who sort of know who their customers are and who are trying
to grow their companies,” Moran says. To ascertain a good fit,
the CEC has a survey that interested designers are required to
fill out. “If we can help them, we will. It’s not really a formal
selective process, just a matter of good fit. However, even if
we determine they are not a good fit, we provide resources or
are able to point them in the right direction,” Moran says.
“The Stitches program is an unique resource blending entrepreneurial and financial advice and information for fashion
designers. It provides invaluable tools for designers to gain practical information about their businesses, network and locate
other resources in the Chicago industry,” says Melissa Gamble,
director of fashion arts and events for the City of Chicago’s
Department of Cultural Affairs.
For start-up entrepreneurs, educational seminars are held
throughout the year on a variety of topic areas, including legal
advice for fashion entrepreneurs, sales representatives and showrooms, financing a fashion business and more. Mentoring is
conducted through workshops at the CEC. The mentoring sessions are by invitation-only, as the CEC staff chooses clients
whom they feel would benefit from a one-time, face-to-face,
mentoring session. The entrepreneur is matched up with experts
based on a particular need. One example is the designer-buyer
match-up session: Emerging designers are paired with local
retailers to offer general business guidance. The designers can
also practice and develop a solid sales pitch to the buyers.
The Stitches program is an unique
resource blending entrepreneurial and financial advice and
information for fashion designers.”
“Chicago’s creative industry is fueled by innovation and
this innovation is having a lasting impact on the area,” says
Karen Lennon, director and founder of SomerCor 504 and
mentor to clients of the Stitches program. “Entrepreneurship
in the creative industries is vital to the region.”
For high-growth entrepreneurs, one-on-one consulting has
proven to be the most impactful. The CEC meets one-on-one
with emerging fashion designers and boutique owners to assist
them with financing, business strategies and public relations/
marketing. In fact, over the past few years, the CEC has provided counsel to more than 150 fashion entrepreneurs.
The CEC also created and hosts Special Interest Groups
(SIGs) with the goal of providing top clients yearlong professional
development and peer-to-peer mentoring. Each SIG is a series
of four sessions, with each session focusing on a specific business issue. The SIG group consists of three entrepreneurs facing similar issues. In each session, entrepreneurs are matched
with two to three experts chosen based on the topic of that
“In my most recent special interest group, the CEC brought
in a sales expert,” says Sophia Reyes. “They discussed what to
look for in a salesperson, since many designers are looking for
independent sales reps and sources to increase sales growth. It
was really helpful.”
Finally, Stitches provides valuable consumer outreach,
which means gathering consumers interested in fashion
together with the entrepreneurs and other industry professionals. This is accomplished through face-to-face gatherings and
the Stitches’ fashion blog. The blog is written by the CEC staff
and offers consumers and industry professionals a daily dose
of industry happenings, focusing primarily on Chicagoland.
From a calendar of Chicago fashion events to updates on specific designers’ lines, the blog informs, educates and offers
another means for entrepreneurs to network.
Miller believes that the interaction the CEC provides
through Stitches has strengthened the Chicago fashion industry. By collaborating on unique style shows like the one Lyn
Burgess attended to gaining exposure in a variety of media
outlets, Miller and many other designers have enhanced and
elevated the skills necessary to succeed in the industry.
“There has always been design and fashion in Chicago, but
there has never been this type of outreach and community,”
Miller says. “We know each other, learn from one another and
support one another. One person’s success means another person’s success. And, I’d say, it’s thanks to Stitches.”
Suzi Wirtz, CAE, is a freelance writer and also serves as director of marketing for
The Learning Studio, Inc. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE OCTOBER 2009 SIGNATURE STORY features the Institute of Real
Estate Management and its cutting-edge IREMFIRST knowledge center. This innovative and interactive Web site offers both IREM members and nonmembers the tools
they need to do their jobs in the real estate management industry, as well as community
forums, a library of articles on hundreds of topics and much more. IREM is a 5 01 (c)( 6)
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information, visit www.irem.org.