NEW YORK — There’s the CFDA, and there’s CFDA+, the latter an initiative to help identify top fashion graduates and connect them with American fashion houses.

This story first appeared in the December 18, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The program quietly launched on a domestic level last year, but this year, the Council of Fashion Designers of America added an international dimension by including colleges from around the globe.

The idea for CFDA+ was born in 2013, when the organization worked with Boston Consulting Group and identified four areas — fashion week, manufacturing, corporate partnerships and education — to focus on.

“Education was one that the board was particularly articulate about, wanting the CFDA to help identify top talent,” CFDA chief executive officer Steven Kolb said. “In creating CFDA+, it’s a bridge to the most employable graduates.”

Kolb compared this process to “prescreen or prefilter” before the actual hiring process, information to which CFDA members have exclusive access before the organization goes wide with it.

This year, the program began by including colleges beyond North America.

“We went international to attract talent to the United States, which is not to say there isn’t great talent at American schools,” Kolb noted. “But the world is global and for us, to be able to connect talent that wants to come to New York to American designers strengthens American fashion.”

The vetting process started at the CFDA, which worked directly with participating schools, including Parsons The New School for Design, Pratt Institute and San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, as well as London’s Royal College of Art, Manchester’s University of Salford and Shenkar College in Israel.

This was followed by another round of industry professionals — among them executives from houses such as Diane von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs and Alexander Wang — vetting the work, whittling the final list down to 71 graduates receiving CFDA+ status. Of those, 31 were from U.S. schools, while 40 were international.

The process is not just about the students’ portfolios. It also takes character, a fresh perspective on traditional codes and trend awareness into consideration, among other things.

The CFDA partnered with Arts Thread to showcase the work of CFDA+ designers on artsthread.com. CFDA members had exclusive access to this for 30 days before they were made available to other design companies earlier this month.

“The CFDA+ program was born from our designers’ need to hire the top talent in order to remain leaders in this industry,” CFDA president von Furstenberg said. “The global expansion of CFDA+ allows us to recognize an even-greater group of promising emerging professionals who have the diverse specializations and skill sets which are desired by the CFDA members.”

Douglas MacLennan, the design school director at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne in the U.K., noted: “In the current working climate, our graduates currently seek to work worldwide, rather than just nationally, and all interest shown in their work within increasingly competitive market forces is seen as a positive move for both the university and the graduates.”

Meg DeCubellis, apparel design department head at RISD in Providence, added that undergraduates and young designers “benefit from mentorship, scholarship support and networking opportunities that CFDA+ provides. Students are challenged to think on a professional level and are critiqued by industry professionals long before they are in the fast-paced world of fashion. Creating this safe environment to learn and grow enables RISD students the opportunity to explore and find their voice.”

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