Mayor Nutter announced the birth Tuesday of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator at Macy's in Center City, a collaborative effort of the city, the department store, and the Center City District to nurture young designers.
The city hopes the yearlong program, housed in 600 square feet of studio and office space in a former gift-wrap room, will jump-start the careers of local designers.
The program has no stipend, but in addition to having space, the designers will go through seminars and workshops, including ones on business skills such as how to make patterns, create advertising materials, and write a business plan.
After they complete the program, the backers hope, the designers will build fashion companies in Philadelphia.
"In addition to fostering Philadelphia's creative class, we believe the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator will promote Center City's economic development, in particular through expansion of Chestnut Street East," Nutter said Tuesday afternoon at Macy's to about 75 Philadelphia fashion professors and people in the industry.
"We see the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator as a catalyst for this change," he said.
The resulting high-fashion energy, Nutter said, will help Philadelphia earn its own place on the style map and lead to high-end luxury stores' opening in the city. In other words, Philadelphia native Tory Burch might one day opt for a Chestnut Street location to complement her King of Prussia store.
Modeled after the reality show Project Runway, fashion incubators offer fledgling designers the support and mentoring they might not be able to get on their own.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America, a New York-based nonprofit that represents the country's top designers, launched a two-year fashion incubator in 2010. The program, which is underwritten by Target Corp., helped the designers Prabul Gurung and Alice Ritter launch their careers.
The Philadelphia incubator is the second for Macy's: the first, on State Street in Chicago, opened in spring 2007. That version houses six designers a year. Many of the alums have gone on to dress celebrities and open their own boutiques, said the director of the Chicago program, Lara Miller.
In 2009, several Philadelphia city representatives visited the Chicago site. The city and the Center City District decided they wanted to launch their own fashion incubator to stimulate the fashion economy and pull high-end retailers like Gucci or Prada to Center City.
Macy's, which wants to open incubators in every major city in the country, was an obvious partner. (It will open its third incubator on Union Square in San Francisco in 2012.) The city this year hired Elissa Bloom, a former New York City accessories designer, as the program's director.
To keep the incubator running, between $80,000 to $140,000 a year for operating costs is needed, said Michelle Shannon, vice president of marketing and communications for the district. The city has donated about $10,000 of that, according to Melanie Johnson of the Office of the City Representative.
Macy's donated the space and some equipment from the store's defunct tailoring departments. The designers will have access to four sewing machines, sergers (for finishing hems and seams), design tables, storage space, and sewing notions like thread and bobbins.
The first class of designers-in-residence will be chosen by a board of six local fashion insiders, including designers Danny Noble and Sarah Van Aken. Three of the fashion entrepreneurs will be alumni from Moore College of Art, Philadelphia University, and Drexel University. The fourth will be an independent candidate. The winning designers will be announced at the end of February.
All candidates should have a business plan and at least one year of fashion industry experience.
Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @ewellingtonphl on Twitter.