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New Study: Washington Fashion and Apparel Industry Strong, Poised for Growth

SEATTLE, Wash. — According to a newly completed economic analysis the Washington state fashion and apparel industry is a major contributor to the state’s economy and is well positioned for future growth.

The economic consulting firm Community Attributes International conducted the independent study on behalf of enterpriseSeattle, the Seattle/King County economic development council. It was sponsored by enterpriseSeattle, Washington State University and the Workforce Development Council of Seattle – King County.

enterpriseSeattleThe analysis found that the fashion and apparel industry in 2009 generated gross business revenues of $8.3 billion and directly employed 34,460 people, mostly in the Seattle area. The majority of the jobs, 22,000, are in retail sales. According to the study, the Seattle area ranks fourth in the nation in the number and concentration of fashion occupations, behind New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

State impact models suggest that overall the industry generates $16.4 billion in gross revenues and a total of 51,690 jobs in the state when direct, indirect and induced impacts are considered.

According to enterpriseSeattle CEO Jeff Marcell, the economic analysis is just the starting point for economic development efforts aimed at growing the apparel and fashion industry.

“We are going to be reaching out to leaders in the local industry for their help in developing and implementing this business development program focused on their industry,” he said.

John Gardner, WSU Vice President for Advancement and External Affairs and an enterpriseSeattle board member, said the analysis not only confirms the industry’s strength but its potential for future growth, and WSU will play a major part in the effort.

“We wanted a third party partner to verify what we have to start with and to give us a benchmark to see if we can move the needle,” Gardner said. “WSU is going to attempt to move the needle, to see if we can really make a difference in expanding this industry in five years, in 10 years.”

The study found that opportunities for industry growth within the state stem from four key strengths: The number of local fashion designers with international acclaim, the international retailers borne from Washington companies such as Nordstrom and REI, WSU’s undergraduate and graduate programs in the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles, and related programs in the state’s trade schools and college programs.

Economist Chris Mefford, President of Community Attributes International and the study’s principal author, cited another regional advantage, the state’s strength in information technology.

“Our region is so strong in IT that any industry that can leverage it for growth and transformation is an industry we should be focused on,” he said. “The fashion industry is at the forefront of that application right now and we need to foster integration and partnerships that leverage that IT talent to support the fashion and design firms.”

WSU AMDT department chair Karen Leonas. Click on image to download high resolution version.

Mefford also cited WSU’s AMDT program as a significant contributor to the strength and potential growth of the industry.

“There are programs at trade-schools, community colleges and others but when we talked with experts in the industry WSU’s program is the one we hear referenced time and again.”

Karen Leonas, chair of WSU’s AMDT Department and a co-author of the study, says the WSU program is well positioned to help the state’s apparel and fashion industry grow.

“We are unique in that we have the state’s only four-year program in a state supported school and our students learn about the whole business from concept to consumer,” Leonas said. “The bottom line is that it is a business, and our students understand apparel and they understand business.”

One local fashion entrepreneur, Steven Matsumoto, CEO of Stigmare Couture Marketing, said the data contained in the analysis is invaluable to his efforts to secure funding for a local fashion business incubator.

“I’m working to secure investments from corporate investors, third parties and angel investors, and having third party data is invaluable,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going to people I talked to six months or a year ago and saying, ‘you know the information you wanted? Here it is.'”

Details of the study are available online at Or, download the study in PDF format.

Media Contacts

John Gardner, WSU Vice President, 206-448-1330
Karen K., Chair, 509-335-1233
Jeff Marcell, President and CEO, 206-389-8654
Chris Mefford, President, 206-523-6683