Chicago Fashion Incubator, photo shoot in the middle of State Street / Photo: Jennee Johnson, 2021

There is often some consternation in the words of those who describe the local fashion scene in Chicago, but luckily there is hope, thanks in large part to the Chicago Fashion Incubator (CFI), a non-profit organization dedicated to mentoring local designers with a business and a vision. Executive Director Anna Hovet Dias explain how they do it.

Chicago Fashion Incubator, photo shoot in the middle of State Street / Photo: Jennee Johnson, 2021

OWhat is happening at the CFI?

We have six designers in residence who are expanding their existing fashion lines or preparing to launch their business. Our fall program is all about exploring and making new connections, filled with field trips to local museums and makers. Designers create samples for spring-summer 2023 collections and prepare for holiday sales.

What are the highlights of the CFI’s history?

In 2017, CFI launched the Driehaus Entrepreneurial Center, thanks to generous funding from the Driehaus Design Initiative. The Driehaus Entrepreneurial Center is a resource center that provides Chicago-based apparel and accessories designers with educational tools, research assets, and programs that will help grow and develop their fashion business. We have many success stories from our designers: CFI graduate Shavonne Dorsey sells her clothes on HSN. Alissa Bertrand, a CFI graduate, was featured in Vogue’s “The United States of Fashion” book. Several CFI designers have been featured on “Project Runway”, including Rakan Shams Aldeen, Kahindo Mateene and Katelyn Pankoke.

Chicago Fashion Incubator, photo shoot in the middle of State Street / Photo: Jennee Johnson, 2021

What are some of your upcoming events?

In December, CFI partners with the local chapter of Fashion Group International to host a behind-the-scenes tour of Macy’s window displays and a social hour at CFI. Current designer-in-residence Pam Kendall is curating a pop-up shop called cloth + home in Evanston for the holidays that open November 10.

What does the CFI offer its designers in residence?

CFI offers designers in residence access to training, mentors, manufacturers and physical space to help them launch or develop their fashion lines. Our current designers in residence and former designers are continually involved in shopping events, fashion shows and other community events, which we promote through our social media channels. Local fashion designer Jamie Hayes, designer of Production Mode, recently joined the program as a design mentor. She meets designers one-on-one to help them navigate the design process and think about selling points.

Chicago Fashion Incubator, photo shoot in the middle of State Street / Photo: Jennee Johnson, 2021

How can local designers take advantage of CFI’s offer?

We occasionally hold public events and panels, but we focus on our small group of designers in residence. Local designers can apply to our program at any time through our website. We bring in new designers every quarter. Applications are open for a start date of January 1, 2023. Designers must have an established fashion business for at least one year and neither current fashion design students nor wholesalers are eligible. Designers must have proof of sale and a clear vision of the brand.