Past the tables laden with Corner Bakery coffee, bagels and muffins stand a group of young women, all stylishly dressed, listening to a thin woman in all black. She's coaching them on answering journalists' questions. These are the six new designers-in-residence at the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator at Macy's Center City Philadelphia. They're supposed to say, "Ask me in six months," when a journalist asks what they think of the program.
Yesterday morning, in a dark wood-paneled room on the third floor of Macy's, families, friends and media gathered to watch the second class of designers graduate and to initiate the six new designers. The Philadelphia Fashion Incubator is an initiative, modelled after a similar program in Chicago, launched in March 2012 that Executive Director Elissa Bloom describes as an MBA in business for fashion designers.
"This program has been charmed from the very beginning," said Michelle Shannon, vice president of marketing and communications for Center City District, which has been involved since the planning stages of the Incubator. "There was nothing really to rally the [Philadelphia fashion] community together. I think the Incubator and our Executive Director Elissa Bloom have done just that."
The graduating class of designers did a business boot camp, where they participated in 15 workshops in five days, developed business plans, got coaching through Wharton's Small Business Development Center and experienced selling and showcasing their work through an 8-week exhibit at City Hall. They've met industry leaders including designer Francisco Costa and Fern Mallis, who founded New York City's Fashion Week.
"You're going to be hearing about the success of our young designers," said Ed J. Goldberg, senior vice president of government and consumer affairs for Macy's, at the announcement.
Leah Delfiner, designer of Pretty Pretty Rebel has refocused on children's wear, a necessary move she figured out while a student in the Incubator program's second class. "I feel like I've always made children's wear but for adults," she said. "I couldn't have done anything without this program. It's where I figured out that my customer isn't 24, she's 4."
Her classmates are all moving on to exciting things. Melissa Choi & Pia Panaligan of Senpai + Kohai are in talks to join US*U.S. and are raising funds on Kickstarter. Trisha Williams is launching her collection, Trisha Will. Devin Pauley of Morgia Bridal will be an in-house custom bridal designer at Huntingdon Valley's YES to the DRESS boutique. Annina King of Granate Pret is booking her fall trunk shows at Knit Wit in Bryn Mawr.
The third class of designers-in-residence include three graduates of the program's academic partners (Drexel University, Moore College of Art & Design and Philadelphia University) and three "open call" designers who have been working independently or graduated from other schools.
"When Michelle Shannon and Elissa Bloom were talking, it really hit me that I'm excited for this next step in my business development," said Gabrielle Mandel, the woman's ready-to-wear designer behind Supra Endura and an open-call designer-in-residence for the 2014 class.
The third class of designers-in-residence includes: Jovan O'Connor, a women's ready-to-wear designer from Philadelphia University; Rebeca Imperiano, a women's ready-to-wear designer who attended Drexel University; Victoria Wright, women's wear designer from Moore College of Art and Design; Sherrill Mosee, the handbag designer behind MinkeeBlue; and, Terese Brown, women's ready-to-wear designer behind Terese Sydonna.
"I, overall, was really impressed with the breadth of exposure they get. They really are getting soup-to-nuts business education," said Sara Ann Kelly, owner of SAK Public Relations, who attended the program's announcement. "They're a program to be reckoned with within the fashion world that just so happens to be in Philadelphia".