Steven Kolb is the CEO of the CFDA. His job is to help the growth of the American fashion industry. Though programs like the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund and Americans in Paris he has been a force in providing opportunity and guidance for American designers.
What do you like most about being the CEO of the CFDA?
The best part of being the CEO of the CFDA is that I am surrounded by creative people. I was hired as a not-for-profit manager so my skill set is different. I love the challenge of taking a creative idea and making it work. I am the right brain of the CFDA.
You were brought on board at the CFDA for you not-for-profit background. How do you bridge that with offering feedback to designers?
It comes down to having business experience. So many young designers don’t have the business back ground and are in need of advice and mentoring, so I help with that. In my not-for-profit life, I was helping different charities fulfill their mission. At the CFDA it is the same but connected to growing a designer’s business. In both instances it is rewarding to see success based on my input.
You have stated in past interviews that you feel it is essential for designers to have experience before launching their own collection. Is that a requirement for those applying to any of the CFDA programs?
It is not a requirement but definitely a factor in evaluating a designer and whether or not they are right for one of our programs. Experience is the foundation of any business idea. You learn so much from working with others. We want to invest in designers we know will be in business ten years down the road.
What are some of the credentials you look for?
We always start with talent and whether a designer has a unique point of view. We then look at production capabilities, distribution channels, financials, and of course a little bit of personality.
How involved are you in the selection process?
I am one of the judges for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund so I am very involved in that, but I don’t vote on who becomes CFDA members. That is done by a committee but I advise the committee. And Lisa Smilor really runs the Fashion Incubator — I just sit in and participate on that but she leads that effort.
What is a voting session like? How is the committee chosen?
Voting is always done privately so each judge feels comfortable in expressing his or her opinion. The committees always have an open discussion first. It is very democratic.
The CFDA has published many books, sold many t-shirts, accessories, etc. As a not-for-profit, where do all the funds go?
The CFDA is a non-profit so we have to raise the funds for everything we do. Our overall mission is to promote and grow the American fashion business. The bigger the industry is the more jobs we can create. In some instances fundraising supports our charitable efforts like Fashion Targets Breast Cancer or funding for HIV/AIDS programs.
Fashion’s Night Out has been an unparalleled success. Are there any other initiatives you hope to get off the ground?
FNO is tremendous and we have so many other programs too. Our scholarship programs, the fashion incubator, the CFDA fashion awards, professional development are all very important.
Diane von Furstenberg’s role as president has been so instrumental. Who do you see as a qualified candidate once her term ends?
Who knows really? Diane is great. She is a working designer and a smart businesswoman. She has global business and thinks global. She is always accessible and truly hands on.
The CFDA is about to celebrate its 50-year anniversary. In what way do you feel the CFDA has had the greatest impact on the fashion industry?
Thanks to the CFDA, American fashion now rivals our European counterparts. We have invested in young designers. New York is now considered a vibrant, creative market, no longer is New York looked at as just a commercial market.
What type of celebrations will take place?
We have an exhibit opening at the FIT Museum in February called IMPACT: 50 Years of the CFDA. There is also a book called IMPACT. In both instances we are looking at five decades of the CFDA membership and the impactful moments designers have had on the industry. We also creating a CFDA flag with a program called Stars of American Fashion where 50 designers are each creating individualized stars that will be joined together as benchmark of the important names in American fashion.
What is your feeling on the Mexican standoff taking place regarding scheduling between New York and Europe?
I am confident it will work out. We cannot look at fashion weeks by city anymore. Fashion is now global. We have to look at it as an overall fashion season. All parties involved work on behalf of the designers and the industry and not to work together will only hurt our business.
How do you think American fashion design impacts and influences global design?
Again I think American fashion is young and vibrant and is in the forefront of setting style. The states have always been a cultural draw for other countries and I think American fashion now sits beside music and film as a great interest to others.
What do you think is the greatest issue facing the fashion industry today is?
Fashion has always moved fast and been a seasonal industry, but with technology and fast fashion merchants it moves even faster. The industry has adapted but needs to continue to keep pace with the influences and changes around it.