If you want to be an actor, move to Los Angeles; if you want to form a start-up, move to San Francisco; if you want to be a fashion designer, move to New York; and if you want to be a songwriter, move to Nashville. Or, at least, that was true once upon a time.
While the music industry continues to be the strongest economy in Nashville, the city is also proving itself to be a nurturing environment for young fashion brands looking to make a name for themselves outside of the crowded scenes in New York and Los Angeles. Imogene + Willie might have the most name recognition, but over 150 small-scale brands call Nashville their home. And now, thanks to Van Tucker, a former banker with a history of helping creative brands build business infrastructures, the fashion community has formed a trade organization with the hopes of incubating brands and preparing them for the global stage.
In April 2013, Tucker got together a small group of people from the fashion community to discuss putting a system in place to support the industry. "Nobody had just grabbed the reins, so to speak, to really develop the thoughts around an infrastructure - what it would look like or what it would do or how we would go about it," she said. Tucker recruited a student from the Vanderbilt's graduate business program to get some hard numbers on the city's designers.
"We took that information back to the community and presented it and said what do you think? What do you want to do with this?" said Tucker. "They overwhelmingly wanted to explore the possibility of forming a council or some kind of governing body." A group of about 150 people split into committees to evaluate different sectors and, flash forward to April 2015, the Nashville Fashion Alliance (NFA) was born. It's mission is to "build this infrastructure and nurture this ecosystem so that our brands can survive and thrive," said Tucker, by focusing on advocacy, education, sourcing and production.
Tucker took cues from the most successful fashion trade organization in the U.S. - New York's CFDA. Its president and CEO Steven Kolb visited Nashville in June and advised Tucker to "stay focused on the business infrastructure," she said. Kolb added that the NFA should focus on supporting brands, designers and manufacturers in order to prepare them for a global stage. "That was the most amazing compliment of all," said Tucker. "He felt that we could truly do this in a way that could help emerging brands and start-ups incubate themselves to be ready for bigger cities, like New York, L.A., London, Milan or Paris."