NEW YORK, United States — The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) is ending its Fashion Incubator programme — which offered ten young labels a low-cost studio space and business advice over two years — and expanding its mentorship opportunities to all CFDA members with digital platform “Network.”
Launching on April 19 on the CFDA website, Network will allow all members to ask business questions on anything from finance and legal issues to marketing and merchandising, as well as access to a resource database with photographers, showrooms and digital agencies that brands can hire. In addition to personalised support via assigned mentors, the programme will include panels, networking events and also a “pitch day” — formerly available at the Incubator — where designers presented their business plans to investors.
Kicking off Network is a Leadership Conference, whose topics of discussion include the very issues CFDA members are concerned with, such as “The Future of Merchandising,” “Venture Funds & Investing” and “Social Media as a Digital Marketplace.” “We realised all of the strong successes [of] the Fashion Incubator programme could be beneficial if we expanded and included the opportunity to all our CFDA members, not just the 10 selected designers,” said Lisa Smilor, executive vice president of the CFDA.
While the panel discussions and workshops will be open for all, Network will include an application process where designers can share their current business and future plans, and then be partnered with a mentor, most of whom are C-Suite executives at brands including Calvin Klein, Alexander Wang, Giorgio Armani, Urban Outfitters and Derek Lam. The goal is to have from 250 to 300 members with various levels of expertise, and to have no cap on the number of mentees receiving support.
The platform grew out of a 2017 survey to CFDA members, which revealed they require similar opportunities to those offered to buzzy up-and-coming designers, as well as mentorship and professional development. This comes on the back of wider industry challenges affecting every label, such as an ever-changing fashion calendar and a shift away from wholesale to direct-to-consumer.
“The timing of when people are showing collections, how people are showing collections — all of that adds to each brand wanting to stay relevant and needing to succeed in connecting to the consumer,” said Smilor. The industry disruptions not only affect new designers, but also established labels struggling with e-commerce or supply chains. “If we can’t help our members in fighting and developing and evolving, what are we doing?”