Fashion Entrepreneur: Diana Coluntino
Recently, we had a chance to sit down with Diana Coluntino, the powerhouse entrepreneur behind New Vestures, to find out more about her fabulous high tech fashion maker space. Here's what she had to say about this exciting endeavor...
Thea: Hey, Diana! I am so excited about New Vestures and the Fabric Discovery Center opening soon. Thank you so much for the sneak peek that Apparel Designers Network got a during our exclusive tour of the facility back in March.
Diana: So glad the group could come!
click through the gallery above to see some pictures of the space during construction.
Thea: Can you tell us about your earlier career as someone who was involved with nurturing creatives?
Diana: I taught at MassArt for several years from 1997 - 2002, but even in that creative environment I found the bureaucracy of accademia a bit constricting. After leaving MassArt, I came to Lowell and worked as the Artistic Director of the Revolving Museum, which was a community art program, from 2003 - 2012. We had afterschool art classes, community workshops and programs, and exhibits including Mural Crew, Artbotics and Article Fashion. In the eight years that I was with them, I was able to produce over 100 exhibitions! Honestly, when that program closed, I was really puzzled about what I wanted to do for work. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I needed to go my own way and carve out something for myself.
Thea: What prompted you to start New Vestures?
Diana: About 5 - 6 years ago, I became aware of the burgeoning maker/ hacker movement. Growing up, I was always fixing things, repurposing things - this was just the way my family was. My grandmother, who was a very strong influence on me, was a stitcher and a sample maker and I spent a lot of time right beside her while she worked.
I was growing increasingly alarmed to see that making and repairing has slowly been going extinct in our society; people don’t fix things anymore and those skills just aren’t being passed down within families as they used to be. I see the maker movement as a reaction to the demise of tech programs in our schools and the loss of hands-on craft. I think people actually crave that connection to objects - it’s very satisfying to mend something or make something with your own hands and imagination.
Thea: So that was the inspiration, what were some things that really set the ball in motion?
Diana: Creating a "makerspace" was something I had always dreamed of. I never called it a "makerspace", I just knew I wanted to set up a space with all the equipment need to create. I never wanted to go to work for anyone. My dream was to be my own boss, to do what I was good at. I hate wasting time, resources, and talent. It never made sense for me to work in an environment where I wouldn't be effective, where I wouldn't contribute my all. Now, it seems the timing is right for me, for this, the maker movement.
I attended a “How to Make a Maker Space” conference at Artists' Asylum and found the community to be really welcoming. Around this time, I also attended a really fascinating workshop in New York on 3-D printing and its applications for fashion. I felt like I was really on to something with my idea of founding a Fashion Maker Space, because although maker spaces have been gaining popularity there really are not any specifically for fashion.
Thea: There is such a fervor at the moment in the entrepreneurial sphere for perfecting the "pitch" in hopes that one might secure funding, exposure, or other resources for their enterprises. What's your feeling about this - a necessary evil or too much of a distraction?
Diana: I've had to learn to adapt to some of the guidelines of the current pitch culture. I feel like my passion is my pitch, but I understand the need to convey your message in the most succinct way possible, too. What I have trouble with is dedicating time and resources to pitch competitions. I prefer dedicating time to the real work whenever possible, but in everything we do there are always parts of the process we don't enjoy. I've learned to accept that and I also tell my students to be prepared for those things that challenge our flow and patience sometimes.
Thea: I heard you have even been to the White House as a member of the maker community!
Diana: Yes! In 2016 I received an email from the White House; honestly, I thought it was a hoax! The email was an invitation to meet at there along with nearly 200 makers from around the country; most of us were founders, and co-founders of makerspaces. This amazing group of people, called Nation of Makers (NOM), has kept in touch. NOM is an active group with members from Hawaii to Florida, and many of us have traveled to a number of "Maker Summit" events around the country. We support each other and communicate daily with questions, announcements, and advice. My initial invite in 2016 was from Andrew Coy, Senior Advisor for Making, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of President Obama. We all joke that when we first received Adrew's email inviting us to the White House we thought it was a hoax. Since the change of administration, Andrew has taken charge as the lead to the NOM group. With his guidance we are scheduling future NOM conferences around the country. The next one will be in Santa Fe later this year.
Thea: What is your projected opening date and how does one apply to become a member of the makerspace?
Diana: We're planning on a Grand Opening Ceremony very soon. Membership type and rates will be announced at that time.
Thea: What are your goals for the first year of New Vestures after the grand opening?
Diana: I'd like to have 5 -10 anchor tenants launching their brands. We hope to increase awareness of how apparel and textile products are produced around the world. Most people don't realize that the apparel industry is the second largest polluter in the world, next to petroleum. We can't change everything on our own, but if we can inform and influence a few, and those people are out there spreading the word, then we can start to make a greater positive impact. I look forward to a day when consumers ask, "Who made this? Where did it come from?" and the answers to those questions inform some of their choices.
Thea: Are there any upcoming shows/ achievements/ speaking engagements planned at New Vestures?