There was a time when "industry" in Madison meant insurance companies, or Oscar Mayer, or the Credit Union National Association. Then we got sort of high-techy, with software companies and game designers and bio-med concerns popping up as the city found its place in the digital economy. Now we're becoming a name in a new field of endeavor - fashion.
Fashion? In slack-pantsed, raggedy-shirt, mismatched Madison? Yes, all good stereotypes must someday outlive their reality, and that day has come for Madison. Some new entrepreneurs have made the leap into fashion relevance, and we have their stories this week.
Laurie Stark and Kyle Nabilcy are two regular contributors to Isthmus, and they team up this week to report on this surprising development in local enterprise. Nabilcy outlines the growth of Shopbop.com from a fledgling entrant in the State Street retail scene to a national purveyor of women's clothing. Stark tells the parallel story of Context, a men's store located next door to the Isthmus offices and therefore under our gaze as it grew. It too has found a national clientele through the web.
What made this possible was the Internet and its development as a marketplace. This has had dire consequences for some physical retailers, but change will have its due. New opportunities create the possibility of new normals.
While it's sort of surprising that Madison has given rise to these globally popular clothing companies, in a way it's a result of Madison's gestalt of informed informality. I hate to say that Madison is "cool," but many people obviously perceive it that way.
What really accounts for these companies' success is the people who conceived and built them - the people Stark and Nabilcy talk to in their articles. As with any business, it took faith and hard work, and in the end they put Madison on the fashion map.