The graduating designers of the CFDA Fashion Incubator 2014 class are in London this week to mark the formal end of their time in the program, which grants emerging designers affordable studio space and mentoring for about two years. Everyone has moved out of their joint work space already (the next class will be announced this summer), but reunited across the pond thanks to the CFDA's longstanding partnership with W Hotels, which has sent the designers on inspiration trips to its locations around the world. For their final trip, W Hotels hosted the designers, as well as CFDA heads Steven Kolb and Diane von Furstenberg, at its Leicester Square location to organize a showcase for British press and influencers.
On Wednesday, Fashionista popped into the designers' "studios," set up in the W's ultra-modern hotel rooms, during a celebratory evening cocktail party with models in the designers' wares. Since the point of the Incubator is to give emerging designers the tools build a long-lasting business, we asked each participant* for the most valuable piece of advice they've received during their time in the program. Many of the designers had a similar takeaway: know when to tune out the noise and trust your own vision. Read on for everyone's pearls of CFDA Incubator wisdom.
"It's really important to listen to a lot of feedback, and it's also really important to make sure to stay true to yourself and your vision for the brand. Incorporate all of the feedback in the way that's the best fit for you." — Katie Ermilio
"Pick a couple of people who are really your confidants and go to them with questions. Just because you have access to all these amazing people, don't necessarily take all the advice that they give. People are incredibly generous with advice but it can be confusing because everyone has their two cents, especially when I used to work with wholesalers. People would come in and want to redesign the whole line and you'd be like, oh I really need that order, so I want to do it, but what am I doing? I started this because I had a perspective, and somewhere it can get lost along the way." — Misha Nonoo
"You have a lot of opinions, but it's the people that have seen this, that have been doing this their whole lives and that have the best interest in you to make the right decisions and don't have ulterior motives — they want to help and it's priceless." — Isa Tapia
"There's something that one of our mentors told me that stayed with me since she said it, which is, 'add value to their lives,'... add value to customers. It changed the way I design and I sell... It helps me define what I want to do or how should I do it." — Lucio Castro
"Just find your voice and to just keep keep honing it, just to have a clear point of view and message. That's something that I think when you're a young designer and you're trying to get noticed, to try a lot of different things. But I think once you find your true aesthetic and your true voice and you just keep doing it season after season, people start to understand the collection and the point of view." — Yara Flinn of Nomia
"The biggest [advice] was not even on the business side, but as I work with my brother — he's my director — it's not that easy sometimes. So Shira [Sue Carmi, consultant and Incubator mentor] acted like a psychologist because she used to work with her husband. She made my brother fly in, because he's based in Texas, and she said, 'I heard Sara's story, now I want to hear your story.' She made me and my brother communicate in a better way. That's huge for us because we are only three in the company and I want him to stay with me." — Sara Beltran of Dezso
"Our now deceased mentor Brooks Thomas —who passed away last year and who was by far our most impactful mentor and just an amazing guy — [said], 'Everyone's going to give you advice and everyone's going to have a really strong opinion about what you should and should not do, and you have to filter all of that through you. So take what works for you and disregard everything else.' So that's what we try to do." — Alex Orley of Orley
"This year I was selected for the Forbes "30 under 30" list for art and style, so I was in Israel last week. Shimon Peres was the first person speaking, the ex-president of Israel, and his advice was, 'Don't take anybody else's advice.' And really I think, to his point, he was trying to say, 'Listen to yourself, listen to your instincts and take yourself seriously.' And over and over again, I've found that to be really true, whether you're in an incubator program, whether you're starting a new business or you're just kind of going through your life." — Sarah Law of Kara
"I was told that if you don't want to do it, don't do it. That's it. Because you end up doing a lot of things you don't want to do, for money or some kind of incentive." — Dana Arbib of A Peace Treaty
*Incubator designer Kaelen Haworth was unable to attend.
Disclosure: W Hotels paid for Fashionista's travel and accommodations.