Written by Shahid Meighan
Sherri Barry, co-founder of the FABRIC Incubator, initially had ambitions of creating her own fashion brand, and even went back to college to receive her MBA so that she could scale the brand and bring it to life. However, like the other fashion entrepreneurs and creatives before her, she found that the system and the fashion industry were difficult to overcome.
“The fashion industry isn’t just a lot of pretty fluff. It is a very technical industry that is very difficult and very complicated in a lot of different ways that, you know, you don’t really understand until you get into the business. And the difficulty creates obstacles for most people who want to be in fashion that they never overcome,” Sharri revealed to the crowd at Venture Café last Thursday.
“I would say that if there’s dreamers in the world, fashion designers are the most disappointed of the group.” Sherri described her venture into the fashion industry as a “disaster” after she received over 5,000 clothing pieces that had been converted to centimeters. Because of the snafu and the costly litigation, it would have taken to correct it, Sharri was forced to shutter her brand. It was at this moment that she realized the difficulty of breaking into the fashion industry and thought about other aspiring fashion designers.
“I thought if it’s this difficult for me, this has to be impossible for anybody else who has a dream and wants to start a fashion brand. And this needs to be fixed.”
Committing to this need for change, Sherri pivoted from wanting to create her own fashion brand to helping young fashion entrepreneurs. And by this time, she had a vital tool at her disposal: the Internet. Using social media, she was able to help burgeoning entrepreneurs promote their business in lieu of paying millions of dollars in marketing. Taking it a step further with her co-founder Angela Johnson, they created F.A.B.R.I.C. Incubator to assist design entrepreneurs in launching their brands and bringing their vision to life.
“I think that our life is more pleasant and wonderful because we can create and creatives need to be able to get their ideas to come to life,” said Sherri. To date, the Incubator has assisted nearly 1,000 fashion brands in the last six years in manufacturing and launching their product and has redistributed almost $7 million to the community of Tempe. Additionally, many of the young entrepreneurs who came into the Incubator last year come from diverse backgrounds. Many are minorities, veterans, the disabled, and the economically disadvantaged. For Sharri, she wants to give opportunities to all designers, and she doesn’t turn down anyone.
While also helping entrepreneurs, Sharri was able to use her incubator to protect the lives of healthcare workers. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sharru knew that the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders were imminent. For her, shuttering F.A.B.R.I.C “wasn’t an option.”
“We’re having hundreds of entrepreneurs and their businesses. So it wasn’t just our business, it was shutting down their businesses. We were like, we have to figure out a way to keep this place. And we wanted to help the community.” After a conversation with a friend at the Arizona Commerce Authority, they came up with a game plan to develop PPE for healthcare workers on the frontline. In about 6 weeks, they were able to create 5,000 FDA approved medical gowns using reusable, high tech fabric designed by doctors and nurses.