In the 70s, New York's vital and chaotic fashion industry sustained over a million manufacturing jobs. The daily interplay of designers and makers happened organically. Community, cross pollination, produced start ups on a daily basis.
That is, New York City itself was a fashion incubator.
The first time I remember hearing about an incubator (in Silicon Valley) was in the 1990s. Since then, incubation-like opportunities have propagated. While many incubators have much to offer, their rise is indicative of an underlying want. Also, new industries now have an interest in prolonging stages of development entrepreneurs once sought to grow out of quickly. Like middle aged men sporting backwards baseball caps, grown up women a little too into HBO's Girls, or the invention of "tweens," our start up fetish may be pushing maturity further out of reach.
Speak to anyone who knows New York City of a decade or two ago and the notion of an "incubator" sounds superfluous. This occurred to me after a recent conversation with Hayati Banastey, founder of JACHS NY, who has witnessed decades of dramatic changes. In the 90's, before the advent of outsourcing pressured him to temporarily shutter his retail businesses, he produced up to 400,000 pieces per season -- all manufactured in New York. There is a provocative correlation between the rerouting of global supply chains and the rise of incubation-culture. A self sufficient system has no need for artificial "incubation."
To Banastey, who was born in Turkey and fell in love with the New York of Hollywood movies, the city is the ultimate symbol of the American Dream. This "dream" is about more than a sensibility which informs all his collections. It reflects a knowledge of how his products are made, exposure to manufacturing processes which young designers now have less access to today. With this perspective comes attention to detail and practical know-how. These are all essential components of a city famous for its roughness, rapid change, and "big breaks."
In contrast, consider workspaces, like WeWork, which evoke incubator-like communities where the rental contract is sold like a membership fee. Who doesn't want to be in some version of Y-Combinator? Yet entrepreneurism is increasingly less in the spirit of an archetypal visionary working out of a garage and more like a temp workforce which pays for its own desk. I don't mean to say there aren't great things about the rise of new workspaces in New York. Nonetheless, it's ironic to talk of "disruption" in the city of creative destruction.