Photography: Luis Nieto Dickens
For young fashion designers in New York, having great ideas isn’t hard. The challenge lies in turning these innovations into money-making businesses—a reality that forces many entrepreneurs, if not most, to eventually give up. Sure, there’s the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which has spawned a gamut of success stories, from Alexander Wang to Public School, this year backing one of our favorite rising brands, Gypsy Sport, but just one organization isn’t enough for a bustling city, brimming with passionate potentials. With the help of the Snow Globe Incubator Fund, founded by veteran producer Johnny Sagan, the future of NY fashion shows signs of promise.
During NYFW, five up-and-coming brands were selected by Sagan’s fund and grouped together for a collective presentation, curated by and featuring a collection from cult streetwear brand Whatever 21. The remaining four included underground stalwarts Something Happening and Sext Pixels, as well as official debuts from Lindsay Jones’ Músed and Sagan’s own, Snowy Wilderness. Featuring a soundtrack by local record label Sweat Equity and lighting by NITEMIND, the Snow Globe Incubator Fund’s first official NYFW production was a total celebration of talent untouched by mainstream powers—something Sagan’s centered his entire career on.
Top: Músed, Bottom: Sext Pixels (Photography: Ariele Max)
“In the incubator situations I’ve been involved in so far—BCALLA, Chris Habana, Telfar, Hood by Air, Gypsy Sport, Whatever 21—there is this point of triumph for the individual designer that quickly becomes a point of disconnect with the industry,” Sagan said. “This is a point that all these brands have reached at one time, where the stout-hearted designer, working with a cast of friends, begins to bring in enough money from sales to support one person, at least by starving artist standards, but then stands in dire need of further financing, and can find none because of industry standards. The next step up from earning nothing is earning $100,000 a year. So the very quanta by which success is measured by them sees the immensely impressive $30,000 or so that a successful indie designer can earn as not even one third of a single unit of success, and treats it as beneath the threshold of their dealings.”
Snowy Wilderness (Photography: Ariele Max)
To fight this standard, Sagan said the Snow Globe Incubator Fund is developing a business that accepts investments from a class of individuals that genuinely want to invest in these emerging designers, but cannot. “I call them the three F’s: Friends, fans and family,” he said. “Most of [these people] have amounts of money to invest that are considered beneath the acceptable industry standards in size, just like the designers’ revenues.” Investments ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 are considered tiny by financial professionals, but these small amounts of money are what underground NY designers have all learned to “spin into gold,” reaching the point of fragile self-sufficiency before finally being embraced and supported by an incubator.
“That brings them into my orbit in the first place,” Sagan said. “[Those small investors] let them distinguish themselves enough to get the break-even sales that keep them in business season-after-season, and gets them major press and product seeding.” This resourcefulness is how Gypsy Sport’s Rio Uribe was able to position himself as a competitive CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist, how Telfar’s Telfar Clemens was able to land White Castle sponsorships, how BCALLA’s Bradley Callahan managed to costume Miley Cyrus’ wall-to-wall finale on the MTV Music Awards stage and how Shayne Oliver made Hood by Air take flight.
Top: Something Happening, Bottom: Whatever 21 (Photography: Ariele Max)
The Snow Globe Incubator Fund has ultimately created a system, which Sagan calls, “Fractal Fairness,” allowing him to work with small, intimate investors on deals that not only help designers’ businesses grow, but the investors’ money and that of the Snow Globe infrastructure, as well.
“I do this because of the cathartic, healing, body and character-building magic of the fashion industry,” Sagan said. “Where you get to stand a fighting chance of making some money in relatively short order if you can just discipline—and un-discipline—yourself enough to pour your everything into making and presenting one collection that makes the world feel something. It’s an incredibly subjective pursuit, but that subjectivity empowers you to beat the odds and break through the crowd to be acknowledged with better odds than in almost any other field. Fashion is so visibly rewarding for people’s self-esteem, at least the way I practice it. I live for the thrill and the deep-down nourishment of seeing someone after they model, after they design something great and see it come to fruition, after they do a great show and someone writes a great review—of all the things that human beings can do to stay out of trouble, I promise you fashion is one of the most joyous pastimes we’ve ever invented.”
Watch the full NYFW presentation, below: