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Meet Angela Johnson of F.A.B.R.I.C. / LabelHorde / AZ Apparel Foundation in Tempe

Today we’d like to introduce you to Angela Johnson.

Angela is an award winning, eco-friendly clothing designer and champion for the Arizona fashion industry. She is best known for creating tailored ball gowns and other keepsake garments from “thrifted” and recycled T-shirts under Angela Johnson Design and for being the co-founder of AZ’s fashion incubator F.A.B.R.IC. Angela is also founder of Arizona’s fashion industry directory LabelHorde and Chairman of the Board of the AZ Apparel Foundation.

She got her start in L.A. working in design and production for X-Large Manufacturing, the line owned by Mike Diamond of the Beastie Boys and X-Girl, the line owned by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. In the mid 1990’s she co-owned Monkeywench, a board sports inspired collection with actress Christie Clark. She has been awarded Fashion Group International of Arizona’s Rising Star in 2004, Artist of the Year by the Scottsdale Cultural Council’s Chairman’s Committee in 2005, Best Local Fashion Designer by Arizona Foothills 2010-Present, Chicest Local Designer by 944 Magazine in 2007, and earned Downtown Tempe’s Business Community Impact Award for F.A.B.R.I.C. in 2017. Angela has taught fashion classes at ASU, MCC, Collins College, AiPX, NSAA and LabelHorde and is also a fashion business consultant to hundreds of Arizona designers and students. She has been featured in countless books, magazines and television/internet programs. She was also the Regional Director of the non-profit Fashion Group International of Arizona for 2014-2017.

The concept for F.A.B.R.I.C. began 17 years ago when Angela first created LabelHorde as a directory of all AZ fashion businesses. The goal was to unite the local industry and share resources after she had moved back to AZ from LA and had to close a profitable fashion brand due to the lack of local resources. Eventually the community started by the directory evolved over time into a larger community of designers, models, hair stylists, makeup artists, stores, sewing technicians, pattern makers, schools offering fashion programs, fashion weeks, fashion shows, and fashion organizations. This community still lacked the actual design and manufacturing resources needed to go beyond the hobby business stage so F.A.B.R.I.C. was created to provide the industrial machinery, skilled labor and space that the industry could use to grow.

October 2017 marked the first anniversary of the F.A.B.R.I.C. building and in that one year some amazing things have happened including….

183 Emerging fashion brands helped with design/development and no minimum manufacturing services
216 Classes/lessons/workshops provided including 37 free classes
9 in-house fashion businesses including 3 scholarship offices awarded
371 volunteers
5936 volunteer hours
41 events including 17 donated event space to the community
13 jobs provided at F.A.B.R.I.C.
Vocational training program with The Center For Habilitation
380 local fashion businesses included in free directory
241 designers used free sourcing library
350 designers used sewing maker’s studio
19 educational class tours of F.A.B.R.I.C.
776 Public tours of F.A.B.R.I.C.
39 press articles and media stories
Featured in the City of Tempe Mayor’s State of the City event as one of the cities initiatives
Won the Business Community Impact Award from the Downtown Tempe Authority
Nominee of the Phoenix Mayor’s Arts Award
Thousands of garments manufactured for emerging brands

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
There have been many challenges and many lucky breaks and great opportunities. The first challenge I experienced was moving to AZ from LA and trying to continue to manufacture my clothing brand. There were just no resources in AZ and it forced me to close down my brand. But this was an opportunity to pull together a community and create our own manufacturing resources.

The next challenge came when I created LabelHorde. It started as a beautiful glossy magazine that had a directory of local fashion businesses. The magazine was simply too expensive to print and I spent most of my time trying to sell advertising in order to fund it. Additionally, the LabelHorde directory was free to be featured in because it was meant to be a real representation of everyone in AZ who worked in fashion and not just the companies that could afford to pay for a directory listing. The LabelHorde fashion shows and events were also free or very inexpensive so that they would be totally inclusive. Unfortunately, this model isn’t very sustainable and I ended up closing down LabelHorde for a few years. I eventually resurrected it when the community continued to grow so much that it could support the directory and other services. The directory is still free to this day, however there is an upgraded directory listing option that allows businesses to have more benefits than the free directory listings. There are also a lot more services available that enable it to be sustainable.

Another challenge came when it was time to move LabelHorde from just an online directory into a physical fashion incubator. This was a huge financial obstacle. If I wanted to provide all of the things that emerging brands needed to start and grown their fashion businesses, I would need equipment and a building. I lucked out when I was gifted a bunch of industrial equipment from a fashion school that closed down. Then I lucked out again when I partnered with Sherri Barry who provided the financial support to purchase the rest of the required equipment. Lastly, we both lucked out when the City of Tempe was willing to let us use a 3-story, 23,000 sq. ft. city building as our fashion headquarters.

Our current challenges include trying to find enough skilled seamstresses in Arizona required for the manufacturing that we offer, affording the expenses of running a 3 story building, and figuring out how to properly raise funds for our non-profit to fulfill our mission to its potential. We’ve been able to help over 200 local emerging brands go through the manufacturing process so we know what we are doing is really filling a need. However, now our next challenge is figure out how to keep those growing brands from leaving Arizona when they can’t find a larger manufacturer to take over when they’ve outgrown our facility. So, we are now faced with the challenge of finding a large scale manufacturer who would be willing to relocate to AZ.

Overall, there have been way more lucky breaks and amazing opportunities that have overshadowed any challenges. It’s been an amazing ride.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with F.A.B.R.I.C. / LabelHorde / AZ Apparel Foundation – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
F.A.B.R.I.C. is Arizona’s fashion headquarters. It is a fashion incubator located inside of a City of Tempe building. Inside are the services that emerging designers/brands need to start and grow their businesses. With more and more fashion brands selling direct to consumer online, there is a need for design and manufacturing services in cities other than traditional fashion industry cities like LA or NY. F.A.B.R.I.C. provides the resources like pattern making, sample sewing, fabric/trim sourcing, technical design, grading (sizing), marking and industrial cutting and sewing as well as education, consulting, and other learning opportunities. The building also has co-working offices and maker’s spaces allowing brand owners to collaborate, share resources and work inside the building where there product is being made. There are additional support services including a sourcing library that enables designers to find contacts for wholesale fabrics/trims, in-house photography studio, screen printing studio, event space including a beautiful runway and more. This is all made possible through a very unique model and partnership between the City of Tempe, the non-profit called AZ Apparel Foundation and the two for-profits that provide the equipment, industry knowledge and skilled workforce called LabelHorde and AZ Fashion Source. There is nothing quite like it in the country.

LabelHorde (founded by Angela Johnson) is the AZ fashion industry directory that lists all of the designers/brands, models, hair/makeup, stylists, schools, sewers, etc…. Anyone can use it for free or list their business in it for free. It makes it easy to find everything in AZ in one place. It also manages the newsletter for everyone in FABRIC which includes all AZ fashion news, classes, events, opportunities, etc… It also provides a jobs classifieds page (free to post and free to use) as well as all fashion related classes/education inside of F.A.B.R.I.C. LabelHorde also offers consultation services for new brands so they understand the manufacturing process and tech packs. And LabelHorde provides tech pack services to help brands prepare for manufacturing.

AZFashionSource (founded by Sherri Barry) is the no-minimum factory that provides prototype development as well as small runs of production for sewn products. AFS picks up after the tech packs are ready to provide pattern making, sample sewing, grading (sizing), marking (templates for cutting), industrial cutting, and no-minimum contract sewing. AFS also handles the space use in F.A.B.R.I.C. including event space (runway), photography studio, meeting space, co-working offices, maker’s space, etc….

AZApparelFoundation (co-founded by Angela Johnson and Sherri Barry) is the non-profit with the mission to provide the knowledge and resources to foster the AZ fashion industry. AAF provides emerging designer scholarship offices, free classes, free events, vocational training for disadvantaged workers and many fashion related programs and services to the community. #growazfashion

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Our next challenge is figure out how to keep the growing brands that we’ve nurtured from leaving Arizona when they can’t find a larger manufacturer to take over when they’ve outgrown our facility. So, we are now faced with the challenge of finding a large scale manufacturer who would be willing to relocate to AZ. We have started to create a package to prove our case and present to the city of Tempe and to anyone who may be able to assist with this. We’ve got some local brands that have outgrown us who are willing to join us in these efforts. We also have contacts with some local brands who manufacture overseas who are interested in re-shorting and joining our efforts.

We also recently received a large donation of sound and lighting for our event space. We’d like to market this space in a much bigger way to get more event rental income. This is what financially supports our building and our efforts to educate and provide the programs and services that we do. We’d like F.A.B.R.I.C. to be known as the AZ fashion events venue.

We’re also working with the new development Ro2 to possibly expand into the downtown Phoenix Roosevelt Row district where we hope to offer local designer retail space/design studios.

Our non-profit, AZ Apparel Foundation’s mission is to grow the Arizona fashion industry and that is our most important future plan.

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Getting in touch: VoyagePhoenix is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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