Timo Weiland

NEW YORK — Cadillac is extending its partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America with a new retail program that will debut in July.

In a presentation at the car company’s global headquarters at 330 Hudson Street here Tuesday night, the companies unveiled the creation of the Retail Lab, a three-year program that will support designers by providing them with a retail store for three months, a $75,000 grant and mentorship from key industry figures.

Timo Weiland will be the first designer brand to participate in the program and will open a retail shop on the ground floor of Cadillac’s headquarters this summer.

Six designers will be part of the 2016-17 program. The others will be chosen through an application process that opens Wednesday and will continue through May 6.

Cadillac began its partnership with the fashion industry in 2013 when it sponsored New York Men’s Day, the emerging designer showcase created by Agentry PR. That expanded into a larger sponsorship deal with New York Fashion Week: Men’s, a stand-alone men’s initiative that started last July and is ongoing.

Melody Lee, director of brand strategy and planning for Cadillac, said a lot of brands seek to align themselves with the “glitz” of the fashion industry, “but we want to contribute in a meaningful way.” That led to the creation of the Retail Lab. Cadillac will devote 800 square feet of space to the program, which will allow the selected designers “to cut their teeth in the retail business.”

The designers chosen can be men’s, women’s or accessories focused, can be a member or nonmember of the CFDA, must be American or have established a primary business in the U.S. for at least three years, be deemed a designer of “demonstrable talent” with support from “notable wholesale retailers” and not have a current standalone retail location.

“We saw that there are so many designers with creative vision, but they don’t have the tools and the mentorship to take their business to the next level,” Lee said. 

Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of CDFA, said Cadillac was seeking a way to evolve its relationship with the fashion industry and together they came up with the Retail Lab as a way to support young brands and businesses.

CFDA already has its Fashion Incubator business development program as well as the Vogue Fashion Fund that supports emerging talent through mentorship. “Both are quite successful in developing young talent, and we didn’t want to duplicate those,” he said. “And this is also timely — as the wholesale model is shifting, a lot of brands are looking at their own direct-to-consumer approach.”

Cadillac will cover the costs associated with setting up the retail space and the grant can be used for wholesale production, sales support and marketing.

Cadillac’s Lee said the company will continue to be involved in NYFW: Men’s since it believes that category of business is a “burgeoning area for fashion” that needs the support of a large brand to bring it to life. She did not comment on whether the sponsorship would be extended to the women’s runway shows as well, saying only that the Retail Lab will be available to designers of both genders as well as accessories.

Kolb said Cadillac’s involvement in fashion “says a lot about American business and how it refuels itself, no pun intended, by giving back.”