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

designers in residence

2018 CFI group shot.jpg

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 current residency cycle ends march 2020.

applications for the 2020 cycle will open september 2019 and will be linked on this page. 




·    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

·     One on One meetings with Design, Marketing, Branding and Business Development Mentors

·     One on One meetings and group training and mentorship

·     Press and promotional opportunities

·     Professional Field trips

·     Group selling events

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

·     Discounted rates for skilled sample hand and pattern makers 



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:

·      Must 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



·      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. Complete an interview with a Chicago Fashion Incubator representative
3. Submit any requested supplemental materials
4. Receive an invite to interview for the Designer in Residence program with the Selection Committee
5. Submit the $100 application fee
6. Present your application and apparel samples + portfolio to the Selection Committee



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

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.