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Council Of Fashion Designers CEO Steven Kolb Wants To Put Indianapolis On The Fashion Map

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at August 16, 2021

Paris, Milan, London, New York, Indianapolis? Council of Fashion Designers of America CEO Steven Kolb thinks the latter might just be the next big fashion capital and wants to level the playing field for fledgling talent. “You look at the people, and there’s a lack of representation,” he told me. “It’s because certain people don’t have the connections or the access. We’re going into cities and going into people’s backyards and nurturing talent that might not be seen on a bigger level.”

Pinch me. Is this the same CFDA that was slow to respond to concern over underage and underweight models, underrepresented groups such as African Americans and LGBTQ+ models on the runway? Kolb himself in 2018 said, “For an industry that changes so frequently, the fashion week business model really hadn’t changed for decades.”

The CFDA has, however, made inroads. In 2007 it formed a Health Initiative to address overwhelming concern over ultra-thin models and whether or not the industry should impose restrictions, in 2013 responded to the glaring omission of African American models on the runway, in 2017 addressed sexual harassment. The name of the Health Initiative wasn’t changed until 2018 to the Initiative for Health, Safety, and Diversity, reflecting those areas.

“As we looked at the change in the fashion industry, we felt it was important to look at various fashion weeks and fashion hubs and supporting talent in those regions,” said Kolb, ending decades of New York-centricity and affinity for Paris, Milan and London.

‘’It’s easy to focus on just New York and Los Angeles, but not everybody has the wherewithal to work there,” Kolb said. “Now, the idea is to bring the expertise, and position of the CFDA, and knowledge and relationships to bear in helping to nurture talent.’’

Kolb was speaking from Indiana when he said, “This is the first of hopefully a few trips I take connected to CFDA Connects,” referring to the programming network that supports regional fashion weeks and organizations. “I’m planning a trip next week to Arkansas. There’s a lot of talent out there.’’ Pinch me again.

Furthering the CFDA’s mission to strengthen the impact of American fashion in a global economy, CFDA Connects was created to skill-share and connect domestic markets and the pulse of the American and global fashion industries through CFDA resources, including professional and business development and education, trade events, supply chain and local manufacturing, and social impact and sustainability.

There’s a myth that “if you want to be a fashion designer, you must come to New York,” Kolb said. “You can definitely work and make it from any part of the world. The mission of the CFDA and Indiana is taking what we have in New York and helping people create their own communities, style and buzz.”

Rinat Brodach, who is judging with Kolb Indiana Fashion Week, said, “I’m going to be a part of a mentorship program in Arkansas. We’re bringing a piece of New York and the real industry. A lot of people have this perception, they think fashion is very glamorous with photo shoots all day. I’m actually sewing samples for the show to save money. It’s a lot of hard work, sweat, tears and laughter.

“I’m happy that I got to have some really amazing mentors,” Brodach said. “So many times it comes down to personal relationships. A big important lesson is that sharing is caring. Of course, you can’t really solve anything if there’s no talent. With these emerging designers in Indianapolis, its about creating and being in a community, having the mentorship and finding the best ways to do production and get lessons if you’re a business owner. Design is just 15 percent of it. I wish it were the whole day. Social media and marketing are the new things to consider.” 

Indiana Fashion Week president Michael Weston appreciates all the attention. “I want to put Indiana on the fashion map,” he said, adding, “IFW was by Denisha Ferguson, a native of Indianapolis, who started designing fashion at the age of 15. Starting with $250, she got 30 participants and six people in the audience, she began producing shows. In 2018, she was frustrated about limited resources and other challenges.” In 2019, IFW featured 100 models with 20 volunteers and 900 attendees. There were no runway shows in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Weston eventually met with Ferguson. “We went out to eat. I had an idea to bring resources to Indiana,” he said. ‘This is a good way to exhibit what a functioning fashion industry looks like. I was doing brand management. I was at the intersection of being born and raised in Indianapolis and working in New York.”

In June 2019, the first Indiana Fashion Week was held. “We were doing a number of events with runway shows,” Weston said. “We included some of our programming into IFW. We did a design challenge for youth, for example. Those are functioning programs now. Now, it’s its own signature event. This year, we are introducing a membership component, FashConnect.

“The talent is present it’s evident,” Weston said. “One of the things we’re in talks about is building out a certification program. So many different skill sets can be applied. There’s communications, certification through the [institution]. We’re heavily involved and connected to Ball State University. The majority of our interns come from Ball State and build out certifications.”

Weston said IFW works with Pattern, which focuses on the creative economy at large. “The manufacturing industry is huge in Indiana,” he said, adding that he’s also doing a Marketplace. “We’re doing education training from youth to all the way through. Imagine program with a paid internship and emerging designer incubator and entrepreneur in a fashion cohort.

“Yes, there is is a fashion community, but no infrastructure,” he added. “The state of Indiana is on the rise.” Asked if CFDA chairman Tom Ford will be attending IFW, Weston said, “We don’t have a relationship with Tom. We respect his role and as a designer. We’re looking to build relationships and Steven and Elliot [Carlyle, creative consultant to the CFDA] have been instrumental.”


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