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Fashion Incubator: Where are They Now?

Minami Furukawa

If you’re already familiar with Macy’s on State Street’s Chicago Fashion Incubator, you know that it’s a hefty opportunity for “emerging” fashion designers of the area.  As part of the “Mayor’s Fashion Initiative”–the city’s attempt since 2006 to keep designers in Chicago by assisting them with resources and business partnerships–the program annually provides six Designers in Residence with workspace, mentoring, and education on fashion business and production, along with a required core curriculum of workshops and seminars for one year.

2009 Fashion Incubator

Ashley Zygmunt

Sounds like school, you say?  Maybe so.  But getting a whole year of resources and education for the price of 3 SAIC credit hours isn’t a bad deal (Incubator DIR’s pay $250/month to cover operating expenses).  During their residency, these artists enjoy their own office complete with computers and software, a showroom, and workshop rooms with a production space and resource section, not to mention exposure that probably wouldn’t come as easily without city officials and a historic department store backing you up.

Since its debut in March 2008, the program is on its third year, and with the new 2010 Incubator crew announced, we’d like to investigate the new artist-nurturing trend (Bravo’s Project Runway/Work of Art, anyone?), and explore just how fruitful this local experience has proved to be.

2008 DIRs Agga Raya and Lidia Wachowska are both currently involved in Toyota’s Creative Lounge collab project this year, involving four Chicago-based designers creating garments inspired by Toyota design, as well as a recent project designing garments for Japanese singer/actress Erina Mano. As part of the promotion, Toyota supplied the artists of Creative Lounge Chicago with a furnished 4000 square foot two-story studio and sewing equipment.

Agga Raya

Concurrently, Raya’s AGGA B. collection will be featured in the Gala & Awards Dinner on September 18, hosted by the Italian American Chamber of Commerce at the Palmer House. Wachowska (Evil Kitty) has been commissioned to create a dress constructed of OfficeMax supplies for the upcoming Glamorama 2010.

2008’s Kate Coxworth, Yana German, and 2009’s Jess Audey and Nora Del Busto have kept it local, with continued participation in local fashion events such as the Indie Designer Market and the Daley Plaza Sidewalk Sale, among other fashion and trunk shows. Coxworth received attention in 2008 for the launching of her line, Kate Boggiano, and the lucrative kateboggiano.com, featuring her basic, well-tailored blouses for women. Launched in 2006, German’s elegant, upscale YANA Collection continues to cater to women 25-55. Jess Audey continues to maintain her whimsical and romantic brand, AUDEY, donating a portion of each sale to the

Agga Raya Dress

international women’s charity Equality Now, which fights gender discrimination. Chicago Fashion Foundation’s Annual Scholarship Competition 2008 Grand Prize Winner, Nora Del Busto has shown often at the 900 Shops on Michigan Avenue, showcasing her 2010 collections.

Recent “graduate” designer Ashley Zygmunt of 2009’s Incubator, has opened a shop under label name Zamrie, and has had her tunics featured on local FOX and CBS news, but at this point, it seems a bit too early to judge the success of 2009’s Incubator Team. However, the city of Chicago boasts their achievements, writing that “Designers from the 2009 class are enjoying success through their experience at the CFI. Some of them have had their lines picked up by nationwide boutiques; enjoyed top tier media coverage; had their designs worn by celebrities; and participated in exclusive trunk shows.”