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D.C.'s Fashion Designers Find A Home At Cultural Couture

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Mayor Vincent Gray marks the Cultural Couture exhibit while some of the fashion designers' work is on display outside the Washington Convention Center May 9.
Markette Smith
Mayor Vincent Gray marks the Cultural Couture exhibit while some of the fashion designers' work is on display outside the Washington Convention Center May 9.

D.C.’s Fashion Foundation is opening up a space to help local designers transition their home-based crafts into money-making enterprises. 

Since the start of the recession, there's been a rise in the popularity of incubators: programs that provide office space, career counseling and other business services to entrepreneurs. A few years ago when many in creative fields started experiencing mass lay-offs, local hubs sprouted up all around the country, according to the National Business Incubation Association.

D.C.'s first fashion business incubator was unveiled Wednesday at Windows Into DC: Cultural Couture, an art installation and fashion expo at the Washington Convention Center. 

"Now we have a work space where designers can come in and actually work and not craft and work out of their home," says Christine Brooks-Cropper, president of the D.C. Fashion Foundation. The space on N Street NWwas donated by the convention center in conjuction with Events DC and D.C. Commission on the Arts. 

The foundation is made up of more than 500 local designers and fashion enthusiasts. Brooks-Cropper launched the program five years ago.

"Now, today is a day of being acknowledged that this is a business of fashion," she said. "This is not hobby."

Designer Andrew Nowell is a U.S. Air Force veteran who came to D.C. in the 1990s to work for the government. He now works on his clothing line at night and on weekends.

"It really is a hustle because you're trying balance so many things," Nowell said at yesterday's event. "But I do my menswear not so much because I want to make a lot of money, but because it's a passion of mine … and it's something that sustains me."

And people seem to notice. Shortly after a collection of couture designs that he had worked on were unveiled near the incubator's office as part of Cultural Couture, people literally stopped in their tracks. Lindsay Bender was one of them.

"The newspaper gown was fabulous. I couldn't believe it. Just fabulous," Bender said. 

Hundreds of members of the local fashion community plan to lobby Congress today for more funding for the arts.

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