No Project Runway, These Designers are “In” All Season | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

No Project Runway, These Designers are “In” All Season

Lessons in marketing are just some of the tools of the trade being taught to a growing number of fashion designers in Chicago. And these classes aren't just taking place at the local art schools. Eight Forty-Eight's intern Erica Hunter tells us how a workspace in Chicago is helping lead aspiring designers down the runway.

Incubator New Designer Trunk and Fashion Show
Mar. 20, Noon to 8 p.m.
The 900 Shops

Chicago Incubator Pop-Up shop Events
Chicago Fashion Resource

Reality television has given some of us a peek into the high-pressured world of fashion. 

ambi: sound of project runway, fades into incubator ambi and incubator designer Stephanie Kuhr talking about her designs

But, to get a feel for what the Windy City's got to offer, you want to enter the incubator. The 2-year-old program on the 11th floor of Macy's on State Street aims to support the growing fashion industry in Chicago. Designers like alumna Kate Coxworth.

COXWORTH: It kind of put me on the map as someone who was actually doing something worth paying attention to. When I was doing things in my basement we had a website that it was doing pretty well, but no one in town knew who I was. I didn't have any press. I didn't have any of that kind of stuff so the incubator really helped.

Anna Hovet is a graduate of one of the country's most prestigious fashion schools, the School of the Art Institute. But it was the real world that taught her the toughest lessons.

HOVET: I never realized how hard it was. People think that I sit around and sketch all day. Probably 10 percent of what I do is designing. I gotta learn the financials, and the legals, and the marketing, the production, the taxes.

Hovet says, the incubator teaches that.

HOVET: It's taking these creative people and putting them in an environment where it's about making money and being able to survive doing this full time.

The incubator offers about 3,000 square feet of workspace with offices, cutting tables, sewing machines, mannequins, a showroom and access to top designers. According to the incubator's executive director, Lara Miller, it also provides her peers with focus.

MILLER: They need to present a really strong vision for their brands. And that comes from the sense of knowing who their target market is, knowing how they plan to finance their businesses and really how they plan to either launch or grow their business within the year.

In the first year since her experience at the incubator, Hovet has launched her line and can claim Jennifer Hudson as a client. She's also found herself a partner to share studio space, incubator alumna Jess Audey. Audey says there's more camaraderie than competition within the fashion world of Chicago.

AUDEY: We were like hey I found a label supplier, here I'll give it to you or hey this is the contractor I'm using, I'll give you their number. And I think that's what makes us all stay here, that's why I will never move to another city to do fashion because I don't want a competitive environment.

But it's also an environment that can give designers an edge on their competition. Andrea Schwartz is the Vice President of Media Relations and Cause Marketing for Macy's. She says the State Street store is a great environment for aspiring designers because it attracts the attention of people who can get them noticed or provide some helpful advice.

Schwartz recalls the time Clinton Kelly of “What Not to Wear” stopped by the incubator and gave the designers a little dose of reality…

SCHWARTZ: He saw that the sizes of most of the clothes were rather petite size. And he said, “you realize the average American woman is anywhere from a size 12 to a size 16—That's average!” He said, “I challenge you to also design for the average American woman, because she is your client.”

MUSIC:  Lady Gaga, Fashion from the Cherrytree Sessions

The new group of incubator designers began their journey earlier this month. 23 year-old Donaldo Smith the only male in the group has no doubt the Chicago fashion scene is here to stay.

SMITH: At the rate we're going with all the great programs in place with the incubator and a lot of the other city programs in the fashion community starting to come together, opportunities here in Chicago are growing, so I think we will be a major powerhouse in fashion soon enough.

With talented new designers throughout the city, Chi-town fashionistas may not have to travel far for the hottest styles.

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