Providing six emerging chicago-based designers in residence with the resources, business acumen, and mentoring to launch their careers in fashion.

designer in residence

2014 15 DIRs full shot.jpeg

The CFI uses innovative solutions to mentor and promote fashion entrepreneurs by bridging the gap between design education and business enterprise. It provides design and business development training to Chicago’s fashion entrepreneurs through mentorship, workshops and seminars. Its Designer-in-Residence (DIR) program mentors six business start-ups at a time for 2 years providing each with work and office space equipped with the technology and production equipment to design, make, and market their products to the trade and the end consumer.

The mentorship and support comes from (1) design experts who provide creative direction for developing full seasonal product collections; (2) technicians that teach modern methods for making and grading patterns, producing samples, and managing production; and (3) business professionals for legal, financial, and marketing acumen that give the emerging entrepreneurs the know-how and confidence to critically-think through the challenges of launching a business.

The CFI was one of the earliest incubators in the country and is still among a handful of such organizations dedicated to the development of fashion entrepreneurs. The CFI has trained and supported over 50 designers through its Designer-In-Residence (DIR) program and our DIR have received numerous awards for their talent and innovation. Most recently, DIR have received recognition through Fashion Group International’s Rising Star award and on reality television show Project Runway.

The 2017 residency cycle begins in March and ends February 2019. The application for the 2018 cycle will open september 2017 and will be linked on this page. free information sessions related to the 2018 application will be held at the Cfi oct-NOV 2017. 


The 2018 – 2020 Designer in Residence Application is Now Open!

CHICAGO, September 12, 2017 -- The Chicago Fashion Incubator is seeking qualified applicants for its 2018-2020 Designer in Residence Program. This is a highly competitive two-year program that provides apparel designers the opportunity to grow their fashion business through design, branding, and business mentorship. This residency session will run from March 1, 2018 to February 21, 2020 and provides designers with direct access to mentors, a sample room with industrial sewing equipment, and office and meeting space.


·      Start-up fashion entrepreneurs  

·      Mid-career fashion designers interested in developing new apparel categories

·      Established fashion businesses exploring new business channels



·      the use of a design and production studio, meeting spaces

·      office space with Apple computer, Microsoft Office Suite, scanner/printer, and dedicated phone line 

·      access to CFI’s Richard H. Driehaus Entrepreneurial Center with industry resource materials, publications, meeting space, hardware, and software

·      1/1 meetings with Design, Marketing, Branding and Business Development Mentors

·      1/1 and group training and mentorship

·      press and promotional opportunities

·      field trips

·      group selling events

·      two model fittings per season (Fall/Winter, Spring/Summer)

·      discounted rates for skilled sample hand and pattern makers 



The 2018-2020 fee for the Designer in Residence program is $400/ month.



Applicants seeking consideration for entry to the DIR program at the Chicago Fashion Incubator must submit a FULLY COMPLETED application along with supporting materials as detailed in this online survey, pay a non-refundable $100.00 application fee, and meet all of the following criteria:

·      be 21 years of age or older by the application deadline date

·      established a main residence in the Greater Chicago area before March 1, 2018 

·      hold a City of Chicago business license or an application in process

·      able to commit to the CFI DIR program including a minimum of 30 hours in the studio during Monday - Friday business hours

·      attend scheduled 1/1 mentor sessions, seminars, and CFI media events, info sessions, and programs 

·      hold a Bachelor's degree in a fashion or fashion-related field is strongly preferred but not required

Applicants with work experience in highly entrepreneurial, customer order fulfillment, and/or service-focused industries are also strongly preferred.



·      enrolled in an academic institution as either a full- or part-time student

·      primary product is not apparel or accessories. We are not accepting designers whose primary product is jewelry or shoes at this time.

·      your business is established outside of the City of Chicago and/or you do not have a license to do business in the City of Chicago by the application deadline date (you can be incorporated in another US city or state but you MUST have a license to do business in the City of Chicago)

·      a current employee of the Macy's on State Street store

·      currently employed full-time in a position that requires you to work Monday through Friday, 9am - 5pm

The Chicago Fashion Incubator is unable to sponsor a visa to participate in the Designer in Residence program.


1. Fill out all applicable questions in this electronic application and submit by the deadline
2. Schedule and attend one of the free information sessions prior to the November 17 application deadline (listed below.) SIGN UP FOR AN INFORMATION SESSION to learn more about the DIR Program. You will be asked to enter the date of your Information Session in the Application.
3. Complete an interview with a Chicago Fashion Incubator representative
4. Submit any requested supplemental materials
5. Receive an invite to interview for the Designer in Residence program with the Selection Committee
6. Submit the $100 application fee
7. Present your application and apparel samples + portfolio to the Selection Committee



September 13, 12:01am CT -- Application Opens

October 3, 5:30-6:30pm -- Information Session

October 5, 12:00-1:00pm -- Information Session

October 17, 5:30-6:30pm -- Information Session

October 19, 12:00-1:00pm -- Information Session

November 2, 12:00-1:00pm -- Information Session

November 14, 5:30-6:30pm -- Information Session

November 16, 12:00-1:00pm -- Information Session

November 17, 11:45pm CT -- Application Closes

November 27 - December 16 -- Applicant interviews with CFI team

December 18 - 21 -- Invitations sent to Applicants to present to the Chicago Fashion Incubator Selection Committee in January 2018 

December 22 - January 1 -- Chicago Fashion Incubator offices closed

January 5 (2018) - $100 Application fee is due

January 12-13* -- Applicants Present Sample/Portfolio Presentation to the Selection Committee 

*to be confirmed

SIGN UP FOR AN INFORMATION SESSION. You will be asked to enter the date of your Information Session in the Application.



The Chicago Fashion Incubator assembles a Selection Committee comprised of its Board of Directors, staff, former Designers in Residence (DIR,) and industry professionals to review applications and select the DIR. Applicants are evaluated on the following:

·      demonstrates a commitment to practice

·      a depth of knowledge, clarity of vision and direction of products and collection, and strength of business concept

·      professional preparedness including the time and financial resources available to be committed to developing your collection* and business within the first 12 months of the DIR program

·      the ability to fund product development, sample production, and business overhead, including the monthly fee

·      personal readiness to fully engage in a collaborative work and learning environment, requiring individual initiative and motivation

·      the ability to multi-task in a fast-paced program with strict deadlines

·      high level of emotional maturity to accept and utilize critical and constructive feedback

·      an interpersonal skill set that will allow for mutual respect and cooperation with cohorts, mentors, and CFI team

·      fiscal responsibility with an ability to manage every aspect of operating a business

*Previous Designers in Residence were prepared for a minimum budget of $5000 per collection, per season


The DIR application is open September 13, 2017 and closes November 17, 2017, 11:45pm CT.

Attending an information is required of the DIR Program Application this year.  SIGN UP FOR AN INFORMATION SESSION. You will be asked to enter the date of your Information Session in the Application.

Are you ready to apply?

 Questions? Email us:


Thank you for your interest in the Designer in Residence Program!



The Chicago Fashion Incubator is an established 501(c)3 formed to support the business of fashion in Chicago through a two-year Designer in Residence (DIR) program as well as free and low-cost public workshops and networking events. Its mission is to make meaningful economic impact in Chicago by giving fashion designers technical product development and business tools and training to create innovative products and launch globally competitive businesses based in Chicago.


Public Programs

The core communities served by CFI are fashion designers and aspiring entrepreneurs. In addition to its residency and mentoring program, the CFI hosts public workshops and seminars on topics aimed to educating fashion designers and entrepreneurs on industry and business best practices. It collaborates with design schools on service projects, and its designers engage about 15 interns per year. Additionally, the CFI holds informational meetings and tours with high schools, colleges and private organizations interested in learning about the opportunities to launch a fashion business in Chicago. Email us to schedule a group tour. A small donation is requested for groups of 5 or more.