9 Up-&-Coming Designers On What "Making It" Might Feel Like

Photo: Courtesy of CFDA.
In case you're unfamiliar with the CFDA Incubator Program, it breeds some serious design talent. Names like Prabal Gurung, Public School, Proenza Schouler, and Alexander Wang have become household names — and they all have one thing in common: they're graduates of the intensive, two-year experience that helps them refine their skills and learn how to run a business.

The latest wave of budding designers (10 in total) have just started their journey with a kick-off event held at the W Punta de Mita in Mexico. There, they received the 411 on the mentorship and support they'll receive, how they'll be able to travel the world for creative inspiration and introduce their brands to new markets (W Hotels is the official partner for the CFDA incubator), and worked out just how they're going to "make it big." While starting a business (especially in the fashion industry) is never easy, the young talent ahead all have "it." Click through to learn more about 9 of the labels (the 10th talked to us here) and what they think success will really feel like.
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Photo: Courtesy of CFDA.
Tim & Dan Joo, Haerfest

How would you describe your brand?
Dan Joo:
"I think it’s understood, in context, how to create a statement piece and a lifestyle piece. My friends that are women who carry this one, it’s their everyday. They are carrying this to work. They are carrying this to their friend's house. But when they are going out or trying to make a statement, they choose their Prada or Mansur Gavriel. In that case, that speaks a different message. It talks a little bit more about who you are and what you are trying to embody."

Tim Joo: "The way we have always communicated the brand has been through the product and I think that that worked for us. But at the same time, some people didn’t understand the personality behind it. So, with our women’s launch, we really want to achieve and try to create a story and something that engages with our female customer."

Dan: "This is not fashion. We are looking for real people to wear our stuff. How did you describe it before, Tim? Not about being sexy or high-fashion, but something more in reach and talking about the professional woman."

Tim: "We try to design with functional details. Trying not to make anything gimmicky, but trying to incorporate these functional design details. We want to have a design with a purpose."

In 10 or 20 years, what's one thing that would make you feel like you really "made it?"
Tim: "This may not seem as big of a dream, but we would love to see the woman who buys our product give her daughter, or whoever, the bag and pass it down. For it to still be long-lasting and classic. It shows something."
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Photo: Courtesy of CFDA.
Charles Youssef

Tell me about your design journey.
"I went to Parsons. Then, I worked at Ralph Lauren for four years. At 24, I was a full designer there, which was pretty fast. I decided around 27 that I was ready for a change, so I left to do my master's at Central Saint Martins. I showed a collection at Fashion Week, which Lady Gaga bought and wore. She was wearing my origami clothes on the day she drew [on] her Birkin with a Sharpie on her way to Tokyo.

"At the time, Nicola Formichetti was her stylist. He emailed me from a Hotmail account and the subject said: ‘Lady Gaga wants your clothes.’ I was so close to deleting it, because I just assumed it was spam. Then, I was like, Well, maybe this is real..., and it ended up that it was. She wore my clothes and returned them, but then they emailed and said, ‘Actually, she wants to buy them because she wants them back.’ Normally, I would gift them, but that was really amazing.

"Then, Gareth Pugh emailed me (also from a Hotmail account) and hired me; I worked for him for a year and a half. It was pretty cool, but it was also pretty intense. We would to sleep on the couches of the studio. Every second, we would be living and breathing the brand. At the end, though, it was really exhausting. London is a different mentality. We are so used to spending and having everything accessible. In London they are so conservative."

In 10 or 20 years, what's one thing that would make you feel like you really "made it?"
"Having a space in Bergdorf Goodman; having my own store on Madison Avenue; being a mentor or member of the CFDA; having a relationship with Anna Wintour, where she is supportive. That would say to me, ‘Yeah, I made it.'"
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Photo: Courtesy of CFDA.
Ji Oh

What would you say is at the core of your brand?
"My collection is really about the cuts and shirtings. It’s kind of location-less and boundary-less — you can wear it anywhere! Men don’t really have to go home and change. I love that mentality. Dressing up is fun, but sometimes, women look like they try too hard and that’s not pretty. Men just come and go, and they look nice if the cut is right. That’s what I’m about. It’s not perfect yet, but I’m trying to get there. I love nice pants and nice shirts, but you don’t have to be dressy to still look awesome."

In 10 or 20 years, what's one thing that would make you feel like you really "made it?"
"If I could launch another line, like men’s loungewear. I am so into loungewear. You have to be really successful to launch another line or you have to be an amazing billionaire [Laughs]. Once I have that, I’ll be like, 'Yes, this is good!' Also, when the company runs by itself or the moment I buy myself an awesome loft, I’ll think, Yes, I am successful!"
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Photo: Courtesy of CFDA.
Thaddeus O'Neil

When did this all begin?
"We started about three-and-a-half years ago and we just finished our seventh collection for spring 2017. We manufacture in New York and Los Angeles and use mostly Italian and Japanese fabrics. It’s elevated casual wear. My first customer ever was a woman, when I had a rack of clothes in my apartment at the end of my bed. She is now a friend of mine, Julie. She’s a producer in fashion. She came and spent $150 in cash, bought a few bottoms and a few tops, and she looks amazing in them. From that day forward, I thought, This collection is really for men and women. I bring that up because I’m going back to that. For now, I’m going to stay away from dresses and womenswear and it’s going to be what it has always been: playwear for everybody."

In 10 or 20 years, what's one thing that would make you feel like you really "made it?"
"My dream is to one day verticalize my business and reopen factories. I come from Bellport, Long Island, but the town next to me had a very small industrial part of town and there was a lace factory. I’ve heard from the old-timers, 'Yeah, you knew what color they were dyeing the lace that day because the rivers were running red or blue.' I don’t want to go back to that [Laughs], but I really like the idea of nourishing a community of artisans and give people jobs that are really amazing; make it an all-encompassing world and experience for the people that work there, not just the factory. That’s a big dream. I’ll feel like I’ve made it if I can make that happen. Making people happy, making them feel creative, and make them feel they’re part of something bigger."
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Photo: Courtesy of CFDA.
Jason & Julie Alkire, Haus Alkire

Have you found it difficult to break into luxury in a time when people are obsessed with fast fashion?

Jason Alkire: "We have a very classic approach to how we construct the garments. They are going to last for a long time."

Julie Alkire: "Our clothes are made in New York and our custom fabrics are mostly made in Japan. There’s a lot of technical stuff. Jason is a photographer and a painter, but he manipulates them. We do a lot of black basics, too, but there’s always something interesting. It reaches an audience that might not go all there, but chances are, they’re going to wear it with jeans."

In 10 or 20 years, what's one thing that would make you feel like you really "made it?"
Julie: "We are probably the wrong people to ask that!" [Laughs]

Jason: "In 10? I hope to have a couple of Vogue covers, maybe a few retail stores around the world."

Julie: "We need to get the Kumbaya moment again, where everyone loves fashion and what they do. Sometimes, now we walk into markets or Fashion Week and by day two, everybody is exhausted. When you think about that, there’s something wrong with that feeling. We all got into this because we love it, right?"
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Photo: Courtesy of CFDA.
Daniel Dugoff, DDUGOFF

How did you get your start? When did you decide to launch your own line?
"I launched DDUGOFF for fall 2014. I started working on it in the beginning of 2013, while I was working at Marc Jacobs. I was technical designer there; I called the fitting and domestic sampling for Marc by Marc Men's. It was a great experience, because I did an architecture undergrad and I had a design background, but I didn't have specific fashion knowledge. Basically, this was going to fashion school by working at LVMH and having access to the best factories in the world.

"At the end of the day, it's a very fit-focused collection. It’s about key pieces that aren’t too tight, aren’t too big. It’s not an editorial fit. The way I get away with the crazy stuff is that I’ll add is a crazy color in a print, or I’ll do an interesting knit. It’s always easy to wear, though, because the brand is for a guy that appreciates design and well-made clothing, but wants to be able to wear this in his normal life. He wants to wear it for work, and he doesn't want his friends making fun of him because he’s a 'crazy fashion guy.'"

In 10 or 20 years, what's one thing that would make you feel like you really "made it?"
"The thing I am really excited about is to start really building a staff of other designers and people that want to work on creating products from start to finish. Right now, it’s just me.

"To start having people that are involved in the process, not in just a salesperson's role. That would be very exciting to have a self-operating design studio at some point. I try not to be delusional about being Giorgio Armani on a yacht with a million stores around the world. That’s not the lifestyle I want.

"It would be cool to design another company. I’m totally open to that type of thing, but I don't want this to be a mega mega brand. I think that the customer that’s going to buy this is pretty niche and I would like to expand who that person is. This isn’t going to be J.Crew. This isn’t going to be for everyone and I think that that actually gives it more credibility for the guys that this appeals to, because it’s for them, their lifestyle, the way that they dress, where they work, and what they do after work."
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Photo: Courtesy of CFDA.
Michael Miller & Katie Deguzman, K/ller Collection

Do you find it difficult to make jewelry when there so many different jewelry brands out there?
Michael: "You know, that’s interesting. Five years ago, when we started, it didn't feel like that. Now, it suddenly feels like, ‘Wow, everybody is a designer. Everybody can sit home and make jewelry.’

Katie: "It's important for us to connect with more people, connect with our customers, and let them know about the brand and what we stand for. Another thing that’s very important to us is that we are a responsible company. We are all made in the U.S.A. with recycled metals. It’s important to know where your pieces are made and who are they made by."

Michael: "We care so much about what we put in our bodies, but what about the things that are hanging from your ears? We're trying to educate people on that and be a good resource for it."

In 10 or 20 years, what's one thing that would make you feel like you really "made it?"
Michael: "I think being globally recognized or having a full staff. There’s the two of us, our assistant, and the interns. We need to grow and we want to being charge of a sustainable, awesome business."

Katie: "We look up to one of our mentors and inspirational designers, Melissa Joy Manning. She has this amazing business and she has three stores. She does her production in Berkeley, [CA,] and in New York, all sustainably and responsibly. And just talking to her, she feels so at ease and so cool about everything."

Michael: "Her little infrastructure that she created, it's a family. I feel like most people that have worked for her have worked for her for years."

Katie: "Oh, and I’d love to be on Rihanna and Beyoncé! We’ve been pulled for a few things for Rihanna, but it hasn’t gone through. But we are getting there! Hopefully, she reads Refinery29 and she’ll find us!"
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Photo: Courtesy of CFDA.
Molly Yestadt, Yestadt Millinery

How did you get into this field?
“I love making hats. I launched the collection in ’09, so it’s been an organic growth. We did work with Public School for runway and we’ve worked with a ton of designers: Mara Hoffman, The Row, Philip Lim, Marc Jacobs. I went to school and studied it and I have a background in the couture craft. I like designing for the face. But the materials are super-specific for the category, which I love. And it’s a small world, so you can really get into it and then find where you can push boundaries, because it is so traditional.”

In 10 or 20 years, what's one thing that would make you feel like you really "made it?"
“There’s always goals and milestones with a business and with growth. And when you get there, you kind of look around and give yourself a little high-five, but then you have to keep going. A benchmark for 10 years would be to keep growing professionally and personally. The hat on the princess would be great, though; to make the new fascinator."
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Photo: Courtesy of CFDA.
Alexandra Alvarez, ALIX

What made you want to do this?
"I really love bodysuits. When I went to Parsons, my portfolio was literally all bottoms, because when it comes to styling, I would just think about myself. I just had more passion for keeping it simple and not thinking too much about the top. When I had to do my portfolio, I couldn't do everything with a T-shirt, so I was like, Let me see if I can get some plain, short-sleeved bodysuits. I started looking and there was nothing out there. It was Wolford, American Apparel, and that was about it.

"This season, I did a test for swim, too, and it went really well. So now, I’m launching swim. I’m from Miami, so I feel like it’s in me. I would probably spend more money on swimsuits than other things. Growing up there, we just dress different."

In 10 or 20 years, what's one thing that would make you feel like you really "made it?"
"Being able to balance this and have a life, I think I would feel huge validation with that. Being proud of a smooth, operational company with an office is key. Right now, I'm the one that has to be there in order for it to happen. Just knowing that things are working without me physically present 24/7, I'd think, Oh my god, I’ve made it! This means I’ve made it!
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