Business

Seattle Fashion Incubator finds new home in Renton

Steven Paul Matsumoto is a man with a vision. What he sees is Renton becoming the fashion resource capital of the Northwest in the next five to 10 years, with the help of some veterans.

Matsumoto is the founder of the Seattle Fashion Incubator, which moved to Renton in  2013 from SODO. The incubator is designed to propel fashion businesses forward, with a host of support resources and services such as office space, capital, training and industry connections, according to its founder.

“Because there’s a lot of opportunity for growth down here,” Matsumoto said of downtown Renton in a recent interview. “And it’s just getting the fashion community, one, and other economic development stakeholders and investors, two, to see what I see when I look at downtown Renton.”

He sees Renton as Brooklyn in 1986, on the verge of big economic, cultural and art development opportunities, and becoming a hotspot like Brooklyn is today in New York.

His office sits in an almost-empty, two-story building at 212 Wells Ave. S., across from Old Renton Book Exchange and Valley Cities. Matsumoto would like to purchase the building and turn the space into co-working space for independent designers, onsite sample and pattern making, presentation space, a sewing room where designers can rent time for industrial grade equipment, and a wholesale fabric and trim library.

“We want to purchase this building so that we can completely renovate it and make it basically a garment district in a box,” he said.

Currently the building has other tenants, including Custom Pressed Tee’s, which is a fashion retail business located on the first floor.

“We’re just trying to find those corporate partners or an angel investor that would have an interest in being a part of this multibillion-dollar industry in the state of Washington,” he said.

For now, Matsumoto has sunk every spare cent of his own money into the business, he said.

Part of his idea taking off has to do with seizing upon an opportunity to train and place out-of-work veterans in the fashion industry, specifically to sew.

As an ex-Marine, Matsumoto knows the difficulty of finding a career once out of the service. The reintegration programs that exist today are nothing like what he was given when he got out of the service in 2000. He sees an opportunity to train the logistics and support military staff to be seamstresses.

“If they understand how to sew a tent together or a parachute together, it’s not a hard transition to move into sewing apparel together,” he said.

Even if the job is transitional, Matsumoto said, there is a growing need for such workers in the United States and veterans would do well to jump on this opportunity. He’s looked at research that says there are about 200,000 apparel manufacturing jobs that are coming back to the U.S. in the next five years.

“Because people want shorter supply chains; they don’t want to pay the shipping,” he said. “They want higher quality than they’re getting in Asia in a lot of respects and ‘made in the U.S.A.’ is a huge trend, not just in the U.S., but Europe and Southeast Asia.”

Veterans could make between $24,000 to $27,000 a year sewing, which doesn’t sound like a lot Matsumoto said, but is more than most active duty soldiers make.

“In 2009, the direct revenue from the apparel industry cluster alone was $8.4 billion,” he said. “Manufacturing and wholesale was 40 percent of that or about $3.3 billion. So what the incubator is trying to do is to grow that $3.3 billion and get a piece of that $3.3 billion.”

The Seattle Fashion Incubator also seeks to get immigrants employed in the fashion industry, much like veterans. Matsumoto sees them as an untapped resource as well. The organization is working out a partnership with the group Muses that works with the immigrant population to get the ball rolling.

And perhaps the biggest opportunity and incentive to Matsumoto for locating in Renton, is that the city has no city business tax.

“So any competitive advantage we can give these companies to help them succeed because most companies fail in the first three to five years,” Matsumoto said. “We’re going to try and educate them on why downtown Renton makes more sense than Georgetown or SODO or Columbia City or downtown Bellevue.”

To learn more about the Seattle Fashion Incubator, visit http://seattlefashionincubator.org/.

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