The Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI) is the world’s first fashion incubator. We are an award-winning, non-profit organization that drives a thriving fashion ecosystem by providing early to mid-stage entrepreneurs access to the expertise, tools, and connections they need to achieve and sustain success in the business of fashion.
Tell us about yourself?
I’m a third-generation Canadian of Japanese heritage and a native Torontonian. Having grown up as a racialized child who was subjected to bullying and bigotry, I quickly realized that what you wear can help make you “accepted” or not. Luckily, I learned to sew at an early age, and by high school, I made all of my clothes which were the latest fashions. My home economics teacher acknowledged my advanced sewing skills and asked me if I’d like to learn to design and pattern draft. From that moment on, I was hooked on designing. It also introduced me to mentoring and volunteerism, as my teacher took time after school to meet with me one-on-one. I will always treasure and appreciate Vera Taylor for her kindness and encouragement.
If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
Keep believing in yourself and your ability to successfully problem-solve because you’re going to need it.
What problem does your business solve?
TFI helps individuals to start and grow a fashion business by giving them the tools, resources and connections they need to succeed.
What is the inspiration behind your business?
Back in 1986, the fashion industry was the second largest industrial employer in the City of Toronto. That’s a lot of jobs and people contributing to the local economy. At the time, the industry started to decline, and since garment workers had few transferable skills, the City wondered what could be done to keep those people employed and off social assistance. The concept of a fashion incubator was tabled. The idea was that by helping fashion start-ups to launch and succeed, the fledgling businesses would thrive and hire workers. TFI officially opened its doors on August 10, 1987, and we have created over 18,000 jobs for the City of Toronto since then. Not only does TFI help the City to create jobs and keep workers employed, we help young people to realize their dreams.
What is your magic sauce?
TFI is the world’s first fashion incubator with a 35-year track record of helping fashion entrepreneurs to succeed. Our extensive experience in this niche market, coupled with our rich history of offering innovative domestic and export market programs for designers, sets us apart from other organizations in Canada. The secret sauce is knowing which challenges your clients are facing and developing new and exciting opportunities that address them.
What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?
TFI has always enjoyed global recognition within the incubation community, and as a result, we’ve consulted with many cities and countries around the world who are interested in starting a similar concept. Recently, we’ve been approached by countries in the Middle East who want to start a fashion incubator and are looking for North American training for their designers. As the world’s leading expert in fashion incubation, we believe that there are other countries who are interested in our consultation and training services.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
TFI’s biggest challenge has always been funding. When we were established in 1987, it was presumed that our non-profit would always be grant-reliant. From 1987 to 2000, 83 per cent of our operating costs were covered by a City grant, but today, it’s more like 27 per cent. City funding began declining in the 2000s, and now, in a post-pandemic reality, government funding has been drastically reduced. We were fortunate to secure corporate sponsorships for a while, but many companies have moved away from sponsoring fashion (in Canada). We also had over 700 members at one point, which helped to generate revenue, but due to the effects of the pandemic, many designers can’t even afford $140/year to become a member. That’s had a huge negative impact on our revenue.
How can people get involved?
Governments around the world who want to invest in their communities and young people and who are interested in driving economic growth should think about starting a fashion incubator. Contact us at [email protected] for a quote because we can help. Please visit www.fashionincubator.com to learn more about Toronto Fashion Incubator.