Why I Started Austin Fashion Initiative

Why I Started Austin Fashion Initiative

There’s nothing more important than community, especially when pursuing entrepreneurship.

That’s why community is at the heart of everything we do at Movers + Makers. It’s also the driving factor behind Austin Fashion Initiative, an organization dedicated to designing Austin’s fashion ecosystem. Through monthly meetups, a membership platform, and professional resources, AFI hopes to connect those in Austin’s fashion industry in an effort to support and build upon the emerging community. 

Below, AFI’s founder, Jennifer Millspaugh shares with us why she launched the organization. 



On February 27, 2017 I submitted my final PhD thesis (I studied in the UK, where they call it a ‘thesis’ and not a ‘dissertation’ like in the US). Throughout 2016 I made as many edits as I could to that 100,000 word manuscript, rearranged chapters, paragraphs, sentences and words, grammatically criticized every comma and clause, and re-examined the merits of every argument I made. After painstaking taking a full week to lay it out in InDesign, I saved it as a pdf, attached it to an email, addressed it to the administrative office of the University of the Arts London, and pressed that little paper airplane icon on my Mac to send. Whoosh, it was gone and very anticlimactic. Then you just wait for a return email notification: pass or fail. “This is your last chance,” ringing in the back of your head. It would be a full 10 weeks before I heard back.

In the following days, I prepared myself for SXSW 2017 where I would be serving as a mentor, which is kind of what I imagined speed dating to be like in the 90s, except that you’re sharing advice to help people with career transitions or their next great idea. It holds with it a heavy sense of responsibility — What are people going to ask? What if I don’t know the answer? Can I really help someone in 10 minutes? I hope so.

I used SXSW to turn my attention to what’s next. Even while I was waiting for my PhD result, I had no time to rest. I had to move on to what would become my career transition. Fast.

Considering that I spent the last 3.5 years researching the business models and branding practices of New York and London based emerging designers as they internationalized their companies (PhDs are very specific), I knew finding my place for the next step of my career in Austin would be a challenge. I knew I wouldn’t find a job posting with a description requesting a desired qualification of “a PhD in entrepreneurship with emphasis on the fashion industry”. I had just spent 3.5 years preparing myself for a job that didn’t exist, and I knew this all along.

But during my years of study in London I kept my eye on home – Austin, and began to learn that Austin’s fashion industry was itself emerging. In 2015, the City of Austin published a report on the state of the local fashion industry. Austin was home to two of the top ten venture-backed fashion companies, and the 4th largest fashion week in the US. But you had to dig to learn this and understand that these milestones were a big deal. The spotlight on Austin’s fashion industry what brightening, but still not shining as vividly has it should.


During SXSW I bought the domain name(s): AustinFashionInitiative.com, plus a host of others closely associated.  Then I began meeting as many people in Austin interacting with the fashion industry as I could. I wanted to know who was doing what, and explore how I could put my proprietary research to work for our local economy. And I began to realize there was a lot happening in Austin related to fashion, but we needed to get everyone in a room together.

With the help and encouragement of several friends I launched Austin Fashion Initiative as a meet-up group, while I continued my search for ‘a real job’. I invited about 10 people. Over 60 showed up.  I took that momentum — that need to build a community for our fashion industry — and ran with it.


One year later, I’m preparing for SXSW 2018 where I’ll be mentoring again and co-hosting a meet-up to encourage collaboration across our global fashion industry. We’ve added a membership platform feature to AustinFashionInitiative.com to create a virtual ‘cluster’ for our industry, and we now host meet-ups every month.

Austin Fashion Initiative started as a step towards building a community for our fashion industry. I started Austin Fashion Initiative because I believe that Austin possesses within its culture a unique aesthetic that radiates throughout all of our creative industries – film, music, food, tech, media. Fashion is just the next step.

So that’s where I’m working: at the intersection of our established entrepreneurship community (with an emphasis on tech) and fashion to create a pipeline of innovation for the development of creative businesses in Austin.

But in addition to our meet-ups and membership platform, my vision for Austin Fashion Initiative means that I’m committed to building resources and programming that assists in the development of our local industry. There are so many brilliant creative entrepreneurs, professionals and established fashion businesses based in Austin, but they don’t necessarily know where to go for advice and mentorship, access to resources, encouragement or inspiration.

I believe that the community that is being developed through Austin Fashion Initiative’s platform can fill that gap to help support people whether they’re making a career transition, launching a brilliant idea or scaling their business to the next level. Though my work, I want to shine a light on what I love most about Austin: the awesome people doing amazing things in it.


And because we don’t have a solidified legacy system (like London or New York) we can design our industry as it needs to be for the next 100 years. We can be a source of innovation for fashion globally. By leveraging the strengths of our community (again, tech, I’ve got my eye on you) we can begin to solve for incorporating new technology into the fashion supply chain and making our industry more sustainable. Innovation happens with one step at a time towards the future.

I believe that through collaboration within our community and across industry sectors, we can discover and develop new opportunities that amplify our unique Austin Aesthetic globally. That’s why I took the initiative to get started.


Jennifer Millspaugh Austin Fashion InitiativeDr. Jennifer E.S. Millspaugh completed her PhD in May 2017.  She launched the Austin Fashion Initiative (AFI) to design Austin’s fashion ecosystem. She serves on the Independent Fashion Advisory Board (IFAB), an international coalition of professionals advancing business transformation for fashion, retail and creative tech. She is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence for G51, improving entrepreneurship education at leading academic institutions. She is also an ambassador of dance for Ballet Austin as an active volunteer with the Ballet Austin Guild. Connect on LinkedIn.