By: Samantha Sanchez, Managing Editor
It’s no surprise to learn that many artists, fashion or otherwise, aren’t particularly knowledgeable about the business world. The Chicago Fashion Incubator (CFI), an initiative of the City of Chicago in collaboration with Macy’s on State Street, picks six designers a year to show them the ropes of fashion’s other element. Since its inception in 2008, the highly competitive residency program has accepted two Dominican graduates. Miriam Carlson ’09 just finished her one-year tenure with the program, and Concetta Cipriano ’07 is one of six new designers coming in for 2011. In addition, Erika Neumayer ’09 has been accepted in the CFI Associate Designer auxiliary program.
Carlson described the experience as an intensive program that feels like “four years of college” crammed into one year.
“You really go on a fast track and get a crash course on how to start on your business,” Carlson said. “You learn how to manage finances and how to make a fashion lookbook. You learn in all the right areas you need to be successful.”
The program is set up much like college courses. Designers-in-Residence are provided with workspace in the Macy’s on State Street building, curriculum and mentoring. Specifically, they have an office space with computers and software, a workshop room with production space, a resource section and a showroom. Designers also complete a required curriculum that includes workshops and seminars.
Carlson admits that she didn’t get much business training during her career at Dominican, but the university did provide her with a major skill that has benefited her career so far.
“Minoring in communications helped me enormously,” Carlson said. “When you run your own business there are so many elements. All of those classes taught me how to present myself to the public and how to talk to buyers articulately. That was definitely taught at Dominican and when I look back now, I think it’s great.”
Tracy Jennings, the chair of apparel design and merchandising at Dominican, is a big supporter of the CFI program because it offers designers a head start in understanding the industry and its resources. These kind of programs also provide resources for finding models and procuring materials.
Despite the prestige of the CFI program, the success of Carlson and Cipriano comes as no surprise to Jennings, who taught both of them during their undergraduate careers.
“Miriam and Concetta are both extremely driven and talented designers who work very hard for every opportunity,” Jennings said. “As students, they were passionate and focused, and they continue that ethic in their careers.”
Carlson’s determination and skill landed her a unique opportunity in February. She, along with eight other designers from Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, were chosen to design a gown to be worn by the Oscar escort during the Academy Awards. Carlson was nominated for this competition by someone at CFI. Unfortunately, she didn’t win but just participating brought international attention to her apparel line, miriam cecilia.
Carlson has just completed the CFI program and moved out of the space to welcome Cipriano and the five other designers. She is currently getting situated in her new showroom and studio on 1223 West Diversity Parkway in Lincoln Park. Carlson is both nervous and excited about the future and has now realized the importance of the CFI title.
“It is scary being off on my own and creating a space for people to come to,” Carlson said. “It really is an incubator. You grow, hatch and then you’re on your own to fly.”
Visit the designers’ websites for information on their apparel lines.
Miriam Cecilia Carlson: www.miriamceciliacarlson.com
Concetta Cipriano: www.cettinadesigns.com
Erika Neumayer: www.erikaneumayer.com