Get to Know the New CFDA Incubator Designers

Think of this as your emerging-designers-in-America cheat sheet


May marks the end of the school year for most American universities, but for a select group of emerging designers in the US, it’s just the beginning. Ten brands have been chosen by The Council of Fashion Designers of America to be part of the CFDA Incubator Program. At the close of this month, they will move into new design studios within the same building (like a fashion dorm!) to be mentored by industry experts (stylish spirit guides!), all in an effort to take their labels to new heights.

Allow me to introduce the CFDA Incubator Class of 2014-2016.

KATIE ERMILIO, designed by Katie Ermilio


How did you get into fashion? I grew up in the business — my dad was a bespoke menswear designer so it was just part of my childhood. I originally wanted to be in magazines, but I’d make my own clothes to wear to my internships.

Your brand is… rooted in minimalistic, feminine pieces that are meant to be worn and loved forever. They’re meant to be heirlooms.

Describe the woman who wears your line: I designed for private clients before starting my own label, which meant that I was sitting directly with each customer one on one, discussing her life and upcoming events and what she was looking for. I launched this clothing line for that woman. Only now, she’s across the board age-wise, and it’s all about how each individual woman chooses to style the pieces she buys.

Any advice for young people looking to get into this industry? Intern as much as you can so you learn as much as you can. And be relentlessly supportive of yourself!

ISA TAPIA, designed by Isa TapiaISA TAPIA composite

Why shoes? When I was working at Oscar de la Renta as an assistant I would always observe the shoe designer. During my time there, I had the opportunity to go to Italy and work with the people who made the footwear, and they showed me the whole process from beginning to end. I just loved it — it was so architectural. I came back from that trip wanting to design shoes.

Your brand is… It’s fun, easy to wear. There’s a little bit of sex appeal to everything. It’s for anyone who likes fashion or works in fashion, but isn’t a victim of it. It has to be functional, practical, and stylish. I’m a woman designing for women, and I don’t want to be stumbling around because my shoes are uncomfortable, either.

What’s the most exciting part about being in this program? The industry support, and being surrounded by designers who are in a similar place. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of things when you’re a start up, but when I talked to other people in the program I was like, “Oh you’re experiencing this too.”

Any words of fashion wisdom? Have fun with fashion and be yourself. If you like it, wear it! And don’t be afraid of color; something really fun and colorful can turn your whole day around. That printed dress, that hot pink shoe — it can change your mood.

KAELEN, designed by Kaelen Haworth


What got you into fashion? I always wanted to do something in fashion, so after graduating from school in Canada as an English Major, I went to Parsons.  

Your brand is… Modern, on the minimal side, with a really heavy focus on details that have to be seen up close in order to appreciate them. The wearer knows the details are there, though — like the nice underwear principle!

Describe the woman who wears your line: I can tell you who she’s not. She’s not the 25-year-old socialite unicorn who everyone wants her to be. People seem to want to hear: “She’s 25, she has a hot body, she doesn’t do anything and she parties all the time.” But I envision her as the Tilda Swinton-type woman. Or I hope she is.

I think she’s so sure in her style and what she wants to project that there’s not that much commonality in what she wears; her closet is an archive of things she loves and she’s just always editing it, choosing things that speak to her. She cares about details and functionality.

On music: I have a record collection that I’m psyched about. It’s kind of weird and obscure. There’s Aretha, a ton of Gladys Knight & the Pips…having more than one Pips record is a strange thing. When it comes to rap, I like Biggie, Tupac, The Roots.

KARA, designed by Sarah Law


What turned you on to bag designing? When I was at Parsons, I’d make bags for the students to carry their portfolios. I’d sell them from my dorm room. I like the element of functionality of bags, and that they inhabit the worlds of both art and fashion.

Your brand is… It’s for a person who’s adventurous, always curious. Someone who’s very much inspired by the world, interested in traveling, being in the wilderness…someone with an adventurous spirit.

What’s the most exciting part about being in this program?  To be able to call my mentor — someone who started from the ground up and really had to do everything himself — on a moment’s notice and ask him how he’d handle a business question. That’s amazing.

Favorite restaurant: El Parador. It’s been around for so long that a lot of regulars propose there. All along the walls they have these brass plaques that say, “On this day, this person proposed to this person.”

NOMIA, designed by Yara FlinnNOMIAcompositeNEW

What got you into fashion and how old were you: I started my line when I was 22. I wanted to go to art school originally but didn’t get in to the masters programs, so I thought I might as well try fashion. I’m still influenced by art in terms of composition in textures and colors and the juxtaposition between the two, and that carries over to my designs.

Describe your brand: It’s influenced by art, cities, and tomboy style all mixed together. When I’m designing and thinking about how things are styled, I like to think about the contrast between masculine and feminine: basketball shorts with crop tops, for example. I like things to be unexpected and balanced.

The women who wear your line are… Women who work in a creative area: graphic designers, arts, gallery owners who work with artists…people who appreciate the arts influence in my line, but also its wearability.

On music: I’m a huge rap music fan. I’m kind of worried about moving into the space because I rap around my studio, and now I’m going to have to hold it in.

ORLEY, by Matthew & Alex Orley, Samantha Florence


What inspired you to start Orley? 
Matthew Orley: We’ve been surrounded by fashion since we were young. Sam’s family was in the fashion business, and Alex and I worked retail in high school. We’ve wanted to work together for a while, so it was less a distinct moment of awe and more about focusing ourselves to actually make the company a reality.

On company dynamic: 
Matthew: We’re a family business ourselves, and we work with family-run factories in Italy. Since Sam and I are engaged, and Alex and I are brothers, we’re really comfortable with each other. We can really let our opinions be known.

Describe your brand in three sentences or less: Menswear with a focus on luxury knitwear, and a commitment to the highest quality manufacturing.

The man who wears your line is: Us, really.

What’s the most exciting part about being in this program? Having access to so many industry leaders as mentors, especially because they really understand our brand and want to help. It’s been a big game changer.

NONOO, designed by Misha Nonoo


What got you into fashion: I love all types of design, from architecture to art to fashion, so I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a designer. I took a different route, though: I went to business school first, and then apprenticed at an atelier. Both benefited me enormously.

The woman who wears your brand is… I always say the woman who wears Nonoo is like a naughty square. She’s quite buttoned-up and composed, but has a sense of playfulness and cheekiness. She has something extra about her.

Where does the name come from? It’s a Middle Eastern name that means “little one.” The proper way to pronounce the name is “nu nu.’ My parents call me Naughty Nonoo, and so does my husband.

Any advice for someone looking to get into the industry? Be passionate, be committed.

DEZSO BY SARA BELTRÁN, designed by Sara Beltrán


What got you into jewelry design: I come from a creative family — my mom used to paint and do ceramics and hand-make things. I always loved jewelry though. Before I was designing it I saw someone on the street wearing a necklace that I liked. I asked her who made it, turns out it was a prototype, and I realized I could make that. So I did.

Describe your brand in three sentences or less: Understated luxury — it’s sophisticated but low-profile. You can wear layers and layers but not feel like you’re wearing too much. Everything is inspired by the ocean; there are palm leaves and shark teeth. It has a very organic feel and is inspired by nature.

What’s the most exciting part about being in this program?  I’m excited to move and create a new space. I’m looking forward to the bonding and learning from each other. Everyone has a lot of of the same questions, so you don’t feel like you’re alone in your challenges. And it’s cool to be surrounded by people who are at the same level of growing — it will help us grow faster.

The woman or man who wears your jewelry is… Someone who can appreciate and understand the perfection of the pieces’ imperfections — everything is hand made. For me, I think it’s more special to buy something that’s unique.

On sharks: I use a lot of the shark tooth-shape in my jewelry so everything thinks I’m a surfer, but I’m actually scared of sharks! In Japan they have a thing called Oka surfers — it’s having the look of the surfer, but you don’t have surf. That’s me, an Oka surfer.

LUCIO CASTRO, designed by Lucio CastroLucio-Castro-Composite

How did you get in to fashion? I’m from Argentina. Before coming to New York and getting my BFA in fashion at Parsons, I worked in film directing for a production company. Film is still one of my total loves, but its process of story-telling is long. When I worked for my friend’s store in Buenos Aires, I realized I liked the immediacy fashion had when it came to explaining the narrative of daily life.

What inspires you? To make clothes that tell some sort of narrative. My brand is about texture and fabrics and color, not radically changing a silhouette.

Some people think fashion is superficial, but to me it’s absolutely not. It’s linked to personality, and I love that. My grandfather died before I was born, so the way I put his persona together was to look at the clothes in his closet and picture how he wore them.

What’s the most exciting part about being in this program? Being on the same floor as all these other designers, all these other ideas. We come from different places and I think it’s going to make everyone’s designs better. It’s this sense of community that excites me the most.

Any advice to aspiring designers? It’s very easy to get lost, to hear what other people think you should do, but it’s always important to try and keep your voice as clear as possible. The more you design for yourself, the better it will be.

A PEACE TREATY, by Dana Arbib, Farah Malk & Jesse MeighanA-Peace-Treaty-Headshot

What got you into fashion and how old were you: 

Dana: I was born into fashion. My parents took me to Rome and taught me about bespoke and couture clothing as soon as I was old enough to crawl. My father still uses the same Italian tailor he did as a child.

Farah: As soon as I learned how to open the drawers of my mom’s dresser, I literally fell inside the wonderland of her accessories — Liberty silks, tortoise shell hair clips and tokens from her travels like Egyptian turquoise amulets and Turkish leather hobo bags. I must have been 3 or 4 years old.

Jesse: I grew up in Colorado where style means dressing like you’re ready for a hike at a moment’s notice. But my sister bought me a subscription to Sassy Magazine (RIP) when I turned 13 and my whole world changed.

Describe your brand in three sentences or less: Handmade, Curated, Cultured, Vibrant, Refined. The person who wears our line is a cultural mixologist.

What’s the most exciting part about being in this program? Access to the most amazing mentors in fashion and the fact that they are down to loan us their time and wisdom, plus sharing a space with nine other creative and entrepreneurial designers who totally inspire us!

Best NYC memory:
Jesse: I recently witnessed a turf war dust-up between the R&B quartet dudes and pan flute guy on the R train and it made me completely swoon for NYC.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received:

Dana: Don’t hate what you don’t understand.

Farah: Trust your gut.

Jesse: Fake it ’til you make it.


Check out their designs in the slideshow above, and let us know who you’re excited about!

Get more Fashion ?
  • Erica Jo Moncelle

    Wes Gordon!

  • So exciting! Do we know if the garments will be made in the United States?

  • Sarah Julia LeBlanc

    Great spotlight on Incubator 3.0! Tough to choose a favorite- all of these designers seem like very unique and fresh up-and-coming talent in their respective specialty. Nonoo and KAELEN are already fairly well known in the NY design sphere, with good reason. So those aside, I really enjoyed the “heirloom” feel of the pieces by Katie Ermilio and A Peace Treaty. Also, loving that drum bag by Kara!

  • Arlene Guerra

    Katie Ermilio … so minimal and so forward, can’t wait to see more from her. Great feature on these rising stars!

  • Agoprime

    really great post!

  • Celeste

    A Peace Treaty caught my eye. excited to see what they have in store… literally!

  • Oliver Lips

    Great introduction of the CFDA Incubator Class! I am really excited hear / see more from Orley and Lucio Castro in the future!

  • Lili Gabbiano

    wow, nice, thanks for sharing this.
    Greetings from Italy!!!!

  • Hereshoping Themayanswereright

    The long white dress by Katie Ermilio is absolute flawless perfection.

  • Sarah

    Leandra and Amelia, get to know more about Deszo by Sara Beltran. I think you are gonna love it. She does an amazing work with diamonds in a way which is completely low-key.

  • Thanks for the roundup! I love Katie Ermilio’s silhouettes (she can add a bow to a skirt and it still looks desirable, that’s something when it comes to bows!) and I’m excitet about what else she can make.

  • Seth Friedermann

    Ask the CFDA about Tom Scott, Christian Cota, The Lake & Stars, Luis Fernandez, and Joel Diaz.

  • Facebook User

    Absolutely Love A Peace Treaty, the idea behind APT is so important, keeping the timeless techniques of where we all came from in the forefront of this industry. Plus their scarves and jewels are well, The Best Accent pieces Around!

  • Love A Peace Treaty!!

  • So thrilled to see Katie Ermilio! I’ve been following her for a while and always swoon over each new collection.
    Great spotlight feature, I really enjoyed this. 🙂

  • Jade

    There is a lack of meaning in everything, just looks like Zara (or Forever 21 in some cases). Is contradictory how there is such an over-excess of designers that do minimal fashion. If less things would come out with more thought behind people would litter less information, research, garments, and resources.

  • jade

    ps Love the blog, just commenting on the lack of thought behind today’s fashion.

  • Daniella

    Can you recommend any good Mod style designers up and coming in NYC?

  • bong