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Lansing to be site of The Runway, business incubator focused on fashion and retail
Posted: August 28, 2012 - 9:20 AM
LANSING, MI -- In a little over a year, a landmark building in downtown Lansing will be home to a bustling space where designers, tailors, cobblers, jewelers and other fashion industry entrepreneurs take their ideas and transform them from sketches to products.
Lansing Economic Area Partnership CEO Bob Trezise confirmed the regional economic development agency planned to use its leased space in the historic Knapp's building on Washington Square in downtown Lansing to house "The Runway," a business incubator focused on fashion and retail businesses.
While still with the City of Lansing's Lansing Economic Development Corp., Trezise signed a contract with the Eyde company to lease space in the Knapp's building. LEAP later took over economic development duties for the city.
The building is currently undergoing a $36 million renovation and is expected to be opened in the late fall of 2013.
The approximately 10,000-square-foot space will feature the sort of communal designing and sewing spaces viewers of the eponymous reality show "Project Runway" are accustomed to seeing.
That's key, Trezise said, as many designers need access to the industrial equipment, but it's cost-prohibitive for any one emerging designer to invest in it themselves.
Renting space, equipment and even design services from other designers will be affordable, he added. Entrepreneurs will also have access to LEAP's three-dimensional printer.
An incubator functions much like a nest. Often targeted to a certain business sector, the incubator nurtures the business and grows it until it is ready to take flight as a free-standing, self-sustaining enterprise.
That support often comes in the form of affordable workspace and shared infrastructure and equipment, alongside training and advice from seasoned professionals.
Trezise said the simple act of putting up a website for the incubator touched off a firestorm of interest, adding that the idea has already attracted what he called a half-dozen quality candidates.
"We cannot believe the attention that we're getting from across the state," he said.
Trezise says the incubator is a part of the new direction for LEAP, which he took over nearly a year ago.
The plan is to build a network of incubators and services, from high-tech to manufacturing to kitchens for restaurateurs to the fashion incubator.
"We want to revolutionize the culture of the Lansing region, to be entrepreneurial in nature," he said. "By 2020, we hope to be producing 50 new entrepreneurial businesses a year."
The Greater Lansing area is already home to several business incubators, including the LEAP-run Technology and Innovation Center in East Lansing and the privately run NeoCenter in Lansing.
A February trip to Turkey inspired the project.
It was there that about a dozen regional and state economic development professionals, including staff from LEAP and Prima Civitas, another economic development agency, learned about the link between Michigan's growing garment industry and a similar trend in Turkey.
Prima Civitas also recently created the Michigan Garment Industry Council, a network of Michigan-based designers, manufacturers, and suppliers, according to the council.
The goal is to "foster the promotion and success of Michigan's garment industry, and contribute to the state's overall growth and prosperity."
Long-term, Prima Civitas officials hope to create a garment district in Detroit, but regional officials are taking steps to make it happen in Lansing, too.
The Runway refers both to the fashion industry and the intent for the incubator to help businesses lift off and take flight, said Jeff Smith, co-director of the new economy division for LEAP.
Smith said nailing down an industry for the incubator was one of the first tasks assigned to him in January, when he joined LEAP.
Alongside Ken Szymusiak, he worked to identify what the incubator would focus on and what the program would look like.
"We looked at some of the programs coming out of Michigan State University and Lansing Community College, at what could really translate from those programs," he said.
The idea was to create a place for new graduates to launch their ideas into a business.
At the same time, LEAP was working with the Michigan Garment Industry Council on finding ways to support the state's emerging garment industry.
The Knapp's space, Smith said, is ideal for the incubator.
"The space was designed originally for retail, for showcasing and selling clothing," he said.
Add that to the number of students graduating with degrees in fashion-related programs, and the momentum of the garment industry, and The Runway was born.
The incubator alone won't spark an industry in the city or state, Smith said.
It's key to have "clustering" take place around the incubator, he said, noting that Michigan Fashion Week organizers will have officers in the upper floors of the building.
That could also mean a Lansing or Michigan Fashion Week in the future.
Behind the scenes at the CFDA Fashion Incubator in New York City.
Machines and design services will be available to the public for a fee, Smith said, so entrepreneurs wouldn't need to be tenants of the space to access its resources.
One could walk in with a sketch for a shoe, for example, and hire a designer at an hourly rate, to input the sketch into the Computer Assisted Design (CAD) format, the industry standard.
The design could then be rapidly prototyped by the three-dimensional printer housed in LEAPs offices.
A short run of the shoe – say, 50 to 100 pairs – could be commissioned from an area manufacturer, which could be located with assistance from garment council.
Costs could be offset, or even covered, by micro-loans set up for that express purpose.
"It could go from your brain to the store in a week," Smith said.
Summer Schriner, owner of Grace, the fashion boutique in Lansing's Old Town neighborhood, said the incubator was great news for the city and local businesses.
Grace has been open nearly six years and carries local jewelry and Trybe, a clothing line from Lansing-based designers.
Right now, she said, the selection of local goods is primarily limited to accessories, but she's open to carrying products made at The Runway.
"I would have to see what they come up with," Schriner said. "I think it's cool to have people get a start here."
LEAP will present the project to the board of the Lansing Economic Development Corp. in early September.
Though all economic development duties for the city have been shifted to LEAP, the board still exercises authority over contracts and tax incentives.