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STYLE: Develop Indy's Susan Branco shifts focus to fashion

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Gabrielle Poshadlo

People sometimes ask me what business a business journal has publishing a style column. The easy an-swer is, “The Wall Street Journal does it, so why shouldn’t we?” but the real answer is, style is a giant business.

How big? Well, we don’t really know.

It’s the industry that employs about 175,000 people in New York City, according to the New York State Department of Labor, and generates an estimated $1.6 billion in tax revenue.

Granted, Indianapolis can’t hope for the same financial return from fashion as New York. But with the recent hire by Develop Indy (formerly Indianapolis Economic Development Inc.) of a fashion liaison, it appears the city of Indianapolis would like to find out how important fashion is to our economy.

Every time I buy a pair of shoes (or five) at Nordstrom, I’m helping to keep the lovely sales staff employed, but there’s more to the business than that. Beyond the retail realm, there are myriad jobs that come with a new textile mill or clothing manufacturer. Recent industry news hints that maybe Indianapolis could carve a niche there.

The Hat World expansion for example, reported June 10 on ibj.com, is poised to bring 571 new jobs to the area.

The Finish Line Inc. has similar growth possibilities, according to Scott Miller, president and CEO of Develop Indy, as does Izod’s IndyCar sponsorship. “[Fashion] can be a bigger sphere than what people here in the Midwest might think,” he said.

That’s where Susan Branco comes in. She is Develop Indy’s motorsports liaison, with a secondary focus in fashion. With this year’s Indianapolis 500 behind us, Branco is now focusing her energy on quantifying the city’s fashion industry and developing a strategy for growing it, something she says no one has attempted before. In order to make a case for developing the industry, she needs to know how many fashion jobs exist locally and what potential there are for new ones.

“We have to figure out how to use our resources to impact the greatest number of people,” Miller said.

Since the fashion scene in Indianapolis is rather spread out, Branco said it’s been a challenge identifying how many industry professionals are out there. I don’t have that exact number, either, but I believe there are enough to warrant the city’s attention. Not to mention the fashion students at the Art Institute, Purdue University and Indiana Business College (now Harrison College) who could be retained as local professionals if there were a place for them to work.

Should fashion be deemed a viable venture for Develop Indy, Branco’s ideas mimic city-assisted efforts in places like Chicago and New York.

“Every city with a good reputation in fashion seems to be home to a major retail headquarters or flagship store, and there are incentives we can offer companies to bring them here,” Branco said. “I have a few specific ones in mind.”

In the short term, she’s considering a city-sponsored web directory for local fashion professionals, similar to chicagofashionresource.com offered by the Chicago Mayor’s Office. The site would make it easy to find local designers, boutiques, manufacturers, events and industry news. But there’s no word yet on who would maintain the database. Chicago’s site is managed by a team of volunteers called the Mayor’s Fashion Council, but Develop Indy doesn’t have any plans to form such a group.

If Indianapolis were to have a site of its own, Miller says, Develop Indy is more likely to follow New York’s lead, where the city teams up with the Council of Fashion Designers of America to achieve its goals. The only problem is, Indianapolis doesn’t have an organization like CFDA … yet.

“If the private sector shows this is an area that could take off, then we’d be open to giving them public help,” Miller said.

From there, things could get really exciting. With city backing, a fashion council could approach private developers about incubator-like studio space (Branco keeps a running list of possible locations), grant money could be raised for growing businesses, and graduating students could have a place to turn for mentorship.

Now that the fashion scene has the city’s attention, it seems imperative to keep it. But that’s not just up to local boutiques and designers. Our city’s ability to attract big employers will have a lot to do with it.

Miller is optimistic. Indianapolis has a lot to offer large operations like clothing manufacturers, he said. Our Midwestern location, work ethic and cost of doing business are all incentives to move from somewhere as costly as New York.•

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If you’d like to share your own style ideas or know anyone who’s making waves in the fashion community, contact Gabrielle at gposhadlo@ibj.com. This column appears monthly.

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  1. So much for Eric Holder's conversation about race. If white people have got something to say, they get sued over it. Bottom line: white people have un-freer speech than others as a consequence of the misnamed "Civil rights laws."

  2. I agree, having seen three shows, that I was less than wowed. Disappointing!!

  3. Start drilling, start fracking, and start using our own energy. Other states have enriched their citizens and nearly elminated unemployment by using these resources that are on private land. If you are against the 'low prices' of discount stores, the best way to allow shoppers more choice is to empower them with better earnings. NOT through manipulated gov mandated min wage hikes, but better jobs and higher competitive pay. This would be direct result of using our own energy resources, yet Obama knows that Americans who arent dependent of gov welfare are much less likely to vote Dem, so he looks for ways to ensure America's decline and keep its citizens dependent of gov.

  4. Say It Loud, I'm Black and Ashamed: It's too bad that with certain "black" entertainment events, it seems violence and thuggery follows and the collateral damage that it leaves behinds continues to be a strain on the city in terms of people getting hurt, killed or becoming victims of crimes and/or stretching city resources. I remember shopping in the Meadows area years ago until violence and crime ended make most of the business pack you and leave as did with Lafayette Square and Washington Square. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I remember going to the Indiana Black Expo Soul Picnic in Washington Park. Violence, gang fights and homicides ended that. My great grandmother still bears the scares on her leg from when she was trampled by a group of thugs running from gun fire from a rival gang. With hundreds of police offices downtown still multiple shootings, people getting shot downtown during Black Expo. A number of people getting shots or murdered at black clubs around the city like Club Six on the west side, The Industry downtown, Jamal Tinsley's shot out in front of the Conrad, multiple fights and shootings at the skating rinks, shootings at Circle Center Mall and shooting and robberies and car jackings at Lafayette Mall. Shootings and gang violence and the State Fair. I can go on and on and on. Now Broad Ripple. (Shaking head side to side) Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Ashamed.

  5. Ballard Administration. Too funny. This is the least fiscally responsive administration I have ever seen. One thing this article failed to mention, is that the Hoosier State line delivers rail cars to the Amtrak Beech Grove maintenance facility for refurbishment. That's an economic development issue. And the jobs there are high-paying. That alone is worth the City's investment.

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