New business continues to migrate over to Hertel Avenue, and an appetite for high fashion along with it.
Arlene Kaye established Fashion Lab NY to provide young women and girls interested in fashion marketing, design, and merchandising with the opportunity to work in their field. Through specialty programming and workshops á la “Project Runway,” participants learn the technical skills needed to succeed in the fashion industry.
Teens, tweens, and adults participate in"Project Labs," where they get to sketch out and sew their own garments. The labs are themed according to trend, so one workshop might be geared toward bag or scarf making, and in the fashion project labs, the garment may become more complex to make, such as a romper.
But unlike “Project Runway," there is no competitive angle at Fashion Lab NY. The idea is to build confidence through sewing.
“Apparel sewing became less popular over the years, because everything went to quilting. That really happened in the ’80s and ’90s because fast fashion came into being,” Kaye said. “You could go to the store and buy something less expensive than you could make it.”
But now, with how fast technology is moving, Kaye says that the counter revolution is to make things, so people are getting back into sewing. Kaye’s own love for creating clothing goes way back to when she was six sewing outfits for her dolls, and has continued throughout her life.
As a 35-year-veteran of the fashion industry, Kaye, a Philadelphia native who attended the revered College of Textiles and Sciences, now Jefferson University, has broken into a range of markets across the country, and she’s always traveled for her jobs. She started working in fashion marketing in New York City, which led to opportunities in New Mexico, Wisconsin (where she worked for OshKosh B’gosh), New Hampshire, and then Buffalo, where she was recruited by New Era to head its merchandising and product development division.
As the business evolved, New Era changed its strategy, and Kaye had to make yet another important move.
“I had to start again," Kaye said. "I’ve done this several times in my career, because it’s part of having a career--re-creating yourself."
With very little job prospects in product merchandising in Buffalo, Kaye decided to create a position for herself at her own business.
Fashion Lab NY grew out of a one-bedroom studio apartment in an old home in Clarence in 2017, but Kaye wanted to be closer to the city, so she opened a brick-and-mortar storefront at1205 Hertel Ave. this past November. Fashion Lab NY is right across the street from Caruso’s Italian Deli and adjacent to Shish Kabab Express, where she can smell the scent of freshly made falafels wafting through the air.
“I feel like I’m in Brooklyn,” she said of her location on the corner block.
Fashion Lab NY is like Hertel’s own piece of a Parsons School of Design, on a neighborhood scale. Kaye hosts summer camps for schools and the Girls Scouts of America, and private sewing lessons and parties for adults getting back into their love of fashion and design.
Kaye knew very few people when she came to Buffalo, but she utilized her existing network on LinkedIn to find leads. Two years of programming at the Women’s Business Center at Canisius College was also a big help. There, she was put into contact with Aurora Sewing Center, who contacted Baby Lock and had them donate four sewing machines to her business.
“I then purchased several more, but this was a huge help to me getting started,” Kaye said.
She invested a small chunk of her own money into initial workshop and business costs, and from there, continued to grow her network tremendously in a small amount of time.
Through her two years of dedicated study and network building in Buffalo, she’s learned that being in business for years is a different experience than owning your own business.
“When you talk to people who are coaching you for entrepreneurship, they talk a lot about following your passion, but that has to be balanced with having a handle on your finances, having a personal support system, a business support system,” Kaye said.
The appetite for high fashion is certainly present in Buffalo, Kaye says, which is why she positioned her business in a way that helps young designers who are enrolled in a fashion merchandising, design, and technology program at one of three area colleges to continue or supplement their education.
And she’s not doing it alone. Since opening her brick-and-mortar, Kaye has added a part-time assistant and children’s instructor, Carly Richardson, who helps her create prototypes for workshops and lead summer camps.
“We need to teach the next generation,” Kaye said, “Because otherwise, where are we going?”