Grants & Fashion Design

I think it’s a good time to open a dialog about this particular subject—that is, money that is available to help young designers. Students have it easier, they have more opportunities to receive scholarships or awards from their schools. The Arts Institute, for instance, awarded several cash awards to students at their annual FashOn show this past October.

But as I’ve said to other young designers, there’s no Fashion Fairy! Nobody is going to swoop in, exclaim over how great your sketches are, and hire you to design for a clothing label. That just doesn’t happen. It’s a struggle to work your way up through a company (internships help), which is why most young designers opt to open their own businesses as Designer/Entrepreneur. And it’s a gamble.

As a non-student, looking for money to start a line is a little disheartening. People keep telling me there are grants available for female entrepreneurs (sorry guys), but I have yet to find anything that isn’t just rumor. For instance, the Small Business Administration does not offer grants to small businesses to start or expand a business. They can help you with loans, certainly. If you are a not-for-profit, you have a much higher chance of finding grants through the state or federal government. But how many apparel businesses are not-for-profit?

Why should we be given money to make pretty clothes? Well, the apparel industry is huge, and if the state wants to build industry, fashion would be a great aspect to grow. Indianapolis and surrounding cities have a large unemployed work force (factory trained), who could be retrained in apparel manufacturing. Land is relatively cheap in Indiana, and look around: there are loads of empty warehouse spaces. The state and federal government may poohpooh fashion an unnecessary frill, but the amount of money changing hands in fashion is surely not trivial. Ok, stepping off my soapbox.

Since I walk the line between art and fashion in my line of work, I decided to see what was available for artists that might apply to a fashion designer. Lo and behold, the Indiana Arts Commission (in step with the National Endowment for the Arts) has a grant called the Individual Artist Program. The program is available for application in odd fiscal years (example FY2011: application was due in November 2009, and the project runs July 2010-June 2011).

The awards max out at $2,000, and you have to approach the project from an arts angle. That is to say, this is not a grant that is designed to build a business. You can’t use the money to buy product or run a marketing campaign, but you can build a highly conceptual line and use the pieces in creation of a video for Youtube, or performance art, or something like that. One of the stipulations is you have to share your work with the community in a very accessible way (for free or a very small entrance fee).

As you may have gathered, I went through the application process for this and would like to share my experience. I did end up being awarded the grant, much to my surprise, and actually found out that I was the only person to apply in the fashion category. This tells me that designers here in town don’t actually know about it—I was lucky to hear about it only because I have a previous connection with the arts.

So, Ladies and Gents: go up to the link and at least read through the application process.

Applying for any grant is a tedious process, and it takes a long time to find out whether or not your application was accepted. The Indiana Arts Commission has an online application that makes sending the information to them much easier, but the process is the same.

You will have to describe what your project is, which means clearly thinking about how much you can accomplish in the time frame given all of your other obligations.  You have to create a reasonable time line to fit your project within. You will create a budget for all aspects of the project, including money that you may be getting from other sources, as well as in-kind donations (labor, materials) and all your expenses. You need to be able to write clearly and concisely about your project, which means reading and re-reading your application. I had several people read through mine, to ensure that I was getting my ideas across clearly.

Above all, your project must seem feasible to the panelists who evaluate your proposal. The budget must balance, and it must be reasonable (i.e. can she actually get a photographer to do the shoot for that amount of money).  It also must be accessible to the public, through as wide a demographic as possible. So, think about how you will share your work, and who will be able to come see it. How will you promote it?One thing that I had difficulty with was narrowing the scope of my project. I wanted to do a lot, and I know that it worried the panelists. They don’t want to approve a project that they don’t think is possible. I cut out a lot of my ideas from my original proposal, and frankly as I read through it again, I really could have slimmed it down quite a bit more. You can always do more than you propose, but you can’t do less than you propose.

My project:

Transformation is an exploration of altering the human silhouette through sculpture on the body.  I will be constructing a line of garments that color outside the lines of the human form: bold, textural, possibly even bizarre…a more theatrical look at fashion.

Basically, I’m using the grant money to let loose my creativity; make pieces I would normally not have the time, money or inclination to make; and then share them. I will be sharing the pieces in a theatrical fashion show at the Indy Fringe this March, during the Diva Fest. I hope you can join me! If you have specific questions about the application process, feel free to comment.

With training in costume design and technology, Catherine has spent most of her career working in professional costume shops as a pattern maker and seamstress. On the side, she freelanced as a costume designer and made custom garments out of her home studio. In 2005 she received the Indianapolis Arts Council’s Creative Renewal Fellowship and designed clothing shown at a wearable art show, which she hosted in the fall of 2006.  In August of 2007 she made the move to full-time freelance work as a designer, pattern maker and sample maker for her business, Mercurious Designs. Her design work includes a line of sleepwear and intimates called Sweet Revenge Lingerie.  She is also currently working on garments for her FY2011 Individual Artist Program from the Indianapolis Arts Commission in fashion design.

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2 Comments

  • A side note from Natalie Swindell of the Arts Institute:
    “We also have some annual competitions with the local industry that give scholarship money for the competitions: CARA Charities and Simon Fashion Now.”
    Thanks, Natalie!

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