February 16, 2016
By Lauren Pinkston
Chicago Fashion Week has been cancelled, due to the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) decision to eliminate funds. Increased city debt has pressured DCASE to downsize, cutting many programs including Chicago Fashion Focus. This setback leaves local fashion professionals distraught about the future of the Chicago apparel industry.
“DCASE, like other city departments, was tasked with reducing its budget for 2016, with as little disruption as possible to the services we provide to the public,” said Jamey Lundblad, director of marketing and communications for DCASE.
Mayor Daley launched the Chicago Fashion Focus program in 2005 in order to embellish the local industry with an initiative that reflected a program adopted in NYC.
Tonya Gross, milliner and previous director of the Chicago Fashion Focus program, said, “The goal was to create an infrastructure, a network of industry professionals that have platforms to meet, collaborate and elevate the industry. Fashion Focus Chicago was the catalyst and convener.”
These cuts have drawn concern regarding the future of the Chicago fashion industry from many local professionals. It may seem especially troubling for recent and soon-to-be grads with fashion degrees studying in the Chicagoland area.
Tracy Jennings, director of the apparel department at Dominican, said, “The budget cut for Fashion Focus is a hard hit for young professionals because Fashion Focus helps them build the name and brand recognition they need when starting out.”
Although the elimination of funds for Fashion Focus has put a strain on the Chicago fashion industry, local professionals are not without options. According to Lundblad, DCASE will not be producing any fashion events in Chicago this year but they will continue to support the fashion scene through several other initiatives. They will continue to sponsor the city’s workforce development grant to the Apparel Industry Board, Inc. and the Lake FX Summit & Expo for creatives and entrepreneurs.
“This support is sometimes more symbolic than financial, but it is just as important in demonstrating that Chicago is welcoming of creative talent,” said Jennings. She also encourages students to take advantage of other, non-government funded, programs offered in Chicago.
“Students and young professionals can become involved in organizations like the Chicago Fashion Foundation,” said Jennings. “Part of its mission is to provide programs intended to keep fashion talent here.”
Gross is also working to expand development opportunities for fashion and design entrepreneurs in the Chicagoland area. She is working with senior industry stakeholders to create a plan to support the local industry and build a community of fashion professionals.
Gross expresses a concern for retaining talent and cultivating opportunities in the local market to keep talented young professionals in Chicago, in turn supplementing the local fashion industry.
“Your network of collaborators, co-conspirators, and future business partners might be sitting right next to you in class,” said Gross. “Establish your network now.”
In addition, both Lundblad and Gross encourage students to take advantage of the Lake FX Summit & Expo, which includes fashion-oriented workshops. This free conference will take place May 13-15 at the Chicago Cultural Center. For more information visit: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/lakefx.html/.