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Friday, November 13, 2015

Interview with DCASE Director Tonya Gross

Top by 828 Collection and skirt by ZurkGirl

Photo by Law Agyei

The interview below was published in Newcity when Fashion Focus CHICago was about to happen:

Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) Fashion and Culinary Arts director Tonya Gross talks about Fashion Focus CHICago, striking up its tenth year with a prized partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

What are the main accomplishments of Fashion Focus so far? What do we have to celebrate in these ten years?
This year, Fashion Focus CHICago will feature nine days of shopping events, runway shows and educational opportunities produced almost entirely by the community. We are also thrilled that the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) will be sending representatives to participate in a Look Book Review.

What does the partnership with the CFDA entail?
CFDA will not only be holding the Look Book Review, but will also be attending various Fashion Focus CHICago events and runway shows during their stay in Chicago. The hope is to expose CFDA to some of the city’s great fashion businesses.

How do you envision our local fashion scene? What improvements do we need to make so it can thrive? What has already been done in that direction?
We need to continue to promote collaboration within the fashion business through more production support for designers, more opportunities for event producers and encourage that connectivity within the local industry that helps to elevate brand and visibility of Chicago’s fashion industry. We also need to continue to partner with national organizations like CFDA to create that pipeline to other fashion cities like New York and Los Angeles.

Do you see Chicago as potentially a great place for designers to produce their lines? What would make Chicago special?
We live in a culturally rich and diverse city that is still affordable to live in and travel to and from. The inspiration here is endless with public art, gorgeous parks, Lake Michigan, museums and other artists in various disciplines.

If someone wants to be in the local fashion business now, where should they start?
I would suggest that they start with city agencies that offer free workshops for new business owners and artists such as those offered by Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. There are also fashion organizations that offer workshops for free or minimal fees like Fashion Group International, Fashion Brain Academy, V.Mora and AIBI. Most fashion professionals are looking to finance their projects, looking for workspace, looking for production support and quality production. These are common needs across all creative industries.

How about designing your own line? Is there a path you could recommend? How can designers find professionals that will help them make their clothes?
I can’t recommend any one right path to success. Most designers start with concept development first. That’s the fun stuff, right? You get into fashion and design because you are a creator. That’s fine if you are fully funded, but most aren’t. My advice is to do the market research. Find a niche and create a great product that people want or need. They can check out our Chicago Fashion Directory on for a list of great resources.

What are some of the highlights of this year’s Fashion Focus? Who are some of the designers and events to watch?
We are kicking off Fashion Focus CHICago with Youth Fashion Day on October 4 with a collaboration between Latino Fashion Week and (PRO)jectUs, among others. They will be bringing young people ages twelve to nineteen years old together and building excitement around creativity, ideas, product development and empowerment. Furthering the idea of collaboration, we have the NEXT Fashion Chicago on October 7 with a runway and shopping event featuring an emerging design challenge and incorporating Sanford-Brown College students on the runway. Virgin Hotels Chicago is also supporting local designers by hosting a Chicago Fashion Incubator showcase on October 8, and StyleChicago’s runway on October 9 is going to be a great presentation of local makers, as well as their selling event the following day. The shopping events taking place throughout the week are going to be amazing and I’m looking forward to the Northern Grade menswear event at the Chop Shop in Wicker Park and the pop-up shops throughout the week at Block Thirty Seven which will feature rotating designers all week.

How can people find out about the events? Are they mostly open to the public?
The full schedule and ticket information is on our website,

How can designers feature their lines in the next Fashion Focus? What’s your criteria? How can they contact you?
Designers need to reach out to the individual event producers; the city of Chicago assisted with providing locations and marketing. With the exception of the CFDA Look Book, Fashion Focus Chicago doesn’t produce the runway or selling programs; we project-manage the nine-day festival.

Could you tell me more about the inclusion of Latino Fashion Week, Style Bias, African Fashion Week and Haiti Fashion Week in the Fashion Focus calendar? Is that an attempt to connect with students and minorities and expand the industry to all parts of the city?
Our hope is for Fashion Focus CHICago to be inclusive and collaborative, connecting aspiring talent to resources and bringing visibility to fashion businesses seeking consumers.