from Hollywood, on an organic farm in Wisconsin.
“I've been an environmentalist since I was born,” said Keefer, a vegetarian since childhood. “So for me, I never had a breakthrough moment.”
Sustainability is at the heart of Fashion Tech Works’ mission: The incubator is particularly interested in giving a home to designers and technologies “that improve the sustainability of apparel design and production,” according to its website.
“The passion is just so alive that I could actually change the trajectory of apparel manufacturing, to be sustainable and clean,” Keefer told dot.LA. “I want to be that hub for these young designers who want to make a difference,” Keefer said.
Earlier this month, the third floor of The New Mart in Downtown L.A. was bustling with designers and models preparing for Art Hearts Fashion, an annual Los Angeles Fashion Week event for local designers. Keefer partnered with Art Hearts to host a “fashion hub” that gave young talents the opportunity to network with brands like Doc Martens and Bellaria, as well as industry veterans like Condé Nast Latin America senior editor José Forteza.
Photo courtesy of Art Hearts
“There's a void in the fashion program in Los Angeles, especially,” Art Hearts founder Erik Rosete said. A designer and long-time attendee of fashion weeks in Milan and Paris, Rosete noticed L.A. Fashion Week’s lack of a space for people to meet designers and get a hands-on experience of the clothing being showcased on the runway.
“It was very natural and synergistic that the partnership happened, because it created the opportunity to fill the void in L.A. Fashion Week,” he told dot.LA.
In 2015, Keefer and her husband Tom hosted Melange, a fashion tech conference held at The New Mart. The panelists included Liz Heller of TOMS shoes, Ashley Crowder of VNTANA and Kristine Upsuleja of Madison Innovative Materials, whom Keefer considers innovators in the fashion space.
During the first five years after the Melange conference, Keefer and her husband laid the groundwork for their business and created strong relationships with founders of other fashion incubators like Arizona-based FABRIC. Keefer used the pandemic as an opportunity, accepting a small business grant from the government which she used to launch Fashion Tech Works.
What was once storage space for The New Mart is now Fashion Tech Works’ incubator and coworking space, equipped with a content creation studio, events spaces and private offices.
Among the designers who showcased their work at the Art Hearts Fashion Hub was Symone Carter, designer of Le Mo’ney and a member of Fashion Tech Works.
“I just needed to be somewhere where I can get creative and meet other creatives,” Carter said. “I stumbled upon Fashion Tech Works on Instagram, set up an appointment to do a walkthrough and fell in love with it that first day.”
Photo by Decerry Donato
Each designer is required to have a fashion degree to become a member. There are three different tiers: silver ($60 per month), which is a remote membership that has access to the space two days out of the week; gold ($95), which includes daily access to the building; and premium ($750), which provides the designer with a private office space, access to the content creation studio for six hours a month and an opportunity to showcase their line on the runway.
Designers who become Fashion Tech Works members will receive the support of both FABRIC and garment producer Lefty Production Co. and access to the ORB360 machine, a 3D photographic technology that offers a 360-degree view on models. Keefer said Fashion Tech Works is also collaborating with other companies that focus on photographic printing, digital layouts, and cutting; she did not name those companies but said partnerships will be announced soon as negotiations are being finalized.
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