Arts & Entertainment

Fashion moves forward

The Philadelphia Fashion Incubator teaches more than just design to its designers-in-residence.

The Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, a program setup to mentor up-and-coming designers, has been making an impact on the industry, allowing the four designers-in-residence to receive the guidance they need in order to be successful.

With the Macy’s fashion show in conjunction with the Philadelphia Collection fast approaching, the designers participating in the program — designers-in-residence — at Macy’s Center City are showing what they have learned in the first half of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator program, which made its launch in March.

“We are committed to supporting emerging fashion designers in Philadelphia by giving [the designers-in-residence] resources and support, mentoring, business workshops, anything that can help them to further launch their businesses in Philadelphia,” Elissa Bloom, executive director of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, said.

Not only does the program help foster the creative talents of the designers accepted into the program, but it teaches the designers more than just the creative aspects.

Throughout the program, the designers are taught how to create and grow their brands. Through mentoring with local shop owners, fashion industry insiders and financial analysts, among others, they are learning to not only grow as designers, but also as entrepreneurs.

Philadelphia Fashion Incubator designer Kaitlyn Doherty, a graduate of Philadelphia University, shows off some of her fall collection. ( ABI REIMOLD / TTN )

In the six months since the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator program began, the designers — Autumn Kietponglert, Kaitlyn Doherty, Melissa D’ Agostino and the self-taught duo of Latifat Obajinmi and Moriamo Johnson — have met industry insiders who have inspired and assisted them to continue with their creative visions, as well as learn the business side of the industry in order to successfully foster their own brands.

“We went up to New York to speak to Fern Mallis, who is the founder of New York Fashion Week and she was the head of the Council of Fashion Designers of America for over 10 years,” Kietponglert, designer of Heartless Revival, said. “That was sort of a landmark. Just to have someone who is such a powerful and influential woman in her industry made a huge impact.”

Aside from Mallis, the designers have been introduced to other industry experts including Jamie Ross of The Doneger Group, a trend forecasting company in New York City.

The designers also have been working with Wharton MBA students and partnering with NextFab studio in Philadelphia.

In addition to the industry experts whose workshops these designers attend, the designers have access to mentors within the Philadelphia area who have been specially assigned to them.

“Just to have someone so successful and so involved in fashion in Philadelphia, even someone who’s known not just in Philadelphia, but worldwide, behind us, definitely gives you a different boost of confidence about what you’re doing,” Obajinmi said.  “I feel like the caliber of people brought in here is amazing and it’s just mind blowing that these people would take time out of their busy schedules to sit down and talk to us, evaluate us, give us ideas and push us forward.”

Each designer is partnered with an industry insider in Philadelphia. The mentors to the designers-in-residence include Sarah Van Aken of Sa Va, Joan Shepp, Mary Dougherty of Nicole Miller, as well as designer and Philadelphia University professor Danny Noble.

Autumn Kietponglert of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator Program continues construction on a piece. ( ABI REIMOLD / TTN )

Much of the program is based upon the sponsorship and partnership with local colleges, including Drexel University, Philadelphia University and Moore College of Art and Design.

Three of the designers for the present class of Philadelphia Fashion Incubator are from the three universities. The last participants, a duo of designers, Obajinmi and Johnson, were chosen through the open call process and had no formal design training before starting this program.

Not only did they never have formal design training, but both went to college for unrelated majors. Johnson majored in chemistry and Obajinmi majored in human relations.

“For us, definitely having the other designers here [and] being able to learn from them is very positive,” Johnson said. “The program itself has really, really helped us business-wise and it’s given us a clear picture of where we are and where we’re aspiring to go.”

The Philadelphia Fashion Incubator has given these young designers more direction and opportunities than they had ever imagined, they said, and with only half a year of the program passed, they have many more opportunities to come.

“I definitely feel that I’ve grown a lot, I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time,” Doherty, designer of Kaitlyn Elizabeth, said. “Even in the six months since I’ve been here I can see that.”

Taylor Farnsworth can be reached at

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