What is Chicago fashion?
Lara Miller, formerly the Executive Director of the Chicago Fashion Incubator at Macy’s, also sits on The Mayor’s Fashion Council as the resources committee chair, helping to support and promote fashion designers working and living in Chicago through events, seminars, and city programs. Also a fashion designer, Lara started her career by selling a few of her pieces before she had even graduated college. With experience at Vogue fabrics for 2 years, she had also learned about textiles and what it truly meant to be sustainable.
Chicago’s fashion base
When Chicago became more fashion-based in the late 70’s and early 80’s with the subsequent founding of the Apparel Industry Board in 1987, many designers such as Caroline Rose discovered their fashion base in this city. The Apparel Industry Board was formed through Mara Hara Washington specifically to help designers with business resources, funding with the Richard Treehouse Purchase Order Loan program, and providing manuals and directories to the cities garment services.
After the recession hit in 1992, Chicago was rebuilding it’s fashion industry until the late 90’s to 2002 with small boutiques downtown while people were looking for more interesting pieces to sell.
How do you succeed in Chicago’s fashion industry?
During the summer of Lara’s senior year in college, she began to sell some of her pieces by sending out press releases as well as designing costumes for dance companies in Chicago. By the time she had graduated, Lara was shipping her clothing to 6 boutiques such as Cynthia Ashby. In 2005, Lara began to truly launch her business.
Born and raised in Chicago, Lara’s work is inspired by the cultural and architectural landscape that her hometown had to offer. She has built her brand with a sustainable cause while sculpting a sophisticated edge into her designs that have attracted an international acclaim as an Eco Domani semi-finalist, a “Top 40 Under 40” by Crain’s Chicago Business, and more.
She went on road trips to begin selling to New York, but Lara started seeing designers such as Orlando Espinosa and wondered what Chicago as a city could do to bring more jobs in fashion. She needed to know what the barriers were and how to keep a good design program here.
“We have world renowned design programs, but the designers aren’t staying,” stated Lara.
She wanted to figure out how to keep graduates in Chicago and how to help designers with cash flow issues. From then on, the Chicago entrepreneurial center started to get involved and grants were made specifically for marketing.
What makes the Chicago Fashion Incubator special?
“Incubators are such an interesting concept,” stated Lara. “So many people want to start incubators including San Francisco, North Carolina, Las Vegas, Hawaii, etc…”
**The New York incubator program filled with already-established designers.
“One thing is to help brand new emerging designers, because if they have a little bit of money and an idea, there’s a lot to learn,” explained Lara. She added on that it was more about getting the funding to make it bigger- not fighting to figure out funding.
As the Incubator launched in 2008, 3 years after the launch of Fashion Focus, Macy’s jumped in and wanted to start hosting. There were 6 designers and residents, 52 workshops working on the business of fashion. “The challenge was the marketing. No one really wanted wholesale,” stated Lara. “So many people are from Chicago or the Midwest and often go to New York and relocate, but now they are trying to figure out how to make what’s happening here great.”
The incubator is located on the 11th floor of Macy’s on State St. as a studio space. “Everybody produces here for the most part,” explains Lara.