Austin womxn designers and entrepreneurs reflect on the paths leading to ACC’s Fashion Incubator Program and the future of their brands.
By Minza Mirza
As Carolyn Nash peruses the web for a possible manufacturer for her innovative and life-saving flotation device, a pop-up advertisement takes up her screen. Frustrated after her fifth time closing out the ad, Nash finally takes a look at that persistent Austin Community College Fashion Incubator application announcement. Realizing she has everything it’s asking for, she takes a chance to elevate her fashion career and entire life to the next level.
ACC’s Fashion Incubator works to accelerate and elevate fashion designers and entrepreneurs at various stages of their careers. From taking classes to further one’s knowledge on the fashion industry to being a designer-in-residence and taking advantage of resources like studio spaces, the ACC Fashion Incubator brings together a community of talented and driven artists. A few of the womxn in the program speak about their journeys: Carolyn Nash, founder, inventor and designer of flotation device and swimwear brand G180; Amenta Cutliff, founder, owner and designer of Taumeti; and Lisa Husberg, founder, owner and designer of Loka.Haus.
Carolyn Nash: G180 Swim
I miss my son. Having G180 and the progress made as a company to focus on was my saving grace.Carolyn Nash
Not originally an Austinite or a fashion designer, G180 Swim Founder Carolyn Nash finds herself in a wildly different position than what she would have imagined five years ago. After tragically losing her son to a drowning death in 2015, Nash went looking for answers. “We’re a family who are well prepared for the water. It wasn’t in my mind of things that could possibly go wrong in my children’s lives,” she says. As she asked various people, from the Army Corps of Engineers to the average person, why drowning deaths persisted, she landed on buoyancy as the biggest preventative. “Buoyancy is not always at the ready,” she says. “I learned from consumers that people don’t wanna wear their personal flotation devices because they’re bulky and ugly. The comment I got most is, ‘It’s embarrassing.’”
In 2020, supplied with conversations and research, G180 Swim was born. “I invented the personal floatation device and currently hold a utility patent on our device,” she says. “It’s very sleek, very functional, fun to wear and most importantly, it’s fashionable so people actually put them on every single time they get in water.” When creating the device, she accounted for both buoyancy and appearance. “If I want [my children]to wear a safety device, I need to have made sure that it came in the form they most identify with,” she says. “Because I’m targeting this demographic of people, I started to look at what does this generation most value? Their aesthetic.”
Armed with the perfect design, she needed to look toward manufacturing. In 2021, that persistent pop-up ad guided her to a fountain of knowledge, one she would move across the country for. “I read through the application process and realized I had all of the assets the application was asking for.” From there, she gained what she calls “a fashion family.” “I didn’t feel crazy anymore,” she says. “There were a bunch of people in the same predicament where they have a dream and it’s just them that believed in it, but it brought them this far.”
With her day job as a facilities project manager for more than 20 years, she did not have much experience with fashion or design. “The incubator not only held my hand as I learned but celebrated when I learned something,” she says. However, her day job did assist in creating the device. “I was able to apply my background of understanding the engineering of things to making the device sleek and streamlined,” she says.
The move to Texas from the DMV area served as the biggest challenge, but she took things one step, one milestone at a time, with her greatest milestone being receiving her utility patent. “It felt like history,” she says. “No matter what anybody says, my name is recorded in a very exclusive group of people who have invented things. It felt like, ‘You’re doing the right thing.’” For Nash, the future for G180 Swim means “sharing our story and our S-O-U-L purpose.
“I miss my son,” Nash reveals. “Having G180 and the progress made as a company to focus on was my saving grace.”
Amenta Cutliff: Taumeti
Ultimately, I want to be able to connect with people and make things that resonate with people.Amenta Cutliff
Based in Houston, Texas, Amenta Cutliff’s fashion brand Taumeti takes on a sustainable approach to fashion, drawing back to Cutliff’s dedication to environmental responsibility. “My mother would go to Africa and come back with material,” she recalls. “Often, these were hard to find, due to the low production and location of traditional textiles, so I wanted to maximize every piece. I just take that into everything that I do. Everything is about maximizing, whether it’s time or whether it’s fabric.” The brand’s “Why we do it” page emphasizes this “aim to honor individuality by offering bold colors, quality materials and styles that resonate with one’s spirit, while prioritizing conscious production practices that positively impact both the environment and community.”
Cutliff’s path to fashion started with her love of music. After graduating with a B.A. in music, she received a scholarship to study at The New School and moved to New York to pursue her dreams. Like most young people pursuing a dream, she ran into the issue of making a living. “I was frustrated because it’s a very hard business. How do I make money?” she says. “I always loved bracelets, and after taking a jewelry making class, I decided to make accessories. That really was my entry into the fashion world.” Upon picking up beading and wiring, she caught the attention of the MOCADA Museum. “I was invited to do a fashion show, and that was it,” she says. “I did that show and then like 50 other fashion shows, so I eventually quit my job and took more [accessories]classes. I was supplying local boutiques, but then I moved to Texas, which was a very different market from New York.”
The lack of support for small businesses determined a career change for Cutliff, a move to fashion. “I loved fashion because, unlike music where I had to depend on other people like a producer and a studio, with fashion, I could have an idea, draw it, sketch it, drape it. I could, from [beginning]to finish, make the idea on my own.” Cutliff finds resources to be the make or break point for fashion. The ACC Fashion Incubator Program offered her a more local sphere of resources. “[I can] find resources in Houston for production so that I’m able to produce locally, and not go overseas to other factories,” she says. “I’m also connecting during Austin Fashion Week and building relationships with models and other people who are in the fashion industry.”
Cutliff tries to be transparent with her practices to help make resources accessible to others. “So many people tell me, ‘Hey, thank you for being transparent. Thank you for showing your techniques and even speaking on it,’ and that always surprises me. Ultimately, I want to be able to connect with people and make things that resonate with people.”
The future for Cutliff and Taumeti is a showcase at the Houston Botanical Gardens, which will be “a collection that is about what [I believe] in, and not [worrying that]it has to sell,” she says. “With this, it’s really just about fusing my love for nature and culture into fashion.”
Lisa Husberg: Loka.Haus
It can be hard to stay motivated, but it’s important to have diversity and perspective in the world. It’s the only way we’re going to be able to grow.Lisa Husberg
From making the first recycling-focused committee at her high school to becoming the founder of a sustainable brand, Lisa Husberg’s life revolves around sustainability. Her brand Loka.Haus, a luxury lifestyle brand, carries out her mission to spread more ethical fashion practices. “I want to use my brand as a platform to educate people on sustainability, what sustainability means and how that can positively affect your own community and other communities through things like fair pay, worker treatment and also the positive impact to the environment,” she says. Her products range from jewelry and apparel to skincare and perfume, and according to the Loka.Haus website, they “work closely with suppliers to ensure that we know exactly where our materials come from and how they were made.”
She came up with the idea of Loka.Haus for her graduating project at UT Austin in 2011. “I did a whole line based around mega order items, using sustainable materials and ethical dyeing,” she says. “But that was in 2011, so there wasn’t really a path to sustainability at the time or a clear way to start your own brand.” After taking 10 years off from the fashion industry, she revamped the idea of Loka.Haus in 2020 upon being furloughed from her job in hospitality. “I decided that was the time to launch the brand because now I had all this free time,” she says. “I wanted to take that energy and turn it into something for myself, so I did a lot of research.” Within that research, she found the ACC Fashion Incubator Program, after having her brand for a year at that point. “The biggest opportunity it provided me was getting to see the development process in apparel and retail in general,” she says. “It allowed me to see the process from start to finish and also look out for red flags when working with other factories or manufacturers, how to manage the process myself and understand things I could do myself to reduce costs.”
Being a female solopreneur in an industry driven by unethical practices, Husberg runs into many challenges. “I think the biggest challenge right now is educating consumers and really being able to translate not only the idea of sustainability, but what that impact means and why you should spend more when people are already struggling to purchase what they have today,” she says. “I’ve definitely tried to build out my blog.” The Loka.Haus blog posts make consumers aware of the effort that goes into creating a sustainable brand, being fully transparent in each post whether it be about “The Power of Wellness” or “Elevat(ing) your Everyday Style.”
“Being a female in the workforce, you have a ton of obstacles against you,” Husberg says. “When you become an entrepreneur, it’s 10,000 times more. It can be hard to stay motivated, but it’s important to have diversity and perspective in the world. It’s the only way we’re going to be able to grow. It’s important to continue on my path of entrepreneurship and hopefully empower other people to do the same.”