How to Apply for Chicago Fashion Incubator: Guest

Last month's post told you where you need to be as a designer to be part of CFI. Now it’s time to get involved and see if you have what it takes to be a Designer in Residence (DIR) for the Chicago Fashion Incubator at Macy’s on State Street (CFI).

So how do you apply? What are the steps you need to take to make sure all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed?

First let’s take a look at some of the basics.

1. CFI is an annual residency program for Chicago-based apparel designers beginning in March 2012.

2. CFI is accepting applications now through Tuesday, November 8, 2011.

3. You MUST be 21 years of age, reside in the Chicagoland area, and be an emerging designer. Not sure if you qualify? You’ll want to check out the application online and read the eligibility requirements.

Now let’s get to business. Visit and click “Apply to CFI” to download the 2012-2013 CFI application.

Here is a checklist of items you're required to submit to be considered. All of the below need to be turned in by no later than Tuesday, November 8 in both printed and electronic forms (with the exception of payment):

o Completed application

o Resume

o Images of a minimum of at least three (3) garments in a press kit, lookbook, line sheet or similar format.

o Two (2) letters of reference

o Non-refundable $75 application fee via mail or PayPal

The CFI Board of Directors review all applications submitted and will invite a maximum of 25 designers back to be interviewed. All applicants selected to continue in the application process will be expected to be available to participate in an in-person interview with the CFI review panel for approximately 30 minutes to be scheduled between Tuesday, November 29 and Tuesday, December 13. You must be prepared with at least three (but preferably more) samples that best define the collection you plan to launch while in residence at CFI. A total of six DIR will be chosen along with 12 Associate Designers (see the application online for more information about the AD program).

So what will you be judged on? You should have the ability to commit to CFI completely, utilizing all available resources, with the intent to launch your businesses as a full-time career in Chicago. You should have a strong vision for your collection and/or a great business concept. You will need to demonstrate the highest level of responsibility and dedication to both the program and your business. You will need to demonstrate a manageable level of financial ability to both fund your new businesses and pay the $250 monthly rent. You should have the ability to work well with others and have the desire and flexibility to engage in and be respectful of the program’s many collaborations.
I mentioned that you will need to provide samples of your collection. We look for designers that have a strong vision for their brands.

Examples of your work could be pieces that are in the planning stages for your Spring/Summer 2013 collection that you intend to design while at CFI or they could be custom pieces that you’ve created already along with sketches of what you intend to design for your new brand. Just remember, the designer that presents the most focus and strongest sense of what they would like to launch while at CFI will be judged the highest.

Do you have to be a registered business? No, we have workshops that can help you decide what type of business you would like to register to be and we can help you with the resources to register your small business. Do you have to have a business plan? No, we have workshops that will help you develop your business plan and marketing plan. Do you have to have a website? Not necessarily, but having a blog or a site that tells us more about your brand could be helpful. We will have branding workshops that will help you further develop your logo and brand identity.

Designers applying to the program always ask, “How much money do I actually need to launch my business?” The answer really depends on what type of apparel business you plan to launch and how you plan to distribute your line. Here’s the general rule of thumb that I tell emerging designers.

$5,000 – Is bare minimum amount that will allow you to launch a custom business.

$10,000 – Is a good amount to launch a custom line and is a bare minimum amount to launch a direct to consumer line.

$20,000 – Is a bare minimum amount to launch a wholesale line that you plan to sell to more than 5 stores.

If you have further questions about applying to the CFI for next year, please don’t hesitate to contact me at and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

Good luck!

Hand-loomed and sewn in Chicago, fashion designer Lara Miller’s work is strongly influenced by the city’s architectural and cultural landscape. Aside from her fashion-design business, Lara serves as the Executive Director of the Chicago Fashion Incubator (CFI) at Macy’s on State Street.

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