Kristen Amato designs delicate gold leaves and filigree drop earrings. After quickly establishing a client base, she focused on expansion. Enter Stitches Fashion Program. “After attending one of their events last year, I approached them for the matching grant they offer to fashion designers and boutique owners,” she says. With their funding assistance, she launched a marketing campaign for her company, K. Amato. “My business was able to grow about ten percent over a four-month period.”
Jason Felger, founder and Executive Vice President of Stitches Fashion Program, was a finance expert with a University of Chicago MBA when he fell into the fashion world. “It was never intentional. I had raised capital for awhile, but I had never paid too much attention to the fashion industry,” he says. “Then I was introduced to a local designer six years ago.” Felger helped him raise money, and learned that designers had creative talent but often lacked business know-how. He mentored several other designers and then decided to package his concept.
In 2007, Felger created Stitches Fashion Program with a goal of providing financial assistance and strategic guidance to Chicago fashion entrepreneurs. He built his business and credibility by interacting with design schools and the community. His clients include SAIC graduate and dress designer Lara Miller, eco-fashion boutique owner Jessalyn Brinkmeyer and jewelry creator Kristen Amato. Felger says, “We don’t recommend what color design to use for ’09, or what gemstones to select for jewelry designing. We look at, what we can do to help them with the business.”
Stitches Fashion Program is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation, with private and public funding. The company offers a variety of free services. Pro bono mentoring can be one-on-one or peer group. The Fashion First Steps Packet provides financial, legal, marketing and branding advice. Complimentary seminars attract fifty attendees per session, and cover topics such as trademark protection and overseas fabric purchase considerations. Consumer outreach includes runway shows and Hard Rock Café events that showcase creations by Chicago designers.
Felger believes this is an exciting time for Chicago fashion. Maria Pinto, designer of Michelle Obama’s convention-night dress, hails from here. Lara Miller “is doing some exciting and provocative things.” Amato’s jewelry is “very beautiful, very elegant, not couture pricing.” Felger’s dream is that all emerging Chicago designers develop sound business practices. He says, “No matter what, you are in business to make money. If you weren’t, you could sit at home and design clothes for fun.” (Sarah Klose)
Stitches Fashion Program, (312)494-6772