CFDA, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue Give Boost to Emerging Designers


The Council of Fashion Designers of America is working closely with key retailers to support the finalists of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and other emerging designers.

Nordstrom will host an in-store installation at their New York City flagship Wednesday, providing this year’s 10 finalists with exposure to the Nordstrom customer and the experience of working with a large-scale brick-and-mortar retailer. The installation will be revealed at a cocktail party that evening and situated on the second floor through Nov. 15. The retailer will also provide digital support and amplification opportunities through their channels.

Saks Fifth Avenue is supporting emerging designers and promoting eight new voices in fashion through their accelerator program, The New Wave. The designers are CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist LaQuan Smith and alumni Alejandra Alonso Rojas and Reese Cooper, as well as ASHYA, A.W.A.K.E. Mode, BruceGlen, Busayo and Kimberly Goldson. The program offers onboarding boot camp, mentorship and entrepreneurial workshops to gain skills and insights needed to scale their businesses at Saks and elsewhere. In addition, each brand is eligible to receive a $10,000 grant to support their business operations and growth, as well as dedicated marketing support from Saks.

This year’s 10 CVFF honorees are Batsheva Hay of Batsheva; Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta of Eckhaus Latta; Anifa Mvuemba of Hanifa; Rebecca Henry and Akua Shabaka of House of Aama; Kenneth Nicholson of Kenneth Nicholson; Jameel Mohammed of Khiry; LaQuan Smith of LaQuan Smith; Abrima Erwiah of Studio One Eighty Nine; Edvin Thompson of Theophilio, and Willy Chavarria of Willy Chavarria.

Unlike previous years, all 10 finalists of the CVFF have received $50,000 in grants, and mentorship based on their designated areas of need. Grants were previously reserved for the top three designers. The new approach is meant to signify how important it is to nurture and support the young American designer community.

“We realize the support of young brands as they recover from the pandemic is critical, and we wanted to share that,” said Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA. He noted that a big part of that is how they sell product at retail, and the designers are working with executives at Nordstrom and Saks one-on-one to better understand wholesale, direct to consumer, and how to merchandise the collection. “It’s super critical, moreso this year than in past years,” said Kolb.

He said many designers who have come through the program in the past have been featured on the floors at Saks and Nordstrom.

According to Sam Lobban, senior vice president of designer and new concepts at Nordstrom, “One of the things we’re talking through with the CFDA is a conversation around a more permanent or longer-term partnerships with different designers. What can we do to offer our platform quite quickly and give them a space whereby they can connect to an audience so the customers can find out a bit more about the brands and who they are as designers.”

Beyond the installation, Lobban said they are working with five of the 10 CVFF designers, carrying Eckhaus Lattta, Batsheva, Khiry, LaQuan Smith and Studio One Eight Nine. Most of them will be on, and fine jewelry brand Khiry will be carried in-store. Lobban noted that Nordstrom photographed some Smith pieces for their fall campaign, and one of the items is highlighted on Nordstrom’s SoHo billboard.

Lobban said he hopes to feature CVFF finalists every year.

Sam Lobban
courtesy shot.

As for why the installation is only up for a month and not for the entire season, he said: “This is one of our most trafficked times, we expect the store and the visibility to be strong,” he said. He said it will be like a museum where they will shine a spotlight on items (they aren’t showcasing the complete lines), and there will be iPads next to each look so that customers can find out more about the brands and designers.

Nordstrom, which is promoting the installation on social media, is giving the designers access to Nordstrom’s merchandising team, brand program team and accounting teams to talk through the nuances and structure of the tactical work that needs to go into scaling a business.

Kolb discussed the importance of having retailers be a strong component of the program: “Being able to be in the Nordstrom flagship in Manhattan is a great piece of real estate and is something that these designers, without Fashion Fund and without the support of Nordstrom, would take years to potentially find themselves there.”

Anna Irving, senior vice president, general merchandise manager, women’s designer for ready-to-wear at Saks Fifth Avenue, said they kicked off the accelerator program by putting together a list of exciting emerging brands, which were vetted by the Saks executive team. “We then identified the brands that we believed had significant growth potential, but required additional support in order to scale their businesses. While some of the brands have been around for quite some time, it was clear that they could benefit from access to our knowledge, resources and network. Overall, we felt that all of the brands chosen offered a new fashion perspective for our customers and presented great potential to scale.”

Anna Irving

Anna Irving
courtesy shot.

Irving also noted that, “It was incredibly important to us to highlight a diverse group of designers for this program. As part of our commitment to increasing representation in our merchandise assortment, we ensured that each year at least half of selected brands for the New Wave are owned” by people of color.

Some of the designers in the program are new to Saks and others have been carried before.

The yearlong program offers mentorship opportunities and bimonthly entrepreneurial workshops with industry leaders and partners like the CFDA, Launch Collective, NuOrder and others. “We also hold intimate roundtables with more established fashion designers to share their perspectives in growing a brand at Saks and beyond. Furthermore, what makes our accelerator program unique is that we are not only sharing resources and knowledge to help these brands scale their businesses, but we are also giving them the opportunity to grow through our investment in purchases.”

The program launched in April 2021 and runs through March 2022. In April 2022, Saks will reveal a new round of participating designers for the program’s second year.

Saks and Nordstrom support the CVFF program financially and are the main sponsors, along with Instagram and Vogue, but since the outset, mentorship has been a key part of the CVFF program, pairing designers with industry professionals who work with them to counsel, grow and refine their businesses.

Kolb said that while diversity has always been a priority within the program, “This is the most diverse group of talent we had. When we look at who the group of 10 is, we’re looking at it through the lens of talent. Who is doing something interesting, and is there a business we can support and help accelerate in terms of success? We’re proud to have a really strong mix of talent from diverse backgrounds,” said Kolb.

As for whether they plan to fund all 10 finalists next year, Kolb replied, “We want to get through this year first and evaluate how we move forward. We are very nimble and adaptive and flexible,” he said.

The CVFF sprung from another challenging economic time. Established in 2003 following the financial crisis from the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, CVFF has awarded more than $10 million in financial grants and mentorship support to more than 150 brands since its start. In 2020, CVFF was reimagined as A Common Thread and provided three rounds of financial relief to American designers, small retailers and domestic fashion manufacturers and their workforces affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s round of designers was selected by the 2021 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Selection Committee: Kolb; Lobban; Vogue’s Anna Wintour, Chioma Nnadi and Mark Holgate; designer Tom Ford; model and activist Paloma Elsesser; Saks Fifth Avenue’s Roopal Patel, and Brother Vellies’ Aurora James, who created the 15 Percent Pledge calling on major retailers to increase representation by dedicating at least 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses.



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