Five contenders are vying for the top award in this year’s CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative.
Competing for the top prize of a $100,000 grant will be Abasi Rosborough’s Abdul Abasi and Greg Rosborough; Araks’ Araks Yeramyan; Jonathan Cohen’s Jonathan Cohen and Sarah Leff; Public School’s Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, and Tracy Reese. Win or lose, each brand will take part in a nine-month business residency in the Lexus-underwitten program. Sustainable innovation is a key goal for this third installment, which also aims to spur thought leadership and meaningful change. The nominees, CFDA officials and Lexus executives planned to toast the competition Wednesday night at Blue Hill NYC.
Rosborough’s five-and-a-half-year-old company has always had green roots. From the start, the founders have used dead stock fabric to make their men’s wear, which is manufactured entirely in New York. Limited production runs and minimal use of plastic bags and other shipping materials are a few other environmental safeguards in place.
Committed to advanced tailoring, the pair strive to create performance-oriented styles that ease wearers’ range of motion. Although the pair met at the Fashion Institute of Technology, they fell into design from diverse fields. Abasi served in the U.S. military for eight years with a final assignment repairing the missile system on Apache helicopters in the Netherlands. Rosborough, a former University of Arizona basketball player, first offered unsolicited design feedback to Nike after the sneaker giant redesigned his team’s uniforms. The brand has supported Abasi Rosborough shows in recent seasons.
With distribution in 27 stores, Asia is the largest market for Abasi Rosborough. Expanding footwear is part of the company’s growth strategy, and accessories, especially leather goods and bags, are being considered. Having never wanted to be “a lifeless, soulless fashion brand that just has nice items. We want to speak to bigger themes that are going on around us in our own times,” Rosborough said.
To that end, the company’s branding has included “In Plain Sight,” a short video that examines public surveillance, facial recognition and the threat to anonymity. Looking to relay a sense of “intellectual rebellion” — a sentiment that has struck a chord with musicians, architects and designers of different disciplines, Rosborough said, “From a branding standpoint, when you put on our clothing, we want you to think of those instances of this is what this brand stands for, this is what they speak to, these are the things they care about.”
Another nominee, Reese, also spoke of deeper resonance with consumers. “I want to change how I work. Our industry is in such flux. It creates all this opportunity to examine what we do, why we do it and how we do it. With 30-plus years in the industry, it’s not interesting or gratifying anymore to just follow the same ole script and routine,” she said. “I want my legacy and my business to be more meaningful, and obviously more positive for the planet and my customers.”
The designer will move her backend operations to her hometown of Detroit to help create jobs for the local talent, to be part of the city’s revitalization and to manufacture in the U.S. for the first time in more than 15 years. “Learning to design and produce sustainably is a huge goal. That’s why I’m so excited about the CFDA Lexus initiative,” Reese said. “Although I have been investigating and learning as much as I can, to have mentorship through the process is going to make it so much more useful, applicable and give me the foundation I need to spring forth from.”
The planet demands that the industry, one of the leading polluters, change its practices, Reese said. “I’ve learned through being on the board of CFDA for all these years, that we gain so much by working together. To be sort of a closed or elitist community, really doesn’t serve any of us. And it doesn’t open us up to all the amazing possibilities that are there when we work together.”
In January, the five companies will be presented with a micro-award challenge and they will have the opportunity for micro-award funding in amounts of $20,000, $15,000 and $10,000, totaling up to $80,000 awarded. In June, the brand that pitches the most viable, visionary and impactful strategy will win the Lexus Grant — totaling $100,000.