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CFDA’s Fashion Incubator Program Shaping the Next Generation

Mentors and mentees that have participated in the program describe the experience.

Timo Weiland and Alan Eckstein
Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Milestones issue 09/10/2012

THE MENTEES


Daniel Vosovic, owner and creative director, Daniel Vosovic: Vosovic’s first meeting with his mentors was a tough one. “I just felt like they were ripping me open. It was so raw and so seemingly brutal because it was like, ‘Why did you spend $10,000 here?’ It was a very realistic look at the facts.” That led to a focusing of the business. “I can do beautiful gowns and I can do this and that, but at the end of the day, do people want that from me right now? No. I had to focus on my sweet spot, for me it’s this high-end advanced contemporary space.”

Timo Weiland, creative director, Timo Weiland:
“We learn something in the morning and we apply it in the afternoon. It’s really been a huge thing to be able to talk to people who have decades of experience in production and sampling and costs and brand-building. We have a very presentable business plan now that is professional, whereas before we didn’t.”

Greg Lawrance, cofounder, Number:Lab:
“They’ve given us a tremendous amount of focus and not just for everyday business, but focus on the actual merchandising and the products…our true brand DNA.”

Max Stein, cofounder and chief executive officer, Reece Hudson: Mentors encouraged Stein and cofounder Reece Solomon to make a brand book to help focus and communicate the company’s message. The book includes pictures and “statements about who we are and who our customer is and words that describe us. We’ve used it already: We are going to be developing a Web site and we shared the book with some [Web designers] to give them a feel for our brand.”

Arielle Shapiro, owner of lingerie firm Ari Dein:
“Nobody has come in here and tried to change what I’m doing or aesthetically make me into something that I’m not. It’s been very helpful…in terms of adding new product areas. It’s very important to stay focused. Not everything is going to be right for your company. It comes down to a numbers game. We only have the resources to get it right the first time. I can just come into a meeting [with my mentors] and bounce 30 ideas off the wall and see what sticks instead of putting 30 ideas into production.”

THE MENTORS

Douglas Hand, founding member of Hand Baldachin & Amburgey: “It’s extremely gratifying to identify young talent and be able to nurture that talent—providing positive support and sound business and legal counsel. To truly succeed in the world of fashion, one needs not only artistic talent and a gifted eye, but the ability to exercise judgment and pay close attention to the health of the company—namely proper legal structure and a watchful eye on the bottom line.”

Lisa Metcalfe, production-operations, Skaist-Taylor: “It’s great to be able to give knowledge that we take for granted to these young, hugely talented people who are supercreative—some of them only have the creative and not the business side of it. We are really pushing and challenging them to think of themselves as a business, not, ‘Oh, I’m excited and I feel good about being a designer and having a business.’ It’s like, ‘No, you don’t have a business; you’re not making money.’ The biggest thing that they need is real-life experiences. It’s a reality check.”

Gary Wassner, president of factor Hilldun Corp.:
“For me, it’s a dream program. You’re running this small company and you’re getting a board, basically, of experienced industry veterans who come and spend their time helping you build your business. What we’ve learned as a program is that it’s not enough to just have talent…you really need to understand the business basics. You can’t wing it. If you want to make it in this business, you really have to understand where you’re going and you need to have realistic sales goals. It’s not a wish and a prayer.”

Roopal Patel, fashion consultant:
“The program is changing and it’s evolving and growing to fit the needs of all these designers. There’s no road map how to be a successful designer. This [program] really gives them the tools to become a part of fashion’s mainstream. One of the things we’re starting to see is that the designer should really take full advantage of the two years [of the program]. They really have the whole industry at their fingertips. It’s just wonderful; it’s almost like paying it forward to be able to see a new group of designers evolve under your guidance.”

Jeffry Aronsson, ceo, Chado Ralph Rucci: “Lisa Smilor and Johanna Stout [at the CFDA] are driving the means for promising early-stage designers and Stern School M.B.A. students to learn by experience how to build that critical bridge between creative design talent and the disciplines of business management.”

Steven Alan, ceo and designer, Steven Alan:
“We’ve had a showroom since 1997 representing about 20 different brands. One of the most satisfying things is to be able to work with designers and for me, [the Fashion Incubator] is helpful because [I see] different approaches, other people who are also mentors with ideas. You can spend a lot of money early [when starting a design house] and unfortunately that could be the end of it. Focus is certainly something that keeps coming up with [the] designers.”

Jayne Harkness, business consultant:
“It’s a series of support systems. [Vosovic] had some preview meetings with some retail buyers to really give him the courage and the knowledge that he’s headed in the right direction. Everyone from his mentoring circle has contributed to [Vosovic’s merchandising plan]. That’s the genius of the CFDA: putting together these great professionals who are able to say, ‘This is really the right way to go.'”

Kyle Andrew, senior vice president, marketing, Kate Spade New York: “[The Fashion Incubator] has exposed me to a different, less cynical side of the fashion business. The designers I work with—Ari Dean and Reece Hudson—are both extremely talented and ambitious, yet they have a fresh, somewhat naïve approach that I find refreshing and energizing. I have found it very rewarding to work with them, as I know they will be successful and will have an impact in this business. I think I have been of some use in helping them clarify who they are as a brand. It was clear from the start that their design aesthetic was solid and strong. I tried to help them with the need to clarify their brand stories so that they are unique and distinctive in a very crowded field.”