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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. From the story: "The city of Indianapolis also will consider tax incentives and funding for infrastructure required for the project, according to IEDC." Why would the City need to consider additional tax incentives when Lowe's has already bought the land and reached an agreement with IEDC to bring the jobs? What that tells me is that the City has already pledged the incentives, unofficially, and they just haven't had time to push it through the MDC yet. Either way, subsidizing $10/hour jobs is going to do nothing toward furthering the Mayor's stated goal of attracting middle and upper-middle class residents to Marion County.

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  4. First off, it's "moron," not "moran." 2nd, YOU don't get to vote on someone else's rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by the US Constitution. That's why this is not a state's rights issue...putting something like this to vote by, well, people like you who are quite clearly intellectually challenged isn't necessary since the 14th amendment has already decided the issue. Which is why Indiana's effort is a wasted one and a waste of money...and will be overturned just like this has in every other state.

  5. Rick, how does granting theright to marry to people choosing to marry same-sex partners harm the lives of those who choose not to? I cannot for the life of me see any harm to people who choose not to marry someone of the same sex. We understand your choice to take the parts of the bible literally in your life. That is fine but why force your religious beliefs on others? I'm hoping the judges do the right thing and declare the ban unconstitutional so all citizens of Wisconsin and Indiana have the same marriage rights and that those who chose someone of the same sex do not have less rights than others.

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