CFDA's Steven Kolb & W Hotels Anthony Ingham On Cultivating Fashion Designers

The last time Steven Kolb, CEO of The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) was here in Chicago, it was to do a studio visit with CFDA/Vogue Fashion fund finalists Creatures of the Winds. He was back in Chicago earlier this month for the W Hotels + CFDA fashion incubator partnership.
I had the chance to ask Steven, as well as Anthony Ingham, VP Luxury design & brands, a few questions that I feel speaks to the core of what SociaLifeChicago is committed to, focusing on and helping to cultivate the next generation.
From how the partnership came to fruition, advice to Chicago designers looking to make their mark and more.

Steven Kolb


SLC: How did the CFDA decide to bring this to Chicago?
Steven Kolb: I think Chicago is an important and influential city. When you look at how Chicago influences the nation, the food, culture, what Ikram’s done, our President is from here, our first lady, you can’t dismiss Chicago as a powerful city. It definitely rivals NY and in terms of shopping if you are in the Midwest you definitely go to Chicago.
For us, we are the Council of Fashion Designers in America and the truth is that the fashion industry predominantly operates out of New York City. The success of fashion designers is in reach and distribution. Having said that about Chicago and it being a power base, we felt these 4 designers would resonate with Chicagoans and we had a great opportunity with W Hotels which authentically has been our partner in bringing the message and the designers around the country. We had an opportunity to come here.
Most American designers are coming through Chicago all the time.  Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen were here recently, it’s a place to come.
These designers we are showcasing don’t have the resources or means to do something like this and that’s why with the W hotels and our incubator, we are able to introduce them to an audience of people that care about fashion.

SLC: What kind of advice would you give to hungry Chicago brands looking to expand their reach?
SK: New York is one of the 4 fashion capitals of the world, the other three being Paris, Milan, and London. It’s a different world today than it was 20-30 year ago and even yesterday. Technology has changed the way we interact, the way we do business whethere we like it or not. It’s pushing us in the direction of you either go or you lose.
You can do business pretty much anywhere in the world; you a have computer, iphone, Samsung, internet connection. It’s easy to connect. There are companies that are virtual showrooms.

Taking full advantage of what technology offers and know a global business is first and foremost.
Also never being apologetic. You shouldn’t feel anxious because you are a local designer.
Feel confident in your talent, ability and story and sell that and don’t slink away from that. When given the opportunity and  take advantage of going out of Chicago and meeting with editors or coming to NYFW, trying to make those opportunities happen are a good thing.
The business model of design locally but produce outside or globally is smart, a lot of businesses have adopted that.
Take full advantage of technology and don’t slink away from opportunities that exist in other cities just because you don’t live there.


Rapid fire round with Stephen
SLC: iPhone, Android or Blackberry?
SK: 100% iphone, waiting for my iPhone 6 upgrade in 2 weeks.

SLC: What are your travel essentials?
SK: I’m big into the whole trend of tailored sweatpants, there’s a brand that was in our incubator Isaora and they make the most comfortable, softest fitted sweatpants, I don’t travel without them. Being addicted to my iphone, I always have my external mophie. I wear a lot of glasses so a couple pair of glasses to change from.

Anthony Ingram

SLC: W Hotel is known to cultivate that next generation, how did this partnership come to fruition?
Anthony Ingram: What we try and do with W Hotel is to find what’s next. Our customers and those we are appealing to are professional, pretty affluent travelers who are interested in restaurant, design, fashion, cocktail culture and that’s why they choose the W. They are interestd in what’s new and next in that area of lifestyle. W has always been in the fashion world, from our first location in NYC and the IMG fashion Week W lounge and our collaboration with design houses and CFDA members.

Our mission as a brand is to curate what is new and next and the fashion incubator just seemed perfect. We know that CFDA chooses designers who have a bright future.
It’s not only about giving them space to design but also mentorship and how to successfully run a business in todays global world. W offers a global perspective and expertise on how you market to that audience, they way that we understood our customers and market to them is of value to these emerging fashion designers, in a mentoring aspect. Also having direct access to those consumers through our channels.

SLC:What do you hope this will evolve to?
AI: The 10 designers are chosen from all over, they are based in New York but not necessarily from New York. The partnership with W has given them international exposure. Each designer chooses their own program with us, they They choose the different opportunities they want to work with W and they choose an international destination to gain inspiration. They stay a week getting to immerse themselves seeking inspiration for their next collection. We introduce them to our fashion contacts in those cities to share ideas or meet with other designers. That gives the incubator program an international perspective, that previously didn’t exist.

Let’s hope this won’t be the last time something like this comes to Chicago and I hope to see one of Chicago’s rising design stars participate in one of CFDA’s future initiatives.

images via: coveteur; cfda; holly myrick

Bolaji Sosan
Bolaji Sosan

pronounced: Boh-la-jee, like the Bellagio but w/o the O. SLC Founder and Editor, loves to write about topics at the intersection of career and lifestyle for today's young professional and future leaders.

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