Miami-Dade’s emerging fashion industry is on the runway for all the world to see. What’s on view is the sector’s magnetism for international talent and a growing infrastructure of schools, services and shows.
”Miami has become very known for fashion design, but I just don’t think our average person knows about this because it’s not advertised. You can design and you don’t have to live in New York, Paris, Milan, London, any of the fashion capitals,” said Charlene Parsons, director of the fashion department of Miami International University of Art & Design. “We have Fashion Week and Swim Week — there are a lot of opportunities to show and present to buyers.”
Miami’s fashion industry is small but growing. According to the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the county’s economic development organization, 5,205 people worked in fashion sector of 523 companies in 2018; that’s up 5 percent from 2013. Fashion is among the creative industries the county’s One Community One Goal economic development initiative targets because of job and wage growth potential.
“One of the things I am seeing is we have a lot of international designers coming here, whether it is the best of circumstances or not,” said Laura Ganoza, a lawyer with Foley & Lardner who is also on the board of Fashion Group International, a global trade organization with an active regional group of about 80 members that she formerly led. “We are the gateway to Latin America. It’s an easy fit. If you are going to be leaving your country, you can fit in here and grow your business again.”
Ganoza has seen some recent arrivals of Venezuelan designers, joining ones already here such as Viviana Gabeiras and Angel Sanchez: “If we are lucky, they stay here and build their brand.”
About half of the 400 stu dents currently studying at MIU in the Fashion Department are international, Parsons said. They are seeking degrees in fashion merchandising, fashion design and accessory design.
The international reach is also one of the reasons Istituto Marangoni, an Italian fashion school, opened its sole U.S. campus in Miami’s Design District last year.
“People know Miami, they relate it to luxury brands and a certain lifestyle. They also know the shoppers here will have the capability to buy the products — that makes it attractive and allows them to fulfill in the Caribbean and Latin America. It’s important to know we have the supply chain to support that production,” said Diana Londono, the Beacon Council’s vice president of International Economic Development.
Joining well-established players like Perry Ellis are other companies with Latin America headquarters here such as Christian Dior, LVMH, Longchamp and Ferragamo, and homegrown brands including Eberjey and Peace Love World. A number of internationally known designers call Miami home, including Rene Ruiz, Silvia Tcherassi, Oscar Carvallo and Julian Chang. Naeem Khan is building a factory, a fashion studio and a fashion school as an extension of Miami’s Design and Architecture Senior High. Ema Koja combines her hand-painted art in her creations, under her brand Ema Savahl.
The industry is maturing because designers are finding most — but not all — of the ancillary businesses they need in the market, said Parsons, a 40-year veteran of the fashion industry.
“It’s hard to find good seamstresses, tailors, pattern makers etc., not unlike many cities where it has become kind of a dying craft today,” she said. Students at MIU and other fashion schools such as Miami Dade College’s Miami Fashion Institute learn to sew: “If you are hiring people and they are doing it wrong, you have to be able to sit down and show how it is done.”
Affordable showroom space is also in short supply. “It would be very interesting to find a developer we could partner with or an organization that could provide showroom space in busy areas so people can get familiar with the brands,” Londono said.
Still, supplies and services are growing. Need a high-tech cutting machine? Bierrebi, an Italian company with a U.S. headquarters here, sells them. Serial entrepreneur Jason Prescott moved here from Los Angeles to launch the state’s first annual international apparel and textile show last year. Earlier this year, Miami-Dade County announced a new shipping service that will slash weeks off the time it takes for e-commerce packages to travel from Miami International Airport to Brazil. That’s expected to help designers setting up in Miami sell into the massive Brazilian e-commerce market, Londono said.
“In Miami, we have great companies here that will print the fabrics for you,” Parsons said. “That’s a big trend. Our students design their own prints and have their prints made. That is a great way to stand out — to have your own print.”
Here are some more trends fashion watchers see as taking root or continuing to grow in Miami:
▪ Yes, swimwear is still so Miami: Miami has become the swimwear capital and one of the only places that has a Swim Week, Parsons said. “I have seen more and more young people and companies moving to Miami to do swimwear,” she said.
Silvana Isaacs is one of them. She brought her brand, Antigua, to Miami in 2016 amid the worsening situation in her home country of Venezuela and opened a boutique in Wynwood.
Last month, about 45 MIU students participated in the Paraiso Miami Beach swim week, showing both women’s and men’s fashions. They came up with their design, made their garments and MIU brought in professional models for the show. “For any student, it’s their dream to send their designs down the runway,” Parsons said.
▪ Men’s wear is evolving: “Fabrics are changing in men’s wear. It’s trendier, more eye-catching,” Parsons said.
Asanyah Davidson, chairwoman of Miami Dade College’s Miami Fashion Institute and a Jamaican designer, agrees: “I love what’s happening as a result of the rapper movement, the idea of the alternative black boy. Now you are seeing kids with blue hair and green socks and I love the fact that there is a space for them to be very expressive.”
There’s a lot of interest in men’s wear, Davidson said. “It traditionally was so restrictive, but now it’s shapes, it’s colors, it’s mesh. it’s everything, it’s super interesting. It’s about breaking the mold and doing something different, and Miami is a great place to do it with our mix of culture. Some of my students have definitely been experimenting.”
▪ Technology is bringing efficiencies and personalization: People want to feel very individual but still be loyal to a brand so they are seeking out ways to make the brands more personal to them, Ganoza said. Technology gives them a voice, such as Nike allowing you to build your own pair on its website.
Graupel in Coral Gables is trying to personalize the brand experience by providing 3D technology-enabled fitting services for customers so they can easily find styles from a selection of designers that will fit their body types perfectly and enable them to customize their orders, Ganoza said.
Technology is also allowing more people to take part in the industry. With online sites like Shopify, anyone can have an affordable e-commerce site. Other websites allow you to upload your design to a T-shirt.
“This kind of thing is opening the market to a lot of artists that are now saying I’m a designer as well,” Londono said. “It offers a lot of opportunities for communities that don’t typically have access to the high-end fashion apparel products. It can be really cool but doesn’t have to be super expensive.”
▪ The ‘Miami Look’ is changing, too: The look is getting more sophisticated, going beyond the fitted and brightly colored, Davidson said.
“In the past, blending is what we did, now we are seeing more individuality. We are starting to see expression of self and personal interest, authenticity. … We’ve gone from being fashionable to being more stylish. Fashion is about trends but style is a personal statement,” Davidson said. “We have a lot of designers who are challenging the status quo. I challenge my students to do it their way — I tell them your tribe will find you.”
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