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Juan Carlos Obando: The CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Is as Much About Business as Design

One lesson: "Clothes are important, research is important, but your personality is how you present it all to the world."

In this exclusive series, Fashionista talks with the 2013 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winners about their experiences during the competition, but more importantly: what they learned about themselves, and about their brands. As a runner-up in 2013's CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund competition, Los Angeles-based designer Juan Carlos Obando earned $100,000 and a mentorship with an industry stalwart. But, as they say, this wasn't his first time at the rodeo. Obando originally participated in the competition 2008, the same year he officially launched his namesake label of relaxed eveningwear. So, how was 2013 different? Obando spoke with us about how he -- and the fund --has changed over the past half-decade:

Emerging can be too emerging, when it comes to the Fund. "I was very grateful that I had that opportunity in 2008, but it was very early for me," Obando said. "I showed for the first time in February, and applied in June. I was still working out the idea of what the collection was going to be -- the vision. I saw progress. And this year, I just went for it. I finally knew what I stood for and what I would bring to the table."

Feedback is invaluable. "My brand went from one level to another in the six-month period of the competition. Anna [Wintour], Diane [von Furstenberg], Andrew Rosen, Ken Downing, Mark Holgate -- each one of them provides you with very clear feedback, and I was able to quickly adjust aspects of the business. The results were quite fast -- and pretty amazing."

It's all about personality and a point of view. "I learned how important it is to express your voice, to have a clear vision of your house. If your brand stands for something very specific, you can do so much more with it. Clothes are important, research is important, but your personality is how you present it all to the world. The thing I learned really heavily -- my biggest takeaway -- was that I need to express my ideas properly."

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The Fund is more about building a "real" business than ever before. "The foundation of the Fund is not very different from five years ago, but the competition is much more focused on the business. Before it was more about the vision -- now they are both emphasized. You have to provide certain financials in order for the committee to figure out where you need the most support. They know your secrets -- they really take care of you and tell you what to work on to make the business work.

Sometimes, your competition are your teachers, too. "I'm a big fan of the guys from Public School. They really understand their brand. They are living their ideas. It's something to admire."

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