NOTE: Catholic Charities' Sewing Training Academy was created in September 2015 in partnership with the Nashville Fashion Alliance and other supporters. It is part of the effort to provide the infrastructure needed to support the local industry's growth.
The Nashville area is home to a growing number of fashion brands: powerhouses like international footwear company Genesco, small designers like shoemaker Nisolo, distribution warehouses for Gap and Under Armour. On Wednesday, the Nashville Fashion Alliance released a report quantifying the economic impact of these brands at nearly $6 billion.
It's a number that the industry hopes will prove its value - both to the local economy and to designers nationwide.
The Nashville fashion industry isn't the first to calculate its worth. In recent years, trade organizations for health care and music industries have commissioned their own economic impact reports. (They said the sectors account for $39 billion and $10 billion, respectively.)
These kinds of calculations are never an exact science, says Karim Shafei with Gherzi Textil Organisation, which authored the Nashville Fashion Alliance report. This particular calculation was an extrapolation from survey responses by local companies about their sales and employment, and it factored in statewide data on the fashion and apparel industry.
According to that survey, the handful of heavyweights still dominate the industry. Just four of the 79 companies who responded comprised 90 percent of the total sales.
Still, the survey also found that many companies have started in the past five years and are growing rapidly. This is where the Nashville Fashion Alliance sees potential, says CEO Van Tucker.
"We're not going to become the fashion capitals of New York or LA, and frankly, we don't want to compete with them," she says. "We're going to focus on emerging and seed-stage fashion companies."
To do that, the Nashville Fashion Alliance is hoping to create a "resource center" that will foster new brands. Board chair Libby Callaway says she envisions a place where designers can access business education, meet influential mentors, and maybe even manufacture their first products in a fashion co-working space.
"We want to be a feeder for brands from around the country to come to Nashville to learn how to grow their businesses," she says. "By growing these brands, we're hoping to create the Genescos of tomorrow."